11:00 PM Eastern
To no one’s surprise, the Blue Jays announced this evening that they’d signed Jose Bautista to a five-year contract worth $65 million guaranteed, with a club option for a sixth year that could take the overall value of the deal to $78 million.
To my surprise, there was no out-of-the-box surprise creativity to it – no out clauses, no multiple-year options, no nothing, just a regulation deal. It doesn’t include any performance incentives, nor is there a no-trade clause.
So now that we have all the information in front of us – is it a good deal?
The answer is, as it was before, that it depends on who Jose Bautista is. If he has, in fact, become a productive middle-of-the-order, .850+ OPS guy on whom it can be counted to produce such numbers on a regular basis, then yes, it’s a good deal. If he regresses to become the .750+ OPS guy who hit 14-16 home runs and who doesn’t hit right-handed pitching – the guy he was before September of 2009 – then it’s not.
Shame I can’t break out the good ol’ crystal ball and figure out what’s going to happen over the next five years.
There are a few things we do know, though. We know that Bautista has an historical season in his rear-view mirror, that he has actually accomplished a 54-homer season, a .995 OPS, a season in which he’s walked 100 times and both driven in and scored 100 runs. It’s not something we think he might be able to do someday, it’s something he has done.
We also know that Jayson Werth, with only three very good seasons to his credit – none of which were nearly as good as Bautista’s 2010 – signed a seven-year, $126 million deal this winter, and that that kind of contract would very well have been awaiting Bautista had he had a 2011 that was even 2/3 as good as his 2010.
As well, we know that the Blue Jays have money to spend on the people they believe will be part of what they hope will be a perennial championship contender beginning next year or the year after, and sustaining itself for the foreseeable future.
No matter how you see Bautista, this contract is a huge gamble. The Blue Jays are accepting more of the risk than he is, given his track record, but he’s still leaving a potential $50+ million on the table. The Jays’ outlay was going to be at least $7.6 million this year – and given Bautista’s track record, there’s more reason to believe the Jays would have won the arbitration hearing than not – so they’re ponying up an average of $14.1 million from 2012-2015 that they otherwise wouldn’t have been required to.
Alex Anthopoulos believes that Bautista can produce at a rate worthy of such salary over the next five years, and he could very well be right. So many in the game seem to believe that Bautista is no one-year wonder, but I caution again that in the off-season following every one-year wonder’s big year, people have fallen all over themselves trying to show why this guy is different, why this guy is legit. Maybe Bautista is. I really hope he is. But the Jays just bet $57 million that he is.
Still, if they lose that bet, it hardly cripples the franchise. Rogers has money, and they have said for a couple of years now that they won’t be shy about spending it when the time is right. Since he took over as GM, Alex Anthopoulos has spent money on beefing up the scouting department, on international signings, on over-slot bonuses to draft picks and to help make a couple of trades happen, but this is the first time he’s spent it on a big-time, big-league contract.
I don’t see Jose Bautista going back to being a below-average hitter who can’t stay in the line-up and who can’t hit right-handed pitching. I don’t think I see him as a perennial all-star, either. But he’s definitely a guy worth having, who can be a game-changer with his defense (though he’s going to be at third base this year, for sure, and maybe for the entirety of his Jays career depending on what Brett Lawrie can handle defensively), and surrounded with pieces like Travis Snider, Adam Lind, Yunel Escobar, Aaron Hill, Rajai Davis, J.P. Arencibia and, eventually, Lawrie, he can be a productive part of what’s shaping up to be a very good offense.
Earlier this winter, I had suggested that a three-year, $40 million contract to Bautista would be a good thing for the Jays. Quite obviously, he wasn’t prepared to give away his one big shot at huge money for a commitment that short. The deal he signed is for basically the same average annual value as the one I suggested, it’s just two years longer. They may regret paying Bautista $14 million for each of his age 33 and 34 seasons, but they may not. He’ll only be 34 when the contract expires, and while that’s past his prime, it’s not as though they’re locked into paying him huge money until he turns 37 or 38.
As I mentioned before, Anthopoulos has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt. I applauded him in the past for gambling on guys like Brandon Morrow, Brett Lawrie and Anthony Gose. In those cases, he gambled talent. In Bautista’s case, he gambled money.
For the first time in a few years, we get to talk about someone who is staying in Toronto, and that’s a good thing. Over the past few years, this city has said goodbye to Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Chris Bosh and Mats Sundin, among others. Bautista isn’t in their company – not yet – but he’s the biggest and baddest Toronto has to offer right now, and he’s sticking around.
That’s not to say I believe this signing is a P.R. move ordered from on high (like the Wells contract was) – but that it’s a change from what we’ve recently become used to, and even if Bautista can’t live up to it, it’s nice to see a Toronto team take the shot.