There’s a certain comfort in seeing the words, “Jose Bautista,” and “Toronto Blue Jays,” in the same sentence on mutually positive terms.
In an off-season riddled with questionable moves breeding uncertainty as more and more of the postseason Jays moved south of the border (Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Cecil, Michael Saunders) there was a question amongst the fan base as to when the final shoe would drop. That shoe was Mr. Jose Bautista, the heart and soul of the Toronto Blue Jays and the team’s undeniable leader since his breakout year in 2010.
From the day the 2016 season ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Cleveland Indians, Blue Jays fans were waiting on the edge of their seats to see where their beloved sluggers may go. From an analytical standpoint—ignoring any sentiment to the decision whatsoever—it made nearly perfect sense to watch both of them walk away in exchange for draft picks to help rebuild what’s already an incredibly bottom-heavy farm system. For two power bats going into their mid-to-late 30s, dovetailed with a team that’s already one of the oldest in the MLB, the math just made sense for a new beginning.
So the Jays went with the backup plan and signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce to deals while the Dominican duo watched their free agent markets collapse under them. For the first time since 2009, after smashing 265 homers (plus an additional 6 in 20 playoff games), it appeared as though Bautista would be playing against the Jays rather than for them.
It was a strange feeling then when the first reports surfaced reporting that the Blue Jays and Bautista were in contact and were hoping to reach an agreement. Was Jose Bautista going back on his word saying he wouldn’t negotiate by doing just that? Were the Jays actually content on not getting a draft pick in hopes of propping that winning window open just a little while longer? Many, including myself, didn’t believe it until it inevitably came true.
Jose Bautista was coming back for the price tag of $18.5 million for one season with options and incentives that could keep him with the club until 2019 making as much as $60 million. Exhale.
Without a doubt, Jose Bautista was the best remaining option on the free agent market when it comes to outfielders. That said, at 36-years-old and counting, Bautista should be put in a pseudo-outfielder category based on the fact that he’s an undeniable potent offensive weapon in the middle of any lineup, but becomes a gaudy liability when relied upon to play defence anywhere beyond the baselines of a baseball field. With a -8 DRS posted in 2016, it makes it all the more difficult to determine how you feel and where you stand on the re-signing of the man behind the bat-flip.
Rationalism, your thinking part of your brain, tells you this could go south and do so in a hurry. What if those injuries weren’t so freak-like and were actually the beginning of something much larger and worse? What if that increased strikeout rate wasn’t just an anomaly in an otherwise short (yet still great) career of a slugging hitter? What if the Jays were without their Superman and had to defend for themselves?
It’s that side that’s easy to feed into, given the aging curve of a 36-year-old power hitter and the recent injury history of Mr. Bautista.
But then there’s the other side. The sentimental side of the game that wanted Bautista, one of the best Blue Jays of all time and longest serving on the current roster, to come back—no matter the price tag and years attached. It’s the side that, when asked to explain their reasoning behind bringing him back would say, “because he’s Jose Bautista.” More importantly though, it’s the side of your brain that remembers when, with the swing of a bat, he engraved his name on one of the most significant moments in baseball of the century.
At the end of the day, you’re let off the hook by the fact that it’s only a one-year deal so the rationalism side of you can’t really get too upset because, what’s one year in the grand scheme of things?
For me though, the signing represents a continuum into that battle, asking what’s next. Did the front office simply sign Jose hoping to get a half a season of a rebounded player before flipping him for a larger haul than a compensatory draft pick? Are they committed to making him play as little outfield as possible and potentially shifting him to left field?
It’s those questions and more that will swirl around Blue Jays’ fans heads in the weeks and months ahead of the 2017 season. For now though, they can exhale with the feeling that what was once theirs is once again. With so many of the pieces still moving around the puzzle, there’s comfort in seeing that familiar face, swing and well-trimmed beard, I think.
All the rest of the noise can wait.