Blue Jays GM Atkins speaks on Bautista, remaining off-season

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins met with the media on Thursday morning to address the club’s reunion with Jose Bautista and what the rest of the off-season might hold.

“It’s a good day for the Toronto Blue Jays,” Atkins said, thanking the baseball operations staff, Jays chairman Edward Rogers, and making particular note of Bautista’s “desire” to return.

On Wednesday, Jeff Blair reported on Sportsnet 590 The FAN that Rogers approved a slightly increased payroll to fit Bautista’s contract, though the team’s maximum budget is still unclear and could, of course, be fluid (most reports have suggested $160-$165 million).

Bautista will earn $18 million in 2017 with the Blue Jays before a mutual option in 2018 worth $17 million ($500K buyout paid to Bautista if either side declines). The third year of the contract, 2019, is a vesting option that triggers if Bautista appears in 300 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

“If it is a deal that ends up being a three-year deal, we’ll both be elated,” Atkins said. While mutual options are rarely exercised by both sides and the vesting option is a tall bar to clear, the structure of this deal does protect both sides from receiving the short end of the deal.

Bautista’s defence in right field has regressed in recent seasons, but Atkins still does expect to see him in the outfield primarily. He could offer some positional flexibility, however, with first base as a secondary option.

“He’s extremely open-minded about that,” Atkins said.

Beyond Bautista, the Blue Jays still have significant needs in the bullpen and at backup catcher with their remaining budget. Rotation and positional depth are also possibilities, though budget limitations could limit those to minor-league signings. Atkins added that the team “felt incredible” about having Dalton Pompey and Darrell Ceciliani in the left-field mix.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to just win more games,” Atkins said. “Sometimes it’s more run prevention and sometimes it’s more run scoring. We’ll consider all of them, we’re not out on any front.”

Beyond the free agent market and internal options, Atkins said that the trade market remains active.

“There are a lot of things that almost happened that still could.”

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