Posted on December 24, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Jose Bautista Blue Jays

Image via espn.com

As the MLB offseason heads into the holidays, a number of prominent offensive players remain available on the free agent market. Towards the top of that list is Jose Bautista, who is undoubtedly surprised to still be unsigned at this stage in the offseason, as he is one of the best power hitters of the decade. After the way things have unfolded for Bautista this winter, there is speculation that he may actually be willing to consider a one-year deal, which if it came to fruition would be one of the biggest surprises of the offseason.

The caveat is that for one year, Bautista would want a higher salary than the $17.2 million the Toronto Blue Jays offered when they extended a qualifying offer to him early in the offseason. Based on the way the market for power hitters has unfolded this winter, it’s hard to imagine Bautista being offered anywhere close to $20 million per season, even on a short-term deal. Even Bautista’s Toronto teammate Edwin Encarnacion was barely able to secure $20 million per season, ultimately accepting a three-year deal, and he was widely considered the second best hitter on the market.

Of course, even if Bautista were willing to accept a one-year deal, he still comes with draft pick compensation after declining Toronto’s qualifying offer. Most teams are already reluctant to give up a draft pick to sign a player, and they surely won’t be willing to do so if it means getting that player for just a single season. This points to Bautista signing with one of the 10 teams whose first round pick is protected or him returning to the Blue Jays.

Out of the 10 teams with a protected pick, few are likely to have an interest in Bautista. Even on a one-year deal, his salary demands would be out of their range. Moreover, few of those teams are in a position to compete for a postseason spot in 2017, meaning the signing of Bautista would serve little purpose besides giving them a potential trade chip next summer if Bautista ends up having a strong season.

The lone exception to this could be the Tampa Bay Rays, who have at least kicked the tires on signing Bautista and believe they could compete in 2017 if they add a few more pieces. Of course, the Rays remain a long shot, especially if Bautista is expecting to receive more than $17.2 million on a one-year deal.

This points to Bautista ultimately ending up back with the Blue Jays. Part of Toronto’s reluctance to re-sign Bautista this winter has been related to not wanting to give the 36-year old a long-term deal. However, if Bautista were willing to accept a one-year deal, it would mitigate that risk and make Bautista a realistic option for a team that would love to add a power-hitting outfielder to its roster. Of course, one issue that could stand in the way is price, as the Blue Jays would be unlikely to offer Bautista more than they did when they made him a qualifying offer, and Bautista has little leverage to demand any more.

At this point, the ball appears to be in Toronto’s court. The Blue Jays have options at their disposal when it comes to adding an outfielder outside of Bautista, and so they are unlikely to offer anywhere close to $20 million for just one season. A willingness to accept a one-year deal would point Bautista back to Toronto, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a return to the Blue Jays in 2017.

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