Bautista ready for new season after injury-plagued 2016
Jose Bautista has earned a reputation as a player who competes with passion and intensity.
But he doesn’t want that to be mistaken for having a chip on his shoulder.
The all-star slugger signed a one-year, US$18-million deal this off-season with Toronto after turning down the club’s $17-million qualifying offer at the end of the season. Bautista was looking to secure a hefty raise and long-term deal in his first crack at the free-agent market.
While he didn’t get it, the 36-year-old right-fielder isn’t using that as motivation this season.
“I think I come out here every year with the same mentality and same desire to help my team win games and be the best player I can be,’’ Bautista said after working out at Toronto’s spring-training facility Friday. “I have my things that motivate me but I can’t say that proving people wrong is one of them in one way or another.
“There’s always people that need to be proven wrong in every players’ situation so if you focus on that you’re probably going to get a little distracted. I’ve had the same things that have motivated me since I was a little boy playing, those are the same things that motivate me today.’’
Bautista hit 22 homers and drove in 69 runs over 116 games last season. He landed on the disabled list twice — first in June with a left toe injury, then in August with a sprained left knee.
Bautista, who hit 35 or more homers in four of the seven seasons prior to 2016, said his two stints on the DL were the result of freak injuries. He doesn’t expect to have any lingering effects from either in 2017.
“I was trying to make baseball plays both times,’’ he said. “One, I ran into a wall and the other (time) my cleat got caught in the turf. I can’t explain it. I don’t know. Any other day in July, I could have been running to first base and tripped over myself and hurt myself worse.
“Those kinds of things are bound to happen on the field and it’s just unfortunate that it happened to me. But I don’t think I could have done anything differently.’’
Bautista arrived at the Dunedin camp Thursday, a day before position players were scheduled to report.
He walked through the clubhouse greeting teammates with bear hugs, patting Canadian Russell Martin’s hair and joking around with reliever Joe Biagini before making his way into the weight room.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who also showed up early for camp, was among those excited by Bautista’s return.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen when a guy gets to test the market,’’ Tulowitzki said. “You want good things for him, you want him to go some- where where he’s going to be happy, obviously somewhere where he makes a lot of money, but the bottom line is you want him back.
“So for Jose to be back, you know how much he means to the city, how much he means to the Blue Jays. He’s definitely a leader on this team and we welcome him back. He makes us a better ball club.’’
Bautista, a Blue Jay since 2008, became the face of the franchise until other veterans like Tulowitzki, Martin and Josh Donaldson — all known as passionate players themselves — came on board to share that leadership role.
Manager John Gibbons believes having so many strong personalities has benefited his team.
“They’re very similar, they’re all very intense and great competitors,’’ Gibbons said. ``I think the more guys like that you have the better you’re going to be and I think we’ve proven that the last couple years.’’
Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista speaks with reporters during baseball spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Friday.