Market for Bautista likely to be wide open

Market for Bautista likely to be wide open

Jose Bautista has been one of the best power hitters in the American League for years, and one of the faces of the Blue Jays alongside Edwin Encarnacion. This offseason, other teams finally have a chance to make a run at him.

The 36-year-old Bautista, even coming off a down year in 2016 in which he was limited to 116 games by injuries, hitting .234 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs, is commanding interest from multiple teams as a free agent.

Hot Stove Tracker

Bautista did receive a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer from Toronto for 2017, but he rejected it before Monday's 5 p.m. ET deadline (as did Encarnacion).

The Red Sox are the latest team to emerge as a suitor for the veteran outfielder/designated hitter, as The Boston Globe reported on Saturday. Boston is looking for a powerful bat to replace retiring franchise icon David Ortiz, and Bautista could fit the bill.

As the Globe reported, Bautista loves Boston and Fenway Park, where he has a .972 OPS, 24 homers and 54 RBIs in 66 career games. In addition, Red Sox skipper John Farrell managed Bautista for two seasons in Toronto.

The Mets are another possible destination, having inquired about Bautista last week, as The New York Times reported. The Mets' top priority is re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, one of the headliners of the free-agent market. But if they can't, they'll need a right-handed-hitting outfielder, with lefties Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto filling out their alignment.

That need could be enough to overcome the downside of a National League team signing Bautista -- a below-average defensive outfielder at this stage of his career -- as it would not be able to use him as a DH.

Don't rule out the hometown team, though. Bautista, according to Heyman, would love to remain with the Blue Jays, whom he has helped lead to back-to-back AL Championship Series appearances. Bautista's agent, Jay Alou, told Heyman, "He loves the city, loves the fans. I didn't realize how much he loves it there. And he really feels he has unfinished business."

The Blue Jays extending Bautista a qualifying offer certainly suggested interest in bringing back their star player. Bautista, a six-time All-Star with Toronto, has averaged 33 home runs in eight full seasons there, leading the Majors in homers twice.

It's unclear, though, how strongly the Blue Jays will pursue Bautista now that he has declined the qualifying offer, especially after signing DH Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million deal and Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to a seven-year, $22 million deal on Friday. They could also look to re-sign free agent Encarnacion, which could make signing Bautista less likely.

As Hot Stove season continues, there is a laundry list of potential landing spots for Bautista. The Boston Globe listed the Rangers, Astros, Orioles, Cardinals, Giants and Braves as "on the radar." And according to Heyman, teams needing an outfielder or a right-handed bat that might be interested also include the Dodgers and Yankees. (He considers the Rangers unlikely given Bautista's history with Rougned Odor.)

In the early stages of free agency, the market remains wide open. Bautista, who has played many positions over his career, is reportedly open to playing left field or the infield for the team he signs with, which could widen the range of possibilities for him. As Alou told MLB.com's Jon Morosi last week, "Jose will play anywhere, or hit anywhere, if it helps the team win."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.