Duquette: Orioles won't pursue Jose Bautista because he is a 'villain in Baltimore'
There's one free-agent outfielder that executive vice president Dan Duquette is making clear the Orioles are not interested in signing.
The agent of veteran slugger Jose Bautista has reached out to the Orioles on numerous occasions, including at this week's winter meetings. But Duquette said he has rebuffed him at every turn because he knows that the team's fan base would not be receptive to any notion of pursuing Bautista.
"That's true," Duquette told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday morning. "That's true. The agent called and I said, 'Really? Jose is a villain in Baltimore and I'm not going to go tell our fans that we're courting Jose Bautista for the Orioles because they're not going to be happy.'"
The 36-year-old Bautista is also one of several free-agent sluggers tied to draft-pick compensation, which Duquette added was another factor in the lack of interest.
Asked later in the day if his stance would change if Bautista's price tag dropped later in the offseason, Duquette smiled and said, "I'll have to check with the fans."
Credit Duquette for knowing his team's fan base. Of course, Orioles fans have their favorites to dislike for years. Recently retired slugger David Ortiz has been a longtime enemy. Severna Park's Mark Teixeira was booed before every at-bat at Camden Yards since he chose to sign with the New York Yankees over his hometown team. Even universally beloved future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter received salty receptions in Baltimore.
But for Orioles fans, no player currently fits the Public Enemy No. 1 stigma like Bautista. Over the past several years, a rivalry between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays has formed, rooted from the perception that the division rivals don't like each other. Fans from both teams followed suit, as seen most recently in this year's American League wild-card game in Toronto, where a beer was thrown on the field at Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim.
Bautista has usually been at the center of any friction between the teams. Long before his bat flip in the 2015 AL Division Series gained notoriety, Orioles players and staff scoffed at Bautista's exaggerated at-bats, long stares at strike calls, flipping his bat down after drawing walks and staring down of opposing pitchers.
It began with a longstanding feud with Orioles right-hander Darren O'Day. And it boiled over two years ago when Bautista stared down struggling Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia after homering in a midseason contest in Toronto.
The Orioles were struggling trying to carry Garcia on their major league roster, and on that day the right-hander was struggling with his control, throwing a fastball behind Bautista earlier in the at-bat. Bautista then hit a center-cut fastball out of the park, and stared down the rookie as he slowly trotted out of the batter's box.
That drew the ire of Orioles players. Infielder Ryan Flaherty yelled at Bautista as he rounded the bases. Center fielder Adam Jones yelled at Bautista coming off the field between innings.
Still, Bautista has gotten the best of the Orioles on many occasions, owning an .861 OPS against them in his career. Though he's 36 and entering the latter stages of his career, Bautista has averaged 36 homers over his past seven seasons with the Blue Jays. He enters the free-agent market coming off one of his most disappointing seasons over that stretch, hitting .234/.366/.452 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs over 116 games.
"We have a good rivalry with several teams in the division," Duquette said. "We have a good rivalry and a very spirited rivalry with the Jays, which I think is good. Most of the time I think it's healthy. ... This is a tough division. The American League East is tough. You've got those two behemoths in the north and you've got an entire country a little bit further north. You play these teams, what, 18 times, 19 times during the season? In addition to that, we play them four of five in spring training, so we're in the same neighborhood with these people, 24, 25 times a year, and its very competitive, so these things are going to happen. But it's a pretty wide number of fans who don't like this guy."
Asked how he came to the conclusion that Orioles fans would not be interested in acquiring Bautista, Duquette said, "I've just been watching the games."
Still, the Orioles currently need a right fielder. Bautista's right-handed power stroke plays well for Camden Yards. He showed the ability to hit leadoff this season, and the Orioles need a leadoff batter. And his career .368 on-base percentage would upgrade the Orioles in that area of need.
Duquette conceded that Bautista could eventually fit in the Orioles clubhouse, especially if he could help the team build on three playoff trips in five years. But Duquette is determined to not pursue Bautista ... for now.
"Our players are very professional about that," Duquette said. "But our fans, I know they still don't like Jose Bautista."