The Blue Jays re-signed Jose Bautsta to return as their right fielder, as he has for the last 8 years. However, the veteran slugger is open to playing wherever it helps the team win.
The Blue Jays entered the offseason with a lot of question marks, as their slugging duo of both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were set to be free agents, in addition to others. Fast forward to spring training, and Bautista has returned to help fill the Blue Jays’ outfield, and the middle of their lineup.
Now that’s he’s 36, the Blue Jays are hopeful that he can spend the majority of the 2017 season in the outfield mix, but they’re also open to the reality that his defensive skills have taken a step back.
Bautista has never been a Gold Glove candidate in the outfield, but he’s been at least average for the majority of his career. There was a time when his “rocket” right arm was a feared asset in right as well, but he hasn’t quite been the same since hurting his shoulder in 2015.
In 2016, he battled a combination of injuries which hampered his season, including a turf toe injury, as well as troubles with his knee. It truly is difficult to know how much the injuries effected him defensively, as opposed to the extent of age-related decline.
On Friday, Bautista was asked about the 2017 season, and where he might fit in the Blue Jays lineup and he revealed a different attitude than we saw in 2016’s spring training. For those who forgot, Bautista entered camp on the cusp of free agency, and made it known that there wouldn’t be a “home town discount” for the Blue Jays this time around. He’s always preferred to stick in right field, and it’s even been a bit of a bone of contention in the past.
"“I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I’ve proven that last year and throughout my career just trying to do what the manager thinks is best and playing whatever position needs to be played”."
Bautista has been primarily a right fielder in recent seasons, but he’s also spent time at 3rd and 1st base throughout his career. It’s hard to say whether Bautista may move this year, especially considering the rest of the roster makeup.
At third, the Blue Jays have the 2015 MVP in Josh Donaldson, who obviously isn’t going anywhere. At first base, Justin Smoak returns to battle it out with Steve Pearce for the majority of starts. Pearce is newly signed and is capable of playing first, second, or the outfield, so his flexibility and performance could have a significant impact on Bautista’s future.
If Bautista struggles in the outfield, the Blue Jays may have to get creative in order to keep their most effective bats in the lineup. With Kendrys Morales as a primary DH, it’s not as simple as taking Bautista off the field on defence, as it was when Encarnacion could slide to first. Morales can also play first, but given his injury history, the Blue Jays would likely prefer to avoid using him much on defence.
Regardless of how it plays out, it’s great to hear Bautista is open to playing wherever it helps the team. It may not be an issue to start the season, but injuries always play a significant factor in the MLB season. Knowing Bautista is willing to move around gives John Gibbons more flexibility, and the ability to put his best lineup on the field, regardless of ego.