The Toronto Blue Jays have finally made a big-name splash in this year's free agent pool.
The club and slugger Jose Bautista have agreed to terms on a deal that will see the right fielder remain in Toronto for at least one more season. The 36-year-old inked a one-year, $18 million deal on Tuesday, with incentives and mutual options that could see the value of the contract total upwards of $60 million over three years, according to multiple reports.
The per-year value is slightly more than the $17.2 million qualifying offer Bautista rejected from the Blue Jays in mid-November, but a lot less than the nearly $30-million-per-season price tag that the franchise icon was reportedly looking for before the start of the 2016 season. As last season progressed, it was clear that Bautista was bound for one of his least productive campaigns in a Blue Jays uniform, and that turned out to be a major reason why he settled for the short-term contract. A market never appeared to materialize for the former two-time home run champ, who was held to his lowest OPS (.817) since the 2009 season.
Bautista battled injuries in 2016, limiting him to 116 games and a .234/.366/.452 slash line with 22 homers. In 33 postseason at-bats, Bautista hit .182 with two home runs and five RBI while drawing six walks. The three-time AL Silver Slugger winner, however, is only one season removed from jacking 40 home runs and the second most RBI (114) of his career. He's been limited by injuries before (2012 and 2013), but had played 150-plus games in each of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Re-signing Joey Bats always made sense for the Blue Jays, and the decision to bring back the six-time All-Star seemed even more necessary after Edwin Encarnacion flew the coup for Cleveland last month. Toronto has holes, primarily in its outfield, lost out on other key free agents (like Dexter Fowler), and had a lot of money committed to its 2017 roster, meaning a half-ass effort to add this offseason made little-to-no sense.
Bautista might not be the player he was during his six consecutive All-Star appearances from 2010-2015, but his power and ability to get on-base is still an asset, while his reported contract could prove to be a team-friendly deal for the Blue Jays.
Much more than just his polarizing home run and bat flip against the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS (though, that is still the best), Bautista developed into one of the elite hitters in all of baseball since arriving to Toronto late in the 2008 season. The 20th-round pick in the 2000 draft is among the team leaders in nearly every significant offensive category, and has three 40-plus homer seasons with the Blue Jays since 2010, when he blasted a career-high 54 bombs.
While the homecoming is kind of awkward, seeing how the Blue Jays appeared to exhaust all other options before circling back to one of the franchise's greatest players, ending this stalemate was the right thing to do for a team looking for its third straight playoff appearance.