It’s been a very weird offseason. In winters’ past, front offices handed out nine-figure contracts like candy. This year, mega-million-dollar deals were as rare as Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.
At this moment, there are still dozens of free agents without a home. One of those players is former Blue Jay, Jose Bautista. Which is still very weird to say, by the way; “former Blue Jay”.
Like many of his brethren, Bautista has yet to sign for the 2018 season. Considering that guys like Jake Arietta, Alex Cobb and Greg Holland haven’t found a home, it’s not all that surprising Joey Bats is still a free agent.
But then, an interesting twist on Thursday night. Within hours of each other, there were conflicting reports saying Bautista was mulling over retirement, which Jose himself refuted a few hours later.
At last check, Heyman’s piece now includes a quote from Bautista’s agent Jay Alou, who says “he’s in better shape than ever. He definitely wants to play. It’s not happening”.
When I first saw that report by Jon Heyman, I took it with a grain of salt. His sources on Blue Jays news this winter haven’t been all that great. First was the report of the Blue Jays’ interest in J.D. Martinez (yeah right) and then Heyman’s piece saying Donaldson “is believed to be seeking a monster payday, according to friends”.
Not long thereafter, Donaldson came out on Twitter and directly debunked that rumour. Heyman walked it back, but not before making it sound like the Bringer of Rain was asking for the sun, the moon and every other planet in the solar system.
Similar to the Heyman/Donaldson dustup, Bautista talked to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and denied any claims about his retirement from baseball. Bautista is still weighing his options and either wants to play for a contender or play somewhere which is beneficial to his family life.
At this point in his career, Bautista has earned the right to be selective in where he plays next. However, there are only so many teams willing to take a shot at a 37-year-old outfielder coming off the worst year of his career.
Bautista could still play for a Major League team in 2018, but it got me thinking … what is the market for a player like him, anyway?
If a guy like Neil Walker – who is consistently a 2-3 WAR player on a yearly basis – can’t get a contract, what hope does Bautista have? Walker is only 32 years old, he’s a switch-hitter, can play a solid second base and he’s still unsigned. On the other hand, Bautista posted a .697 OPS in 2017.
I don’t doubt that several teams inquired with Bautista’s agent, dangling minor league deals with an invite to Spring Training. From Jose’s perspective, I can only imagine that feels like an insult, after spending the last decade with the Blue Jays. But that’s been the free agent landscape this offseason.
Scott Boras touted J.D. Martinez as the “King Kong of Slug” for hundreds of millions of dollars. Martinez “only” got $110 million over five years from the Red Sox. Mike Moustakas just got a guaranteed $6.5 million from the Royals. Admittedly, Moustakas is a bit of an enigma; but in years past, teams were falling over themselves to sign a player of his calibre.
To me, the perfect fit for Bautista has always been Tampa Bay. I recall the Rays being slightly interested in Bautista’s services last year, but the impetus for his signing with the Blue Jays was immediately after it was rumoured there was interest from the Cleveland Indians. Yes, nothing gets a deal done quicker than threatening you’re going to sign in Cleveland.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times mentioned Bautista was “keenly interested in playing for the Rays”, which jives with Jose’s hints to Passan about wanting to play close to home. Bautista lives in Florida, and at this stage in his career, staying close to family is a key factor when deciding where to sign.
If I were a betting man (only on Super Bowl Sunday when I essentially light a ProLine ticket on fire), I’d say Bautista signs mid-way through May with the Rays. Because, of course the Rays, but also because what the hell do they have to lose? Also, what does Jose have to lose?
He’s in the twilight of his career, but it’s hard to believe this is it for Bautista. Heck, Tim Lincecum hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues in close to 20 months and he’s trying to make a comeback. Ichiro, at the ripe old age of 44, just signed with the Mariners. Even Rafael Palmeiro, at age 53, still thinks he has some gas left in the tank.
Bautista had the perfectly scripted send-off in Toronto last September. At the time, everyone realized it was the end of a Blue Jays era. Although his time was coming to an end as a Blue Jay, fans figured Bautista would land elsewhere in 2018.
However, most didn’t expect it get to mid-March and he still wouldn’t have a home. A guy removed from playing 157 games and hitting 23 home runs must have some value to a team out there. It won’t be much, but it’s certainly more just than hanging up the cleats for good.