01/17/2017 16:21 EST | Updated 01/18/2018 00:12 EST

Veteran slugger Jose Bautista returns to Toronto Blue Jays with one-year deal

TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays already lost one of their faces of the franchise this off-season. The team has made sure that Jose Bautista will not follow Edwin Encarnacion's lead.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations tells The Associated Press that the free agent outfielder is staying with the Toronto Blue Jays after agreeing to an $18 million, one-year contract with mutual options for more years.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the deal, said Bautista passed his physical and the contract was finalized Tuesday night.

Neither the team nor Bautista's agent Jay Alou would comment on media reports of his re-signing. Some of Bautista's teammates didn't wait for a formal announcement to celebrate his return.

"Put them hands up! JoeyBats is back!!! @JoeyBats19," second baseman Devon Travis tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. 

"Told y'all. Lol @JoeyBats19," tweeted right-hander Marcus Stroman.

Bautista, a six-time all-star, hit 22 homers and had 69 RBIs last year but injuries limited him to just 116 games. He signed a US$65-million, five-year deal in 2011 and the Blue Jays picked up a $14-million team option last season.

Bautista rejected the team's $17.2-million qualifying offer last fall, which ensured Toronto would receive compensation if he signed elsewhere as a free agent.

In the end, it appears both sides have circled back in what could be a good deal for all involved. 

The veteran outfielder's return would certainly help ease the pain of losing one of the game's top hitters in Encarnacion. The Blue Jays were interested in re-signing Encarnacion, but he eventually signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Indians.

A return to the Jays would also allow Bautista to show that he's still one of the sport's top players with a chance to maximize the reported deal. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would fill a need in the outfield, bring back a core member of their offence and potentially reap the benefits of a slugger who is motivated to perform. 

The Blue Jays are coming off a second straight appearance in the American League Championship Series but have had a fairly quiet off-season. Toronto signed slugger Kendrys Morales, utilityman Steve Pearce and prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but failing to bring back the popular Encarnacion did not go over well in the Ontario capital.

Bautista, 36, would bring some pop to a lineup that will miss Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers and 127 RBIs last season and was very consistent in recent years.

Toronto's corner outfield positions were in desperate need of attention. While Bautista's best defensive days may be behind him, he would provide an adequate presence in right field. 

In addition to his power numbers, Bautista's on-base percentage of .366 would also help a batting order that he would co-anchor with Morales, third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

Bautista had a breakout season in 2010 with 54 homers and 124 RBIs and has been one of the sport's top sluggers ever since. The Santo Domingo native also played a key role in helping the franchise return to prominence after a 22-year playoff drought. 

In 2015, he helped lead a powerful Toronto offence back to the post-season and delivered one of the biggest homers in team history in a pivotal Game 5 win over the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series. He punctuated the no-doubt blast with an unforgettable bat flip that became a talking point around the baseball world.

The Blue Jays were eliminated in the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals. Toronto returned to the post-season last season, posting a wild-card win over the Baltimore Orioles and a three-game sweep of the Rangers before falling to the Indians in the ALCS.

Toronto is now expected to focus on improving its depth in the bullpen and at the backup catcher and left field positions.


With files from The Associated Press

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