The dust has settled on Jose Bautista weekend at Rogers Centre and only five games remain on the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2017 schedule. That means the franchise icon is less than a week away from staring directly into the chasm of an unknown future.
The Blue Jays presumably won’t pick up their side of Bautista’s $17-million mutual option for next season and the struggling slugger hasn’t yet mentioned anything about retirement.
So, let’s assume the right-fielder, who turns 37 next month, will spend this winter looking for a new MLB home. Based purely off speculation, here are a few potential destinations for Bautista…
On paper K.C. presents an optimal fit for Bautista because it could conceivably offer lots of playing time. The Royals may lose five vital position players (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Melky Cabrera) to free agency and if that happens, there will be openings in the corner infield and outfield. General manager Dayton Moore will need to somehow fill those positions and Bautista presents an interesting option.
The Rays could interest Bautista for a number of reasons. First off, he owns a home in Florida and spends lots of time in Tampa during the off-season. Secondly, the Rays are perennially around the fringes of contention, so the aging slugger would likely be playing meaningful baseball if he sets up shop at Tropicana Field.
There could be some significant openings on the Tampa Bay roster at first base and/or designated hitter: Logan Morrison, who’s enjoying a monster offensive campaign, and Lucas Duda will be free agents this off-season and would create a massive power void if they depart.
J.D. Martinez is a pending free agent and if he leaves the desert, there will be an outfield hole. The Diamondbacks have proven they’re willing to live with a right-fielder who provides subpar defence in Martinez, so it’s not a stretch to wonder if they would be OK with Bautista patrolling the outfield grass.
Another factor to consider: The D-backs are a team on the rise but remain relatively young, with an average age of 28.3 for their position players. Bautista could help in that regard — he’s been lauded for his tutelage of young players such as Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar and, more recently, Teoscar Hernandez.
Like Martinez, right-fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a pending free agent and may not re-sign with his current club. Everyone knows Coors Field is a spectacular park for hitters, and the Rockies could find a bargain in Bautista should he excel there.
Colorado first baseman Mark Reynolds — whose contract also expires this off-season — is a prime example of an aging player who struggled mightily before taking advantage of Denver’s high altitude. Reynolds posted a combined .213 average and .697 OPS in the two years before he joined the Rockies; in the two seasons since, he’s produced a .274 average and .824 OPS.
The Mets don’t seem to mind questionable defence. That’s evidenced by their decision to have Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes manning the infield for a large portion of this season. New York figures to deploy a stellar pitching staff in 2018 and could conceivably contend, but it will need to upgrade its offence to do so — Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson are gone and promising youngster Michael Conforto (shoulder) might not be healthy in time for opening day.
The A’s likely won’t be a factor in the 2018 American League playoff race, yet may still present an intriguing path to a contender for Bautista. Billy Beane’s crafty front office is always looking to profit from a player’s need to resuscitate his value. If Bautista lands in Oakland and enjoys a strong first half, it’s almost inevitable that the club would seek to trade him before the July deadline.
The Tigers appear to be headed for a long rebuild. J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton were traded this season, Victor Martinez is aging and apparently untradeable, while Miguel Cabrera is dealing with severe back problems. So, Detroit will need to find some source of power, particularly from the right side, and taking a flyer on Bautista couldn’t hurt — his 22 home runs this season would be tied for second on the Tigers’ current roster. Added bonus for Bautista and Blue Jays fans? He’d be just a short drive away from Toronto.