TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins informed Jose Bautista in September that his mutual option for the 2018 season will not be picked up.
Atkins had until five days after the World Series to make a decision on Bautista's option, but he declined to wait that long out of respect for one of the franchise's all-time great players. The move hardly comes as a surprise, as Bautista would have been in line to make $17 million next season.
"We met with Jose, sat down with him a couple of weeks ago and made him aware they would not be picking up his option," Atkins told a group of reporters during his year-end news conference on Tuesday afternoon. "I don't believe in closing any doors and saying and speaking in absolutes, but based on the construction of our roster, we feel it's unlikely that he's part of the solution moving forward.
"Having said that, Jose's career, it's remarkable and the last game of the season speaks to what he has meant to this city and this organization. I was certainly moved by that, and I think the world of him. It's out of respect for him that we articulated that at the time, because we wanted to make sure that he was fully aware of where things stood with us."
Toronto honored Bautista during its final home game on Sept. 24. He took the field by himself at the start of the game and was treated to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre. The ovations continued during each of his at-bats and again when he was removed from the game in the top of the ninth inning.
At the time, almost everyone knew it was a foregone conclusion that Bautista would not be back, but Tuesday afternoon marked the first time Atkins confirmed it in a public forum. Atkins said Bautista was "unbelievably respectful and professional" when the Blue Jays informed him of their decision, and at some point the club will find a way to honor the six-time All-Star who is among the all-time leaders in almost every major offensive category for the club.
"When he comes back here, he will be celebrated in a very strong way," Atkins said. "That could be in the form of wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform again. It could be that he's traded for or signed in the future at some point. There will be a day that we make sure we celebrate him in a significant way, knowing that he's going to be celebrated for years by the fans."
The news comes two days after Bautista met with the Toronto media. He addressed a scrum of reporters following a 2-1 victory over the Yankees in which he singled early in the game and then added a sacrifice fly in his final at-bats before being removed. He finished a disappointing season with a franchise record 170 strikeouts and an all-time team low average of .203 for qualified hitters.
"I've said it all along, this is where I want to be and finish my career," Bautista said. "We'll see what happens in the future. It's out of my control now."
Beyond Bautista's struggles at the plate in 2017, Toronto also has an expressed desire to get younger and more athletic. The club also has talked openly about a need to improve its outfield defense, which is one area that Bautista has experienced difficulty with over the last several seasons.
Bautista remains adamant that he will be playing baseball somewhere in 2018. It just won't be in Toronto.
"We're not getting any younger if we guarantee him our right-field spot," Atkins said.
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.