Guess who's back?
The Blue Jays have signed outfielder Jose Bautista to a one year contract that includes a mutual option for 2018. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal, and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first told us it would be a one-year deal with a mutual option.
Bautista turned down Toronto's $17.2M qualifying offer back in November, but his market simply never materialized as expected. As a result, Bautista came up shy of the three year $51 million deal that MLB Trade Rumors predicted at the start of the offseason, and the Blue Jays are only locked-in for his age-36 season.
Let's hope to see a few more home runs like this in 2017:
The Jays first acquired Bautista midway through the 2008 season, stealing him from the Pirates for catcher Robinson Diaz. In parts of nine seasons with Toronto, Bautista belted 265 home runs, plus an additional 6 homers in 20 playoff games. In addition, Bautista reached base at a .382 clip over this span, and his 15.3% walk rate trailed only Joey Votto and Carlos Santana among active players.
Despite a down season in 2016, Bautista still ranked 26th in the majors in terms of on-base percentage, and John Gibbons frequently penciled his name in at the top of the lineup. His decline at the plate was largely due to his power, as Bautista hit just 22 home runs last season, down from 40 the year before. Getting close to a full season out of Bautista, plus improving on a .234 batting average, would provide the Blue Jays with a dominant 1-2 punch alongside Josh Donaldson.
The biggest question with Bautista is his ability to play the outfield, as he graded out poorly with -8 Defensive Runs Saved last season. Given that Steve Pearce can also play in a corner, the Jays can be flexible in this area, and Bautista could spend time at first base. Ultimately, the Blue Jays take a bit of a hit defensively in order to add a big bat to the lineup, and it's worth noting that Bautista was worth 4.4 WAR in a defensively-challenged 2015 season.
By signing Bautista, Toronto foregoes the compensatory draft pick attached to the qualifying offer, and this must be included in the valuation of the contract. Contending in 2017 looks to have taken precedence here, and it's worth noting that Toronto's management continues to focus on short-term deals. However, if the start of the 2017 season goes poorly, Toronto will have yet another upcoming free agent to dangle in trade talks.
At the very least, Bautista's addition marks Toronto's lineup as one of the best in the American League. Expect the team to look to strengthen the bullpen in the final weeks of the offseason, and filling the role of backup catcher is also a clear objective.
It is looking like it is a 1-year plus a mutual option, or two mutual option years. And it there may be incentives involved (not that Bautista is ever short of incentive to play hard). And, of course, there is a physical to come, but, since he was a member of the team, they likely know everything that will appear in this physical.
Jose Bautista's Year 1 base is $18M, as @JonHeyman said. Buyout for Year 2 will add $500K-$1M more guaranteed. Third year a vesting option.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 17, 2017