By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
I like the passion in José Bautista.
I like that this proud native of the Dominican Republic has a college degree. From my perch as a backburner reporter, I see like everyone else that he has a degree in life, too. His observations, his eloquence, his thoughts, his online quotations are chatter items around the water cooler or the bar.
He's the No. 1 quote of the Blue Jays' clubhouse, the face of the franchise. His popularity speaks for itself. He has helped make the Blue Jays the talk of Toronto, the province of Ontario and the country of Canada for years. He speaks almost fluent English and is comfortable in his second-best language. He doesn't need an interpreter.
Like most people out there, I would like to see president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins bring Bautista back. Shapiro knows it, Atkins knows it, Rogers' accounting mathematicians know it, Rogers head honcho Edward Rogers knows it: Bautista, with his immense popularity and still decent offence, could still be a part of the team juggernaut that should be competitive again in 2018.
Here's what you could see happen: It's highly probable that the Jays will decline Bautista's $17-million option for 2018 and pay him a $500,000 buyout but that they will try to negotiate another contract with their star player at a less expensive annual stipend. In the end, Bautista will have to decide if he can handle a smaller salary in exchange for staying with the team that he so truly adores being with.
If he grins and bares it and gulps, he could pony up for $13-15 million per season but pride may get in the way. He will likely try with a last leap to see if a team will match what he earned this season: $18.5-million.
Bautista is probably saying to himself that he still has a year or two left as a full-timer and wants to keep his options open for 2018. Unlike last winter when he demanded sky-high money from the Jays, Bautista will drop those demands a little. At this point, though, part-time duty is not part of his modus operandi.
Bautista and agent Jay Alou will have to look at Bautista's pending age of 37 on Oct. 19 and his drop in production this season when his average has dipped to .200ish, very un-Bautista like. His strikeout total is alarming, too, a career-high 165 and counting. His lifetime average prior to this season was .250-260ish.
Yes, he's getting up there in age. Some may say he's in the twilight of his career but not 100%. Despite his paltry batting average this season, his 23 homers and 64 RBI are fourth behind those of Justin Smoak, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. And take a look at his runs total. I just saw that today. He leads the Jays with 92 runs. Imagine. There you go.
It appears that his bat speed has slowed a little, his foot speed isn't what it used to be and his outfield agility has diminished a tad but look at how he stays in shape. Look at his toned stomach, his willowy, sinewy physique. Legendary Expos trainer Ron McClain used to say Otis Nixon had the lowest body fat of any Expo he had ever seen. Bautista might be close to that body type. That shows you how much he cares about his body and what he puts into it.
We go back to those sky-high television ratings on Sportsnet, through-the-roof sales of merchandise, season-ticket sales, superb attendance. All good reasons why Shapiro & Co. didn't just trade Bautista for the sake of trading him late in the season and all good reasons why they might just keep him. He has helped make the Jays a chic brand name.
You never say never on Joey Bats returning to Toronto. That's how management is looking at Bautista as the off-season looms. And reciprocally, Bautista is hoping for a return. He loves it in Toronto. The fans love him. Bring him back.