A return to Toronto would certainly make sense for Bautista and makes a fair amount of sense for the Blue Jays as well. The subtraction of Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders from Toronto’s lineup removed quite a bit of offense, and while newcomers Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce will compensate for some of that loss, the Jays still have a pair of question marks in each of their outfield corners. Reports have recently indicated that Bautista is willing to consider one-year proposals coming off an injury-hampered season, though at last check the Jays had yet to offer anything greater than the $17.2MM qualifying offer to Bautista.
The Blue Jays will have to decide exactly how much they can count on Bautista as an everyday outfielder at the age of 36. Defensive metrics have soured on him rapidly in recent years, though he also battled foot and knee injuries in 2016, which certainly may have impacted his defense. Then again, as a 36-year-old that has spent the past eight seasons playing on artificial turf, Bautista may simply be more prone to injury than he was even into his mid-30s, when he averaged 154 games played from 2014-15. That, too, will have to be a factor as the Jays weigh a potential reunion. And while the Blue Jays don’t technically need to forfeit a draft pick by signing Bautista, doing so means that they won’t receive the comp pick they expected when making a qualifying offer, so the team is in essence surrendering a pick in the 30 to 35 range of next year’s draft.
All of those factors, along with Bautista’s deteriorated (but still quite strong) production at the plate in 2016, are part of the calculus being weighed by president Mark Shapiro, GM Ross Atkins and the rest of the Jays’ front office. Bautista slashed .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 24 doubles last year — production that rated 17 percent above the league average (per OPS+) and 22 percent above average (per wRC+) when adjusting for park and league. And, from 2010-15, Bautista was unequivocally one of baseball’s most feared hitters, batting a Herculean .268/.390/.555 (156 OPS+) and averaging 45 homers per 162 games played.
A return to Toronto would give Bautista the opportunity to reestablish some stock in a familiar and hitter-friendly setting while taking aim at another deep postseason run with the team for which he cemented himself as a star. Outside of the Blue Jays, it’s been a fairly tepid market for Bautista this winter — a scenario that is applicable to any number of the remaining corner outfield/first base type of sluggers on the market. Demand simply hasn’t materialized in the way that one might’ve expected, even for top-tier names. The Rays were somewhat speculatively linked to Bautista earlier this winter, and the Mets were said to have some interest before re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, but it’s been largely quiet on the Bautista front since he turned down a the qualifying offer back in November.