Blue Jays: Is there any scenario where Jose Bautista returns?

TORONTO, ON - JULY 27: Jose Bautista
TORONTO, ON - JULY 27: Jose Bautista /

It’s no secret that the face of the Blue Jays for the last 8 years in Jose Bautista has not had a very good season to this point. It’s sad to see how quickly Bautista has declined since the end of the 2015 season.

As of right now, it seems extremely unlikely that Bautista will return to the team in 2018. Is there any scenario where he returns? I think there’s one and one only.

Bautista is currently a below replacement level player according to fWAR at -0.3. He’s .216/.321/.384 with 17 home runs, 49 RBI, and a wRC+ of 88. Bautista is still walking at a very respectable 12.7% but is striking out more than he ever has in a Blue Jays uniform at 23.1%. It definitely hasn’t been what Bautista or the Blue Jays had hoped for when the decision to resign him was made.

Bautista started slowly but broke out in May and looked like the Bautista from 2010-2015. In the month of May, Jose hit .317/.412/.644 with 9 home runs and 21 RBI. However, if you remove the month of May, Bautista has been terrible. If you remove the month of May, Bautista’s slash-line looks like .190/.284/.311 with just 8 home runs and 28 RBI. The sample size thus far in 2017 shows us that the month of May seemed to be a complete outlier for Bautista and he’s more like the numbers you see without the month of May included.

That leads us to determine if there is any possible way we see Bautista back. 100% certain is that the mutual option the team and Jose have for 2018 will not be agreed upon by both sides. That would be worth $17 million with a $500K buyout. That is not worth it, unfortunately. You know Bautista will likely notify Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro that he wants to agree to have the mutual option picked up, but they will 99.9% not agree, making Bautista a free agent off of what is looking to be one of the worst seasons of his illustrious career.

The Blue Jays are fortunate to have close to major league ready outfield talent in the minors that can replace Bautista in right field. Candidates include Teoscar Hernandez, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr., and Dalton Pompey. That combined with Bautista’s performance likely signals the end of the Bautista era in Toronto, one that has provided endless memories and one which saw Bautista put Toronto back on the baseball map.

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So what is the only way I see the Blue Jays bringing back Jose Bautista? The first thing that needs to happen is a strong finish. Whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen, but Bautista can do himself a favour for 2018 by finishing strong. If that happens, it is possible Bautista is offered a 1 year deal for cheap guaranteed money and a reduced role with a ton of incentives for performance and more.

In Bautista’s current contract there are $150,000 bonuses for attendance numbers. That right there signals that the Blue Jays front office and Rogers know the strong marketing value Bautista brings to the team. Fans still go to the ballpark to see Bautista and fans appreciate what Bautista has done for this franchise. Much like the magic and awe associated with Troy Tulowitzki, Bautista has that as well. There will always be some magic associated with Jose, which is why people still want to come out and see him.

If it’s not a major league contract, it is entirely possible Bautista returns to Toronto on a minor league contract for the Blue Jays to not only avoid any risk in bringing him back, but one last attempt to see if there is still some life in Bautista in what would be his age 37 season. We saw a glimpse of the old Bautista in May, and a strong finish could lead to one last kick at the can. The minor league contract can also keep Bautista around as a mentor to the younger Blue Jays and have the option for Bautista to accept a reduced role on the bench.

The only way Bautista is coming back is with a strong finish to 2017, the decline of the mutual option for 2018, an agreement to either a low dollar figure contract with multiple incentives or a minor league deal. Based on all of that, it does seem unlikely Bautista returns but given the fact that Jose Bautista still can bring people to the ballpark to see him, they shouldn’t rule out a reunion.

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Regardless of what happens, Jose Bautista will go down as one of the best Toronto Blue Jays of all-time and will see his name on the level of excellence in short order. If this is the beginning of the end, let me be one of the first to thank Jose for what he has done for the Blue Jays organization, City of Toronto, and country of Canada. You will always be loved in Toronto, Jose!