MLB Hot Stove: Blue Jays reportedly nearing a deal with Jose Bautista

After losing Edwin Encarnacion to the Indians earlier this offseason, it appears the Blue Jays will retain their other big free agent slugger, Jose Bautista.

Toronto and Bautista are reportedly nearing a contract agreement. The team has not yet confirmed an agreement or progress in contract talks.

It's important to note the deal is not done yet and the exact terms are still unknown. The Atlantic's John Lott hears the Blue Jays are open to paying Bautista and annual salary north of the $17.2 million qualifying offer he rejected back in November.

Bautista, 36, battling injuries last season yet still managed a .234/.366/.452 (117 OPS+) batting line with 22 home runs in only 116 games. There is no better combination of power and on-base ability remaining in free agency at the moment.

There have been rumblings of a potential reunion between Bautista and the Blue Jays pretty much all offseason, though things really picked up in recent weeks. And really, it makes all the sense in the world, for a few reasons.

1. The Blue Jays need outfield help.

Jose Bautista is reportedly nearing a return to the Blue Jays. USATSI

At the moment the Blue Jays are slated to go into the 2017 with Kevin Pillar in center field and some combination of Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, and Dalton Pompey in the corner outfield spots. Yikes. That unit very well might be the worst outfield in baseball, at least offensively.

Bautista's seemingly inevitably return will allow him to slide back into right field, relegating Upton and Carrera to platoon duty in left field while Pearce moves around between the outfield, first base, and DH. Pompey, who barely cracked a .700 OPS while repeating Triple-A in 2016, becomes a depth player.

Simply put, a reunion with Bautista improves Toronto's outfield situation dramatically, even if he isn't the player he was three or four years ago. Manager John Gibbons can now send out this lineup:

  1. 2B Devon Travis
  2. 3B Josh Donaldson
  3. RF Jose Bautista
  4. DH Kendrys Morales
  5. SS Troy Tulowitzki
  6. C Russell Martin
  7. 1B Justin Smoak/Steve Pearce
  8. LF Melvin Upton/Ezequiel Carrera
  9. CF Kevin Pillar

Gosh, adding Bautista makes the lineup look so much better. They are a little right-handed heavy -- Morales and Smoak are switch-hitters and Carrera is a lefty, but everyone else is a righty -- but I don't think that's a huge deal. Guys like Donaldson, Bautista, and Tulowitzki rake against all types of pitching.

2. Bautista is a rock star in Toronto.

No other big league city appreciates Bautista like Toronto. Let's face it, he's not the most popular player around the league, at league among fans, which is the kind of thing that happens when you've been bat-flipping against everyone for the better part of the last decade. In fact, we know at least one team, the Orioles, passed on Bautista because fans dislike him.

Bautista should be a lifelong Blue Jay. He's going to end up in their Level of Excellence at Rogers Centre as one of the greatest players in franchise history, and rightfully so. There's a connection and appreciation between Bautista and the fans in Toronto that just wouldn't exist anywhere else. The Blue Jays benefit because Bautista puts butts in the seats and he benefits by being beloved. It's a win-win.

3. The draft pick is a non-issue.

One of the biggest reasons Bautista remains unsigned is draft pick compensation. Very few teams are willing to surrender their first round pick to sign a 36-year-old slugger -- heck, Mark Trumbo is only 31 and he led MLB in homers in 2016, yet he's struggling to find a job -- and that undoubtedly suppressed Bautista's market. It's not the first time we've seen this happen.

The Blue Jays won't have to give up a draft pick to re-sign their own player. Yeah, they "lose" the supplemental first round pick they would have received had Bautista signed elsewhere, but they've already gained one pick for Encarnacion, so they're +1 in that department this offseason. Adding Bautista to the roster helps the Blue Jays more than a draft pick given the team's contention window. No doubt.

Once Bautista officially returns to the Blue Jays -- and it feels inevitably at this point, it has for a few weeks now -- Trumbo will be the only remaining unsigned qualified free agent. The market is loaded with first base/DH types (Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, etc.) so he's had trouble drumming up interest. It's simple supply and demand. There's lots of supply but little demand at the moment.

Beyond outfield help, a problem Bautista will solve, the Blue Jays figure to focus on adding a backup catcher and left-handed relief help. An additional outfielder and rotation depth could be in the cards, though they don't seem like pressing needs right now.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for,,,... Full Bio

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