MLB.com Columnist

Jon Paul Morosi

Bautista's best move might be to stay put

Free-agent slugger a fan favorite, fits Blue Jays' needs

Bautista's best move might be to stay put

Jose Bautista's agent, Jay Alou, spoke with Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins on the final day of last week's Winter Meetings. The men agreed to remain in contact.

Beyond that, little is known for certain about the extent of Bautista's market more than one month into free agency.

Bautista, 36, has a number of factors working against him: He is coming off his least productive season since 2009, which included two trips to the disabled list. National League teams, in particular, may be concerned about Bautista's below-average defensive metrics in 2016. Relatively few American League teams are eager to spend aggressively on a corner outfielder/designated hitter.

Then there's the larger industry trend away from multiyear contracts for position players in their mid-30s. Kendrys Morales -- who agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal with the Blue Jays -- is the oldest free-agent position player to sign a multiyear contract this offseason. And he is 33.

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More personally, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said he won't sign Bautista because the six-time All-Star "is a villain in Baltimore," according to MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli. The Rangers are looking for a player with Bautista's skill set ... but he engaged in a fracas with them in May.

Bautista hits free-agent market

The Yankees and Giants aren't seriously pursuing Bautista, sources say. The Dodgers probably will add an outfielder before Opening Day, but they are more likely to do so via trade, especially after the anticipated nine-figure splurge on Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner.

So which teams are looking for a corner-outfield bat? The Phillies and White Sox each have needs at the position, but neither is ready to win a championship in 2017. And Bautista, who has yet to play in a World Series, wants badly to play for a contender.

Bautista's market is complicated by the facts that: (a) teams other than Toronto face the loss of a Draft pick by signing him; and (b) those same clubs can't recoup a Draft pick through the qualifying offer system next offseason because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Which brings us back to the Blue Jays. They extended Bautista a $17.2 million qualifying offer as free agency began. He rejected it. But he could go back, just as Dexter Fowler did with the Cubs last offseason.

For all the antipathy Bautista has encountered in Baltimore and Texas, he remains beloved across Canada. He was one of the seminal figures behind baseball's resurgence in the country. Bautista's clinching home run against the Rangers in Game 5 of the 2015 AL Division Series was an iconic moment in franchise history. Those things matter -- from a public-relations standpoint, if nothing else -- for a team that saw a year-over-year attendance increase of nearly 600,000 fans this year.

Beyond that, Bautista is a fit for the roster. Even in a down year, his .817 OPS ranked 15th among qualifying Major League outfielders -- ahead of Jay Bruce, George Springer, Bryce Harper and Matt Kemp. If the Jays had to play a game today, their outfield would consist of Melvin Upton Jr., Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera. Offensively, at least, that's not a World Series-caliber group, especially without Edwin Encarnacion's 42 home runs anchoring the lineup.

Will Bautista return to Toronto? No one knows for sure. But after weeks of shopping, perhaps the best matchup for both sides was the one they had before.

Jon Paul Morosi is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.