Although things have picked up a bit lately, the free-agent market has still been very hard on players this winter, especially second and third tier free agents, and guys nearing their end of their careers. Teams aren't shelling out for complementary players at this point.
One such player, longtime Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, remains unsigned as spring training games get underway. Bautista still wants to play, of course, and he has his eyes on a specific team. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports Joey Bats is "keenly interested" in joining the Rays. From Topkin:
(It) wouldn't be a surprise if they seek another right-handed hitter who can play outfield. If so, an interesting option could be Jose Bautista. Now 37, coming off a rough year in Toronto, the longtime Tampa resident is said to be in great shape, focused, able to play corner infield spots and keenly interested in playing for the Rays, presumably knowing it would be for a low salary.
There are several reasons playing for the Rays figures to appeal to Bautista. For starters, he lives in Tampa as Topkin said, and playing near home is always a plus. Secondly, the Rays are an AL East team like the Blue Jays, so Bautista would get to return to Toronto a few times this season and get a hero's welcome.
And third, the Rays have an opening at DH, giving Bautista a chance to stay in the lineup without subjecting his legs to the Tropicana Field turf. This is the team's current projected lineup:
- DH Denard Span
- 3B Matt Duffy
- CF Kevin Kiermaier
- RF Carlos Gomez
- 2B Brad Miller
- C Wilson Ramos
- 1B C.J. Cron
- SS Adeiny Hechavarria
- LF Mallex Smith
Bautista at DH and Span in left field is very doable. In fact, manager Kevin Cash could employ a three-man left field/DH rotation with Bautista, Span, and Smith.
This offseason the Rays unloaded four of their top five hitters from last season in terms of OPS+ (Logan Morrison, Steven Souza, Corey Dickerson, Evan Longoria), partly to save money and partly to inject the organization with some young talent. Bautista wouldn't stand in the way of a rebuild. It'd likely be a cheap one-year contract, the kind of contract every team can afford.
Last season the 37-year-old Bautista hit .203/.308/.366 (76 OPS+) with 23 home runs in 157 games, making it by far his least productive season in Toronto. He played 12 games for the (Devil) Rays as part of his five-team 2004 season, when he bounced from the Orioles to the (Devil) Rays to the Royals to the Mets to the Pirates.