By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
TORONTO - After declining a $17.2 Million Us qualifying offer put forth by the Blue Jays last fall, Jose Bautista is now set to return to Toronto after finalizing to a one-year, $18.5 Million pact with the team on Wednesday.
Included in the deal are both a mutual option for 2018, and a vesting option over the first two years for 2019 that, if exercised, could see the agreement top out at three years and an additional $37 Million.
If either party declines the 2018 option, Bautista would earn $500,000 and enter free agency once again. In order for the vesting option to take effect, the veteran slugger would need to amass a total of 300 games played between 2017 and 2018.
In re-signing him as a free agent, Toronto will no longer receive the compensatory first-round draft pick that was linked to Bautista’s name after turning down the team’s qualifying offer last November.
Still, the pick, along with the contract’s potentially team-friendly dollar value and term, stand out as a relatively small price to pay in order to secure a reunion with the man responsible for authoring some of this franchise’s most memorable offensive moments.
Realistically speaking, any GM worth their weight in salt will tell you that you can’t sign a player based off of past performances alone. That said, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Bautista still has more to offer.
Despite having been sidelined by a pair of injuries last season, the Blue Jays right fielder managed 22 home runs, drive in 69 and post an on-base percentage of .366 over 517 plate appearances, his lowest total since 2012 when a wrist injury forced him to miss 70 games.
Having also hit a robust .290 with runners in scoring position, Bautista’s wOBA (.355) and wRC+ of 122 in 2016 were the third best on a team that notched its second ALCS appearance in as many years.
This, of course, came a season removed from leading the junior circuit in walks (110), hammering a total of 40 home runs and finishing eighth in A.L. MVP voting.
Using the weighted average of a player’s past performance in addition to league median aging trends, Steamer has been churning out highly accurate projections on MLB’s top athletes since 2009. In 2017, they have Bautista down for a line of .251/.371/.476 with a WAR rating of 2.3.
If there’s a concern, it comes in his ability to effectively maneuver the astroturfed expanse of Rogers Centre outfield without injury or creating a negative effect on the team’s overall run prevention metrics.
Although Bautista’s stats in the outfield have gradually declined in recent years, the 36-year-old slugger is still capable of providing defensive value as the club can certainly benefit from utilizing him as another right-handed hitting platoon partner for Justin Smoak at first base on occasion.
Currently, that job belongs to Steve Pearce but considering his past experience as an infielder, coupled with 154 career innings at first, Bautista could feasibly add his name to the mix when not patrolling right field for the Blue Jays in 2017.
This scenario would provide additional roster flexibility for manager John Gibbons as Pearce would remain available for left field when needed while Bautista’s ability to play first in a pinch could also help keep Kendrys Morales locked in as the club’s full-time designated hitter.
Since joining the Blue Jays in August of 2008, Bautista has slashed .261/.382/.528 with 701 RBIs, 698 runs scored and 265 home runs. Over that nine-year span, the product of Santo Domingo, D.R. has been selected to six American League all-star teams, captured three Silver Slugger awards and has transformed himself from a utility player into one of the game’s most prolific power hitters.
Entering 2017, Bautista owns the highest career WAR (37.7) of any position player to have taken the field for Toronto over the team’s 40-year history. He also ranks third in all-time Blue Jays slugging percentage (.528), OPS (.910) and runs created with 795 over 4586 plate appearances.
Wednesday’s news comes on the heels of multiple weekend reports indicating that the Cleveland Indians had interest in the iconic slugger.
Along with addressing an immediate area of need in regards to a corner outfielder with strong career vitals vs. right-handed pitching, Toronto’s move to retain Bautista’s services effectively ends the Tribe’s chances of reuniting him with Edwin Encarnacion, who signed a four-year $65 Million deal with the Indians last December.
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