Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista decided to test the free agent market this off-season. A return to the city where he blossomed into one of the game’s top sluggers turned out to be the best fit.
The Blue Jays confirmed Wednesday that Bautista has re-signed with the team, agreeing to a one-year deal with a guaranteed base salary of US$18 million. The contract includes options that could see him stay in Toronto through 2019.
In an injury-hampered 2016 season, Bautista hit 22 homers and drove in 69 runs over 116 games. The six-time all-star leads all big-league players with 249 homers since 2010.
Reports surfaced Tuesday that the two sides had agreed on a deal and the Blue Jays provided contract details in a news release Wednesday morning. The deal includes a $17-million mutual option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout along with a $20-million vesting option for 2019.
Bautista rejected the team’s $17.2-million qualifying offer last fall, which ensured Toronto would receive compensation if he signed elsewhere as a free agent.
Many baseball observers expected Bautista to be in a different uniform in 2017, but few predicted the tepid interest in veteran sluggers this off-season. In addition, teams likely held off on pursuing Bautista since signing him would cost them a significant draft pick.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were in need of a corner outfielder and could certainly use Bautista’s offence since first baseman Edwin Encarnacion left for the Cleveland Indians as a free agent.
Bautista’s defensive skills have slipped in recent years but he still has some pop at the plate and posted an on-base percentage of .366 last season. He’ll be counted on to co-anchor a batting order with third baseman Josh Donaldson, designated hitter Kendrys Morales and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Bautista, 36, was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 20th round of the 2000 draft. He made his big-league debut in 2004 and the Pirates traded him to the Blue Jays in 2008.
His breakout season came in 2010 with 54 homers and 124 RBIs and he has been one of the sport’s top sluggers ever since. The Santo Domingo native also played a key role in helping the franchise return to prominence after a 22-year playoff drought.
In 2015, he helped lead Toronto back to the post-season and delivered one of the biggest homers in team history in a pivotal Game 5 win over the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series. He punctuated the no-doubt blast with an unforgettable bat flip that became a talking point around the baseball world.
The Blue Jays were eliminated in the AL Championship Series by the Kansas City Royals. Toronto returned to the post-season last year, posting a wild-card win over the Baltimore Orioles and a three-game sweep of the Rangers before falling to the Indians in the ALCS.
Bautista signed a $65-million, five-year deal in 2011 and the Blue Jays picked up a $14-million team option last season.
Now that his return is finalized, Toronto is expected to focus on improving its depth in the bullpen and at the backup catcher and left field positions.