When Jose Bautista officially inked his new contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, many were interested in how Bautista would react to coming back to Toronto.
“Will he be angry? How will he respond to being criticized? Is he disappointed about not getting a bigger contract somewhere else?”
Surely, Bautista was not the Blue Jays’ first choice to fill one of their voids in the outfield, and maybe Toronto wasn’t Bautista’s ideal landing spot, either. But after coming out so boldly last Spring Training, this entire episode may have been a humbling experience for Jose Bautista.
During his press conference earlier this afternoon, Jose Bautista didn’t seem mad or upset or disappointed about returning to Toronto. He answered some questions from reporters – about his declining defense, about willing to move positions – and remained fairly civil.
At times, Bautista’s answers were short and stilted, but I think that’s because he was afraid of saying something he shouldn’t. However, there was one telling quote from Bautista which gave a little insight into his mindset right now.
When he was asked about contributing to the Blue Jays, here was Bautista’s response:
“I’m a soldier, one of 25 soldiers that’s out to win battles every day to hopefully win the war at the end of the season”.
Now, this may be Jose Bautista just putting on a smile and saying all the right things because “who wants to me a curmudgeon at a press conference”, but what if this is the beginning of a kinder, gentler Joey Bats?
Ultimately, it was Jose Bautista who needed the Blue Jays more than the Blue Jays needed Bautista. The team could’ve gone in a different direction (albeit, with players less talented than Bautista), but the Blue Jays had other options. Bautista didn’t.
Jay Alou told reporters after the press conference that Jose Bautista turned down bigger deals from other teams for the opportunity to come back to the Blue Jays. I’m not sure whether it’s because Bautista really wanted to come back to Toronto, or he really didn’t want to go to Tampa Bay (or elsewhere).
The Oakland A’s may have swooped in with a bigger contract and more term than the Blue Jays, but how much more valuable is money and term when you’re playing out in Oakland? If the A’s came in with a late offer for Edwin Encarnacion, they surely made a pitch to Jose Bautista as well.
To borrow from Jose Bautista’s war metaphor, by re-signing with the Blue Jays, Bautista is being a good soldier. By hitting in the leadoff spot or batting cleanup, he’s being a good soldier. By moving around the diamond – playing first base, DH, whatever – Jose Bautista is being a good soldier.
Not that he wouldn’t be a good soldier, but it’s encouraging to hear this from Jose Bautista directly. After all, this is a player who’s come under fire for “playing for himself” at times.
In hindsight, Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays were a perfect match for each other, but how difficult of a decision must this have been for Bautista himself? Sure, he’s returning to a place he’s called home for the past nine years. But the club has taken on a whole new identity since Jose arrived in Toronto.
The Blue Jays aren’t really “his” team anymore. That title belongs to Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and a few other guys in the clubhouse. I can only imagine what it’s like to walk back to a team where you’re no longer the top dog. That must be humbling.
But it all comes back to the “good soldier” thing. Even though Jose Bautista is returning to a familiar place, his role as a face of the franchise has diminished. It’s kind of a passing of the torch from Bautista to Donaldson and Tulowitzki, the current faces of the franchise.
But that’s probably one big reason why you saw Jose Bautista settle on the Blue Jays. He may have had the opportunity to be a bigger piece on another team, but what’s the point of playing a larger role if that team isn’t poised to win.
Toronto is somewhere Jose Bautista can win again. Oakland or Tampa Bay aren’t places where Jose Bautista could’ve continued his legacy. The only city where Jose Bautista can build on his legacy is Toronto. Luckily, both sides realized that.