MARCH 26,11:17am: The Rays are “unlikely” to sign Bautista, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.
10:28am: The Braves are no longer in the mix for Bautista, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman, who adds that it’s unclear if the Rays are still interested in him.
MARCH 25: Jose Bautista continues to discuss one-year contracts with multiple teams, ESPN.com’s Marly Rivera reports (Twitter link), with the Braves and Rays among the teams in talks with the veteran outfielder. When last we checked in on Bautista’s market, he said he was considering several Major League offers, focusing on finding a good fit for his family and playing for a winning team as his primary criteria.
Neither the Rays or Braves seem like obvious contenders in 2018, with Atlanta still in (perhaps the final stages of) a rebuild and Tampa Bay shuffling the roster this winter to save money while still hoping to remain competitive in the AL East. Both teams could be better fits from a personal standpoint, however. Bautista lives in the Tampa area, and he has expressed interest in joining the club both this offseason and last winter during his previous trip through the free agent market. Playing in Atlanta would also keep Bautista relatively close to home, plus he and Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos have a longstanding connection from their time together with the Blue Jays.
Bautista would fit the Rays’ desire to add a right-handed hitting outfielder, though Bautista’s right field defense has been below-average for the last three seasons. He could also provide a platoon partner for Brad Miller at DH or first base, and perhaps even take the odd appearance at third base in a pinch.
There isn’t such an obvious path to playing time for Bautista on the Braves’ roster, and it could be that the team’s signing of Peter Bourjos to an MLB contract earlier today could have closed the door on Bautista’s chances with Atlanta. Bourjos and Bautista offer almost entirely different skillsets, of course, though the Braves now have Bourjos, Lane Adams, and Preston Tucker in the left field mix alongside regular center fielder Ender Inciarte and right fielder Nick Markakis. Elite prospect Ronald Acuna is also expected to be promoted possibly as early as mid-April (i.e. when the Braves can be sure of gaining an extra year of control on his services), leaving even less room in the outfield. Freddie Freeman obviously has first base spoken for, plus the Braves don’t have a DH spot to offer.
It remains to be seen if Bautista has anything to offer in even a semi-regular role, given his sub-replacement level numbers in 2017. Bautista hit just .203/.308/.366 over 686 plate appearances for the Blue Jays, and between that ugly performance and his already-declining numbers in 2016, it would be rather surprising to see Bautista rebound to anything close to his old form as he enters his age-37 season. That said, given Bautista’s excellent track record prior to 2016, one can also understand why teams would consider taking an inexpensive, one-year flier to see if he has something left in the tank.