Jose Bautista always wanted to come back to the Blue Jays.Toronto is where Bautista became the face of a franchise and where he transformed into one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. It's where he impressed with his huge home runs and memorable bat flips to help revitalize baseball
Jose Bautista always wanted to come back to the Blue Jays.
Toronto is where Bautista became the face of a franchise and where he transformed into one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball. It's where he impressed with his huge home runs and memorable bat flips to help revitalize baseball in the city and lead the franchise to appearances in the past two American League Championship Series.
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"It was clear," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday morning. "It was clear from Day 1, it was clear from last year. He said that. He has meant it, and it's clear he meant it. He really wanted to be here."
The reunion became more likely in the past few weeks before becoming official Wednesday, as the Blue Jays had two question marks in the outfield while Bautista remained a free agent. Toronto may have been prepared to move on without Bautista, but after watching him work out this offseason, it was encouraged that he will be able to rebound from his down year in 2016 that was hampered by injuries. Atkins said it was "more likely he has the 2015 season than the 2016 season."
Atkins acknowledged Blue Jays ownership and specifically team chairman Edward Rogers for their willingness to help put together a deal that returns Bautista to a club he is comfortable with and gives Toronto the middle-of-the-order bat it desired. The team announced the one-year deal worth $18 million, including a $17 million mutual option for 2018 and a $20 million vesting option for '19. Mutual options are rarely picked up, so this will almost certainly end up being a one-year deal that gives Bautista the opportunity to re-enter the free-agent market next season if he can bounce back this year.
"I don't know exactly what deals he turned down," Atkins said. "I don't know exactly how much money he walked away from, but I would guess that he did. That's the most abundant fact that you could look at to see how much he wanted to be here. But I think probably more important to me or more important to this organization was what he means to the community and how important it was to him to be in Toronto."
The Blue Jays crossed a major item off of their offseason to-do list, though they likely are not finished.
Atkins said he was excited about Bautista as a potential right fielder, even if his defense has regressed in recent seasons, but he also said Bautista was open-minded about playing other positions as well. Atkins acknowledged an openness to improve at left field -- where Melvin Upton Jr., Steve Pearce and Dalton Pompey are in the mix to start -- and to improve pitching depth, including what the GM called a "clear hole" in the bullpen.
"There are a lot of things that almost happened that still could," Atkins said.
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.