Not so long ago, Jose Bautista was a larger-than-life star and one of the most visible faces of Major League Baseball. His epic and dramatic home runs, along with his controversial bat flips, made him a constant source of dialogue and debate among fans.
This winter, though, the buzz surrounding Bautista has been noticeably lacking. The Blue Jays have expressed little interest in bringing him back, at least openly. Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star reported last week that there was "nothing active" going on between the two sides.
It sounds as though Toronto would only be open to signing Bautista on a short-term deal if he comes up empty in his quest for a big score on the open market. That scenario is becoming increasingly plausible. We can likely count out the Phillies, who are known to be seeking an impact hitter. Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly wrote this week that such a match is "extremely unlikely."
Dating back to his breakthrough season in 2010, Bautista leads the majors in home runs (249) and ranks second behind Joey Votto with 728 walks. His combination of power and patience has helped fuel a dominant Jays lineup, but now he's a 36-year-old coming off a down year with a draft pick penalty attached to him.
As the veteran masher is forced to lower his sights, it wouldn't be surprising to see a dark horse or two enter the fray. Back in mid-December, Marc Tompkins of the Tampa Bay Times suggested that the Rays could eventually pursue Bautista if the price tag drops enough. Other bat-needy teams will be inclined to take a look on a one-year deal, particularly since the right fielder has the potential to bring back a return as a deadline rental.
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Giants Eyeing Korean Infielder Hwang?
Last offseason, Korean third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang was posted for MLB teams but ended up heading back to the Lotte Giants after receiving no bids. Now, he's taking another shot at making his way across the pond.
Hwang held a showcase for around 20 teams back in November, and hasn't generated many headlines since then. However, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports that the Giants are "showing continued interest" in the 29-year-old infielder. If he were to sign, he'd presumably take over at the hot corner with incumbent Eduardo Nunez (an iffy defender, at best) shifting to the outfield.
A glance at Hwang's career .285/.349/.433 slash line in KBO won't impress anyone, but he has raised his OPS in four consecutive seasons and in 2016 posted a career-best .330/.391/.558 with 26 homers and 104 RBI. He also struck out only 64 times in 522 plate appearances. There is plenty to like here, and back in November, Morosi stated that Hwang was the "top position player expected to come from Asia" this winter.
Storen Signs With Cincy
Coming off the worst season of his career, Drew Storen was unsurprisingly met with an underwhelming market during his first foray into free agency. On Tuesday, he settled for a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Reds. The former Nationals closer might have a tough time finding his way into save opportunities with his new club.
Cincinnati's roster features a number of intriguing closer candidates. At the head of that list is Raisel Iglesias, who's expected to remain in the bullpen after spending most of the 2016 season there and notching several saves down the stretch. Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen have also been named by skipper Bryan Price as candidates for the ninth inning. It sounds like it will be an open spring competition.
It bears noting that as recently as 2015 Storen recorded 29 saves, whereas the aforementioned trio has collectively totaled 12 in the majors. Perhaps the edge in experience will play into his favor. Still only 29 years old, Storen has plenty of time to get his career back on track.
Quick Hits: The Oakland Athletics signed outfielder Rajai Davis to a one-year, $6 million deal ... Kansas City acquired power-hitting 26-year-old Peter O'Brien, owner of a .532 slugging percentage in the minors, from Arizona, and may give him a look as their DH this year ... Michael Brantley is taking non-contact swings as he works to get his shoulder back to full strength by spring training ... The Nationals are reportedly discussing an extension with manager Dusty Baker ... San Diego claimed right-hander Tyrell Jenkins off waivers from the Reds ... Astros outfielder George Springer announced that he will not participate in the World Baseball Classic this spring ... Jung Ho Kang was dropped from the South Korean WBC roster, and team manager In-sik Kim told reporters that he is considering adding Seung Hwan Oh ... Boston southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez said he's now walking pain-free after tweaking his right knee last month in the Venezuelan Winter League, and expects to be ready for spring training ... Rubby De La Rosa, badly needing to stay healthy, rejoined the Diamondbacks on a minor-league deal ... A resolution in the Brian Dozier trade derby is expected in the next week, with the Dodgers remaining apparent front-runners.