11:50 PM Eastern
As I mentioned on The Jeff Blair Show this morning, my first reaction upon hearing that Jose Bautista’s arbitration hearing, originally set for yesterday, had been postponed, was shock. I’d never heard of such a thing happening before (though the Cardinals and Albert Pujols did the same thing on the same day). My second reaction was a smile and a shake of the head, thinking “is there anything Alex Anthopoulos can’t do”?
The decision whether or not to sign Bautista to a long-term deal – and Bautista’s decision whether or not to sign said long-term deal – is an extremely tough one.
A year removed from his first-ever shot at free agency, Bautista is coming off an MVP-calibre season. More than that, an historical season, as he joined Babe Ruth as the only players in major-league history to hit at least 50 home runs and at least 35 doubles, score at least 100 runs, drive in at least 120, walk at least 100 times and steal as many as five bases in a single season.
But, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, he’d never accomplished anything close to that before.
With 54 homers in 2010, Bautista more than tripled his previous career high of 16. His OPS of .995 was more than 200 points higher than his previous career high, and 2010 was the first of Bautista’s seven big-league seasons in which his OPS was higher than the major-league average.
Yes, it was his first legit don’t-have-to-look-over-your-shoulder shot at an everyday job, but the truth of the matter is that Jose Bautista became a major leaguer in 2004, and since then has had exactly FIVE months in which he’s produced at an all-star level. Four of those months came last season, the other was September of 2009.
Many people are convinced that Bautista, at the age of 30, has completely changed who he is as a hitter, and maybe he has. But look back at over a century of big-league baseball and you’ll find way more one-year wonders than you will players who went from below-average utility guys to perennial all-stars in their late 20s and early 30s.
Please don’t take this as a shot at Bautista. I’m not saying that I believe that he’ll go back to being the .750 OPS, 15-homer guy he was prior to the 2010 season. But I also don’t believe that he has “emerged” to the point where anyone can be sure that he’s going to be an all-star year-in and year-out.
And therein lies the dilemma.
How much money (and how many years) can the Blue Jays feel comfortable committing to a guy who has only had one good year, regardless of how great it was? And why on Earth would Bautista accept an offer that the Jays deemed reasonable, given the fact that if 2011 goes even nearly as well for him as 2010 did, he’s likely to be offered a nine-figure contract on the open market next winter?
I know a lot of you think Bautista is different. He changed his swing, pitchers should have figured him out by July or August but he kept on destroying everything on the inner half, he didn’t slow down.
I really don’t want to rain on the parade, but that’s what people have believed about EVERY one-year wonder there’s ever been. “Yeah, there were all those other guys, but THIS guy is different.” Maybe he is. I really hope he is. But the odds are against him.
Still, what it comes down to is money and term. If it were me, I’d grit my teeth and offer Bautista something along the lines of three years and $35-38 million, with performance bonuses up the wazoo and an option for a fourth year. I don’t know that he’d take that, though, with a Jayson Werth-ic payday potentially staring him in the face.
I do believe, though, that Bautista and the Jays are very close to agreeing to a deal – and may have even already settled on the nuts and bolts of it – and I don’t expect them to go into the hearing room in Arizona on Friday.
Truth is, I can’t wait to see what Alex has come up with. He’s put together some very creative contracts in the past – Aaron Hill’s comes to mind immediately – and he’s done a great job getting free agents to sign deals with club options. I have a feeling that this contract winds up having plenty of options and opt-outs and many different scenarios through which the Jays are protected financially if Bautista goes back to being his old self and Bautista reaps major rewards if 2010 was, indeed, his new normal.
We’ll find out sometime over the course of the next three days.