Veteran slugger Jose Bautista is willing to take a one-year contract, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. There’s something of a catch, though: per the report, “he wants it to be at a higher value than the qualifying offer.”
It seems, then, that Bautista would need to see something greater than $17.2MM on an offer sheet for the 2017 season before he’s willing to give up his pursuit of a lengthier pact — at least at this stage. Notably, the report does not suggest that the organization has shown any movement on its part; at last check, Toronto had yet to indicate a willingness to exceed the value of the QO that it previously extended, and Bautista declined. As Passan puts it, “the next move is the Blue Jays’.”
Passan explores in great detail why a reunion with Toronto makes sense, particularly in a single-season scenario; you’ll want to give his breakdown a full read for that reasoning. Indeed, with former teammate Edwin Encarnacion now off the market, the path is perhaps cleared for Bautista (and other defensively limited power bats) to find their own landing spots. And the Jays’ lineup surely is still in need of some pop, especially in the outfield, as the team’s current depth chart shows. Bautista wants to return to the place where he finally found his stride as a ballplayer, too, a source informs Passan.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this new bargaining position for Bautista changes the calculus for Toronto (or other organizations). Much of the risk in his profile lies in his age (36); though he took a step back in the power department last year, he also dealt with some injuries and still maintained his top-of-class plate discipline. All told, Bautista still generated a strong .234/.366/.452 batting line with 22 home runs in 517 plate appearances. In that regard, the demand for a salary in excess of the QO does not seem startling; coming into the winter, after all, expectations were that he could find a multi-year contract with an AAV in that ballpark.
Other market markers seem relevant here, too. Carlos Beltran landed $16MM from the Astros on a one-year term, while Matt Holliday got $13MM from the Yankees. It’s certainly arguable that Bautista is a bigger prize than either of those players, though neither required draft compensation. (For Toronto, the club wouldn’t punt one of its existing picks, but re-signing Bautista would mean surrendering its rights to a compensatory choice.)
At the same time, teams eyeing power bats no longer have quite as many names to choose from, particularly if they prefer an outfield-capable player. The younger but less-accomplished Mark Trumbo is perhaps the biggest remaining competition on the free-agent market, which still includes other options such as Mike Napoli (who is limited to first base) and Brandon Moss (who hits from the left side). On the trade side of the equation, J.D. Martinez can presumably still be had, though we haven’t heard much indication that anything will come together on the Tigers star. There are a variety of other free-agent outfielders, including recent Toronto teammate Michael Saunders, though none feature anything approaching Bautista’s offensive track record.
From the demand side, plenty of hypothetical suitors remain for Bautista and his market competition. We ticked through some of them recently in this post. As the recent bidding for Encarnacion shows, there could still be an appetite on the market for multi-year pacts with significant value, as well as creative, shorter-term deals at high average annual values. But just how much demand exists for the older Bautista — whose platform season wasn’t as promising as that of his long-time teammate — remains unclear.
In prior years, we’ve seen players settle for one-year deals after turning down qualifying offers, though in most instances they took less than the value of the offer itself. (This was the case for players such as Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Kendrys Morales, and Stephen Drew.) Ervin Santana agreed to a $14.1MM deal with the Braves in advance of the 2014 season, matching that year’s QO value, though he had to wait for spring injuries to land that contract. Only Hiroki Kuroda was able to beat the qualifying offer on a single-season pact; in November of 2012, he inked a $15MM contract after turning down what was then a $13.3MM QO. Unlike those situations, however, the new rule preventing multiple qualifying offers from being extended to a single player would prevent the Blue Jays or another team from lining up possible draft compensation after the 2017 campaign.