It’s been more than three months since Jose Bautista made it known that he had no plans to officially retire. There’s been virtually nothing mentioned about him since that time, but ESPN’s Jeff Passan now reports that the 39-year-old Bautista has been working out as a pitcher this winter in hopes of a return as a two-way player. Bautista plans to play for the Dominican Republic in this month’s Olympic qualifier tournament, though he might not pitch in that setting.
Bautista’s accomplishments at the plate are well known, of course. He emerged from journeyman prospect status to Blue Jays stalwart and feared All-Star slugger with a 2010 season that saw him rip a league-leading 54 homers. That kicked off a run of six straight All-Star appearances and helped to bring about the “Joey Bats” moniker that followed him throughout his career. From 2010-16, Bautista raked at a .264/.387/.542 clip, averaging 36 homers per season. His 2015 ALDS bat flip after a go-ahead, three-run homer against the Rangers stands out as one of the more iconic moments in Blue Jays franchise history.
All that said, Bautista’s production dipped sharply as he entered his late 30s. A 2017 return to the Blue Jays on a one-year, free-agent deal didn’t prove fruitful, and a followup effort split between the Braves, Mets and Phillies was better but not particularly encouraging. In a combined 1085 plate appearances between those two seasons, Bautista batted .203/.323/.371. He did not sign with a club last winter and sat out the 2019 season.
So what’s next for Bautista? He’s slated to play primarily first base in the aforementioned Olympic qualifier tournament. As for the slugger’s mound work, Passan tweets that he’s been able to run his fastball up to 94 mph. Bautista is also throwing a slider, it seems. Former Jays teammate Marcus Stroman tweeted in January that he’d been working out with Bautista and legitimately believed he could pitch in a Major League bullpen. It wasn’t clear at the time, though, that Bautista was actually working toward a spot as a potential two-way player.
Obviously, Bautista would face long odds in working his way back into the Majors — particularly as a viable pitcher. The addition of a 26th roster spot and the official two-way player designation may slightly bolster his chances of emerging as a first baseman/outfielder/reliever, but we’ve seen very few players capable of actually succeeding in a two-way role to this point. He’ll need to throw for big league scouts and would almost certainly need to be willing to take a minor league deal, but the possibility of Joey Bats becoming “Joey Sliders” should be a fun one to follow.