Slugger: 'I had other opportunities ... but I wanted to be back here'
By Dhiren Mahiban
Special to MLB.com |
TORONTO - - Jay Alou always knew how much playing in Toronto meant to his client, but going through the free-agency process with Jose Bautista opened his eyes to just how special the city is to the Blue Jays' slugger.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jays and Bautista agreed to a one-year deal worth $18 million. The pact includes a $17 million option for 2018 and a $20 million vesting option for '19.
"It does tell me a lot about Jose and how much the city means to him," said Alou. "I've always known the city means a lot to him, and now I can confirm [it]. This is where he wanted to be."
Alou confirmed that Bautista left money and term on the table from other clubs to sign with the Blue Jays, but he wouldn't comment on the clubs Bautista negotiated with in free agency. The agent did say there were never any contract talks between Bautista's camp and the Baltimore Orioles.
"I had other opportunities and other options, but I wanted to be back here," said Bautista. "This market, this city, this country -- wherever you play or live for 10 years almost, it ends up becoming a part of you. Those are the main reasons why I wanted to be back and nothing else.
"We have a great team, and we're capable of winning. We have a great fan base that's been extremely supportive and amongst the best in baseball, and all of sports.
Bautista, 36, is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 season, which saw him post a .234 batting average with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs in 116 games. However, the six-time All-Star leads the Majors with 249 home runs since 2010.
The right fielder believes he's in better physical condition than he was at this time last year, and he's also open to playing other positions than his usual right field spot.
"I'm feeling great. I haven't done anything different to impact my durability," he said. "The injuries that I sustained last year were because I ran into the wall and my cleat got caught in the turf so it had nothing to do with my preparation.
"Just continuing to get strong and get better. My arm is two years away from an injury and feeling much better than it did last year at this time, so I'm excited about that and being able to contribute on defense like I used to."
Bautista's teammates are excited to have him back in the fold.
"I feel like Bautista is Blue Jays baseball," pitcher Marcus Stroman said. "He's an unbelievable clubhouse guy. I can't begin to talk about how much he's taught me about pitching, about the game of baseball, [and] how much of that I've put right into my game."
"Statistically -- just a little bit," Pearce joked about how Bautista has changed since their Pittsburgh days. "It's hard to envision what he's done. He can hit. He was more of a gap-to-gap guy in Pittsburgh, but now he can launch the ball out of the park anytime, anywhere.
"When I heard he signed, it was good news to me and great news for the ball club."
Drafted in the 20th round in 2000 by Pittsburgh, Bautista made his big league debut in '04 and was dealt from the Pirates to the Blue Jays in '08.
After his breakout 2010 season, when Bautista collected 54 homers and 124 RBIs, the Blue Jays signed him to a $64 million, five-year deal in '11, and they picked up a $14 million team option last season.
The Santo Domingo native admitted the free agency process was a stressful one. Despite rumors of Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, amongst others, being possible suitors, Bautista maintained contact with the Blue Jays throughout.
"I think we kicked off conversations and communication at the Winter Meetings. I would say right after New Years it kind of started picking up and started to get a little bit more serious," Bautista said. "I think the desire was mutual. It was there all along. It just happened that the deal got struck when it did.
"I'm ecstatic to be back and looking forward to next season."
Dhiren Mahiban is a contributor to MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.