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Bautista not ready to hang up his cleats

Veteran slugger will play as long as desire and opportunities remain
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- When it comes to his future as a big league player, Jose Bautista prefers not to speculate. There are simply too many factors to consider.

The 37-year-old Mets outfielder is in the final phase of a career that saw him suit up for the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals and Pirates before he hit his stride with Blue Jays, for whom he played from 2008-17. A late bloomer, it was with Toronto that Bautista morphed into the feared slugger who led the Majors in home runs in 2010 and '11 and was an All-Star in six consecutive seasons from '10-15. In that span, no big leaguer hit more home runs than Bautista.

NEW YORK -- When it comes to his future as a big league player, Jose Bautista prefers not to speculate. There are simply too many factors to consider.

The 37-year-old Mets outfielder is in the final phase of a career that saw him suit up for the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals and Pirates before he hit his stride with Blue Jays, for whom he played from 2008-17. A late bloomer, it was with Toronto that Bautista morphed into the feared slugger who led the Majors in home runs in 2010 and '11 and was an All-Star in six consecutive seasons from '10-15. In that span, no big leaguer hit more home runs than Bautista.

But after posting a .203 average with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 157 games for the Blue Jays last season, Bautista was one of multiple big-name veteran free agents who remained unsigned as Spring Training began. The Dominican native inked a Minor League deal with the Braves on April 18. He was expected to take over at third base for Atlanta, but he was released on May 20 after hitting .143 in 12 games.

Going forward, the market will be one of several variables that will determine how long "Joey Bats" will be on the field.

"I think every player, after a certain point and age, has to consider a lot of things when signing a contract -- like family, where the opportunity is and if it's worth joining a team that's trying to win or not," Bautista said in Spanish. "All of that comes into play."

With regards to this past offseason, he added, "In terms of personal opportunities, although there were a few, they were scarcer than in previous years."

Right now, Bautista is focused on making the most of the role he has carved out with the Mets, who signed him to a Major League contract on May 22. Since then, the veteran is hitting .242 with four home runs, 18 RBIs, 29 walks and an .888 OPS. Injuries to Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce have created playing time in the outfield for Bautista, who has started 26 of his 41 games for New York.

"Every day that I get a chance to play, my goal is to contribute something positive to the outcome of the game," said Bautista, who hit a walk-off grand slam -- amazingly, the first walk-off home run of his career -- in the Mets' 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

"That's my only goal. I'm focused on that. I'm not paying attention to whether I'm doing good or bad, or if I got a hit or didn't get a hit. I just want to contribute, play good defense, keep my errors to a minimum and, when I have a situation in front of me, do something positive."

Video: TB@NYM: Bautista on walk-off grand slam in 5-1 win

Perhaps the most impressive number Bautista has put up for the Mets has been his .469 on-base percentage -- a testament to his plate discipline, good eye and ability to make adjustments.

"I've felt that pitchers are trying to get me to swing at pitches outside the strike zone," said Bautista. "I try to work on being patient, taking my walks, and so far I've had good results."

Mets manager Mickey Callaway has high praise for the work ethic and leadership Bautista has shown.

"The main thing I see is the way he goes about his business," Callaway said. "He's out there every day working on his defense; he obviously stays in very good shape. He's doing those types of things. His approach in BP, all facets of his game, are where they need to be. Not only does he lead vocally, but by example."

Currently part of a Mets team that is in fourth place in the National League East with a 35-51 record and what appears to be a minimal chance of making the playoffs, Bautista yearns to experience something that has eluded him to date: the World Series. He reached the postseason with Toronto in 2015 and '16, but his team was eliminated both times in the American League Championship Series.

"My goal is to play in the World Series, and obviously to win it," said Bautista. "But the game is very competitive, and all you can do during the regular season is take it a day at a time, contribute every day and see where you are in the standings at the end."

While Bautista knows he's not quite ready to retire, he refrains from projecting how much longer he'll be in uniform.

"You can't predict the future," Bautista said. "But I know that as long as I feel the desire to play, with of the love I have for the game, and the right opportunities arise, I'll continue playing."

Nathalie Alonso is a reporter for MLB.com.

New York Mets, Jose Bautista