Blue Jays could reunite with Bautista

Blue Jays could reunite with Bautista

TORONTO -- Spring Training is less than six weeks away, Jose Bautista doesn't have a deal and the Blue Jays still need another middle-of-the-order bat. It's probably time to start finding some common ground.

The assumption has been that Toronto is prepared to move forward without one of its franchise icons. The club had other priorities and Bautista was adamant about receiving a multi-year deal. Time changes everything, though, and a case can be easily made that these two sides are better off together than they are apart.

MLB.com is making a "bold prediction" for each of the 30 teams. For the Blue Jays, the selection is Bautista eventually returning on a one-year deal for approximately the $17.2 million qualifying offer he received, for a number of reasons.

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To be clear, a deal between the sides is not imminent. The Blue Jays have remained in touch with Bautista's agent but the slugger remains just one of several outfield options for the club. Both parties can remain patient for the time being, but unless the landscape changes, they may have no choice but to settle on a reunion.

This would not have been Toronto's first choice. Edwin Encarnacion was the Blue Jays' top priority at the start of free agency, and Dexter Fowler quickly became a prime target as well. If the Blue Jays had signed either player they would have been out on Bautista, but since they didn't, there's still money to spend and roster holes to fill.

Bautista is the best available bat to fill Toronto's needs. His range in right field has diminished, but he could probably play there for one more year while also seeing a little bit of time at first base and DH. Reinserting his bat into a lineup that features Josh Donaldson, Kendrys Morales and Troy Tulowitzki also would greatly improve the Blue Jays' chances in the AL East.

From Bautista's perspective, a one-year deal isn't ideal, but it would allow him to re-enter free agency next offseason without a qualifying offer hanging around his neck. Teams have been reluctant to part with a Draft pick to sign him, but Bautista won't face a similar problem next winter because of changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which stipulates that a player cannot receive a QO more than once in his career.

The only way Bautista can avoid the Draft-pick situation this year is to wait until June to sign. That's an extremely risky scenario and one that typically has not paid off for other players. It's in Bautista's best interest to start the year on time, and while the Blue Jays might want that compensatory pick, it becomes a moot point if Bautista can't find an acceptable deal elsewhere.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.