Bautista return unlikely, but not out of question

December 12th, 2016

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays technically aren't out of the running for , but a reunion between the two sides seems unlikely at best.

According to industry sources, Toronto has remained unwilling to offer Bautista more than the $17.2 million qualifying offer that he declined last month. The slugger continues to search for a multiyear deal, but he won't be getting it from the Blue Jays.

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It's not immediately clear whether Toronto would still consider a one-year deal, but it's likely a moot point because Bautista's representatives remain confident he can get something longer term elsewhere. If Bautista joins another team, the Blue Jays will receive a compensatory pick in next year's Draft.

Toronto has the money and playing time available to sign Bautista, but after missing out on free agent , the club is expected to divide its money among several players. The club is expected to have a payroll of approximately $160 million next season, which leaves somewhere in the range of $25 million left to spend.

The Blue Jays need at least one -- and likely two -- outfielders, a couple of arms for the bullpen and a backup catcher. Free-agent catcher shares the same agent as Bautista, and that's one reason these two sides have periodically touched base over the past couple of weeks. Iannetta is seeking a short-term guaranteed deal after appearing in 94 games for the Mariners in 2016.

Bautista has been the face of Toronto's franchise for the past seven years and has close ties to the local business community, which has led to lucrative off-the-field endorsements. There's clear value in staying -- but not enough to justify turning down a multiyear deal if Bautista can get it elsewhere.

The market for Bautista is still a little bit uncertain. He's speaking with multiple teams, but -- at least publicly -- there has yet to be a clear favorite. One under-the-radar team to watch is Tampa Bay. Bautista lives in the area and the Rays would not have to part with a first-round pick to sign him, because they are slated to pick No. 4 overall and top-10 picks are protected. With that said, they typically do not spend very much through free agency.

The Mariners and Astros are still possibilities, while the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees never surfaced as realistic landing spots. In the National League, the Giants remain an interesting fit if they can be convinced to splurge on another bat. Either way, it looks like Bautista's free agency will linger, and he might have to be patient for the right deal to surface.

With Bautista likely out of the picture and Fowler no longer available, The Blue Jays could shift their attention to mid-tier free agents. , , and are among those available, while potential trade targets from around MLB include , , and .