Gibbons: ‘There’s a chance’ Bautista plays some first base for Blue Jays

The Blue Jays manager acknowledges that Jose Bautista isn't the same defensive player he was 10 years ago, but is comfortable with the slugger roaming his outfield on a regular basis and what his options at first base are.

Jose Bautista is back with the Toronto Blue Jays after officially signing a one-year contract Wednesday, but manager John Gibbons hinted the veteran’s role on the field could change slightly in 2017.

Bautista has been the team’s starting right fielder, and that will be the case at the start of the upcoming season too, but Gibbons is open to the idea of moving the six-time all-star to first base under certain circumstances.

“I think he actually enjoys playing a little bit of infield because he’s been such a good athlete,” Gibbons told Jeff Blair and Richard Deitsch Wednesday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “He likes to show everybody what he can do. That’s not something we’ve specifically talked about at this point but there’s a chance he could go over there and play a little bit if the need’s right that’s for sure.”

The Blue Jays still have switch hitter Justin Smoak and they signed right-handed batter Steve Pearce to a two-year deal in early December. Gibbons hasn’t made any final decisions on if Pearce will start or whether the two would form a platoon at first base.

“Let’s see how everything plays out,” Gibbons said. “We’ve always liked Pearce. From all my years here he’s always been a guy, he’s burned us from the other side quite a bit and we made a push to try and get him a couple years ago so we think he’ll be a big addition. He’s always been able to swing that bat and he’s a great competitor too. He’s one of those hard-nosed players I think you can never have enough of.”

Bautista played 116 games in 2016, hitting .234 with 22 home runs, an OPS of .817 and a WAR of 1.4, his lowest total as a member of the Blue Jays.

Gibbons, who said Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins had kept him abreast of Bautista’s contract situation, believes injuries were the main reason his star slugger’s numbers were down last year.

“I’ve said before, Jose is definitely one of the most motivated individuals I’ve ever been around,” Gibbons said. “He’s always on a mission to prove just how good he is and I think coming back under these circumstances he’s going to be motivated that much more and he’ll end up having a big, big year.

“I never count this guy out. He’s just motivated that way more so than anyone else I’ve ever been around and I think he’ll rise to the occasion.”

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