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.

8 Responses to “Jose, Will You Sign?”
  1. 1.

    The solution to the contract, if it is permitted by the union, is a contract heavily weighted on performance.

    In the real world, top performers are paid what they are worth by bonuses. If they perform, you get lots, if you do not perform, no bling for you.

    I doubt if players ever agree to this kind of contract when they can have the cake and eat it too.

    - francis
  2. 2.

    Dam*ed if you do and dam*ed if you don’t.

    I have a feeling that AA will get it done butwill pay more than any sane fan will be comfortable with. If Bautista had even had the prior year with 20-25 HR, it would be a slightly different story but still only ONE monster year.

    Like it or not, the consensus is that the Jays are giving away quality for hopeful prospects time after time.

    He needs a PR boost to protect the “can do no wrong” image that the media supports. Or as you put it Mike “is there anything AA can’t do”.

    While smiling….really…

    - Gary
  3. 3.

    michael,
    here’s maybe a simplistic viewpoint that just may prove out to be true.
    at the very least seems at least a little bit rational i’m thinking with some merit possible to it.
    unless jose b. changes his swing & approach at the plate and in general just his approach in coming to the ball park everyday and for some reason reverts back to his old ways, i’m thinking it’s quite likely the song will in fact remain the same for the most part.
    not so much in duplicating the exact same type stats cause’ the man in truth kind of lapped a great majority of the entire field last season didn’t he? (not even needed actually to get good value based on the #’s being bandied about with him these days)
    let’s say he falls somewhere in between his previous yrs. best accomplishment and last season’s superlific #’s.
    those will prove out to be right in line with a whole bunch of guys making $10 per in this league as it turns out anyway….
    so sign him up based on the risk of him not going back to hitting just 15-17 or so dingers & 50+ or rbi’s.
    but somewhere in between and maybe towards or at the #’s put up last season.
    we’re only talking $10-12m per anyhow not high teens or $20m+ per like a few dozen or so others in mlb that didn’t even come close to jose b’s production in 2010.
    this is mlb michael. this is what you pay guys that can or have the potential to hit 30-40 or 50+ dingers as he’s already proven to do. it is the show afterall…..
    besides, what are we here, the pittsburgh pirates or kansas city royals? not according to our owners & gm we’re not…
    give the man a contract.
    darrell bishop

    - bishop@peakassociates.com
  4. 4.

    Mike,

    You should also consider his defense (OF and 3B) and the leadership skills, which will not go away even if he hits fewer HRs in coming years. If he hit 30 or more HRs, he will control the market in the free agency. I think Jays should lock him now with reasonable offer (5Y/$50M), otherwise they will regret for not signing him now.

    Mike, I also want to bring your attention this very important fact:

    Jose’s achievement in 2010 was worth more than 25M according to many experts but he was paid 2.4M based on his contract. That means we owe him more than 20M for his past achievement. When you say he is one year wonder, why you can’t say that Jays also gained massively from him that one year but not paid for that wonder. In a perfect world, a person earns what he deserves. José’ achievements helped Jays to make 257HRs which was highest in all MLB and 4th highest in the MLB history. Also improved Jays’ goodwill, fan base, TV rating, sponsorships, ext. All of these have financial value and can’t be ignored.

    - gthambiaiyah@yahoo.ca
  5. 5.

    Well it’s silly to say we “owe” him based on last year.

    Whatever he gets will be his reward for last year. That’s the whole point. I think as just a regular hitter with great defense, in his peak years, he’s worth what, 8 million? Isn’t that what Overbay was getting?

    So you add 2 or 3 million a year in plus some incentive bonuses and call that a bit of a gamble.

    The most you are going to be overpaying the guy is maybe 4 million a year. Doesn’t even compare to the Wells deal.

    And as bad as the Wells deal turned out, he was a good player when healthy and we were able to unload the contract and actually get something back.

    - sons
  6. 6.

    His defense is mediocre at best. I wonder what the fans will say when he has a horrible year like wells did from time to time. He is not worth a long term contract if he doesn’t have another great year with the bat.
    Personality doesn’t mean a goddamn thing when it comes to value of a contract.

    - Atothe
  7. 7.

    What are the odds that Rogers backs up the (cable) truck and pays an obscene amount of money now that Albert Pujols appears to be heading for free agency next year; just when we’re supposed to compete.

    Answer: Slim and nada. Yankees, Red Sux and Angels anyone???

    - Gary
  8. 8.

    so $65million over 5 years? Doesn’t that seem high?

    - Anonymous
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