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MLB Free Agent Rumors: Rays in bidding war for Jose Bautista

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have been mildly connected with Jose Bautista throughout the off-season, but now it seems Bautista is prepared to take less money than he’d been otherwise offered to return to Toronto.

This comes via report from Jon Heyman, who links only two other clubs to Bautista: Cleveland and Tampa Bay.

Cleveland previously broke their piggy bank for Bautista’s former teammate Edwin Encarnacion. Would they have been capable of going near $40 million to pair the sluggers back up again?

And if not, does that mean the Rays were the team bidding above $37 million for Jose Bautista?

In our conversations behind the scenes, we at the masthead have seen the Bautista pursuit as a last resort option that allows the player to land with a competitive club that has the added benefit of no income taxes to detract from his pay. Naturally, the Rangers seemed to be the real opposition, but are not mentioned above.

Returning to Toronto, where Bautista is already a household name, seems natural for him and the club, who thus far have only signed Kendrys Morales to fill the EE-JB void.

The Rays, meanwhile, have made every attempt to clog the outfield with plus defenders that will challenge players to fight for their spots. Bautista does not fit that strategy, as he would need to force not only Steven Souza Jr. from the field, but likely Logan Forsythe to another team to make room in payroll.

And if Forsythe were removed, Brad Miller is the natural 2B option, and opens a more pressing need at first base. Would Bautista be willing to play there instead? Would he be talking to the Rays about a $20 million AAV? This all seems rather unlikely.