Sports Illustrated photo
Monday was a chance for fans to wake from their winter funk as MLB teams begun working out at spring training facilities. But for Blue Jays’ fans, Jose Bautista punched them in the gut when he drew a line in the sand with management.
During his first media scrum when pitchers and catchers reported (technically not even spring training yet) the Blue Jays’ all-star right fielder dropped a bomb about his pending free agency next winter to reporters.
“I didn’t want to waste any time,” Bautista said. “If this is going to happen, I think it should be natural, organic, quick and easy, it shouldn’t be a pull and tug about a few dollars here or there. I didn’t want to waste any time, I didn’t want to waste their time or their effort, so they can start planning ahead, and if it’s not going to happen they have plenty of time to do so. …
“There’s no negotiation, I told them what I wanted. They either meet it or it is what it is.”
Bautista feels entitled to a big payday and rightfully so.
Seven years ago, nobody knew who Bautista was. The Jays traded for him Aug. 21, 2008 from the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later.
Since then, Joey Bats hasn’t stopped pounding the stuffing out of the baseball. Heading into this season, he sits second all time in Jays’ records with 243 career home runs, 93 bombs back of Carlos Delgado. He is second in slugging percentage (0.538), OPS (0.922), walks (632) and sixth in RBI (632).
And, he blasted the second greatest home run in franchise history last October.
After recording 54 homers in 2010, Bautista inked a five-year deal worth $64 million that winter with former Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Five years later, Anthopoulos shocked Canadians by stepping down following the Jays playoff run last October. Rumors swirled that him and new president Mark Shapiro didn’t share the same vision going forward. After stepping down, Anthopoulos was named the executive of the year days later.
Shapiro is the type of president that looks to strengthen the farm system and not jeopardize the future by signing or trading for win-now players. Said Shapiro, the Jays will have an, “obsessive focus on winning and building a strong farm system.”
Joel Reuter of Bleacher Report ranked the Jays’ farm system as 22nd out of 30 teams.
“If you want to have a championship organization that can sustain success, regardless of market or payroll, then you’ve got to have a healthy, vibrant farm system,” Shapiro said.
Anthopoulos shed 11 pitching prospects last year in exchange for David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson. Shapiro never openly criticized Anthopoulos for the moves that positioned the Jays two wins away from the World Series, but the two clearly disagreed about how the direction of the franchise.
Now, Bautista is Shapiro’s problem and he has yet to come out and say that resigning Bautista is a high priority.
Now back to Dunedin.
Bautista holds all the leverage at the moment. The Jays’ management asked Bautista to come up with a term and number for his deal and then they would work from there. It was his decision to go to the reporters the first chance he got.
“I’m not willing to negotiate even right now,” he said. “I don’t think there should be any negotiation. I think I’ve proved myself and the question has been asked, what will it take, and I’ve given them an answer. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and try to bargain for a couple dollars.”
If Bautista were a right-winger in the NHL, he would never be nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy. It is very obvious that he plays with emotion; some would even call him a bit of a whiner.
If he gets a questionable strike called against him, he has no problem letting the umpire know his disgust for the call.
When Anthopoulos and Jays’ management failed to pull the trigger on any deadline deals two years ago, Bautista didn’t hold back the following day when expressing his thoughts of the lack of movement.
If he feels that an opposing pitcher (Darren O’Day or Ivan Nova, just to name a few) is taking liberties against him or one of his teammates, Bats has no problem showing him up as he circles the bags.
But the Jays put up with the bad because the good has been really good.
Since 2010, Bautista has led the majors with 227 dingers. His teammate, Edwin Encarnacion is second with 189, Baltimore Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis has 170 jacks and Detroit Tigers’ basher Miguel Cabrera has 169.
In the same time frame, Bautista is third in RBI with 582, behind Adrian Gonzalez (740) and Cabrera (692).
There’s no denying his production and value in the middle of the Jays lineup. But as for paying an elite power threat, the Jays have been getting off easy.
Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2013 and is arguably one of the best hitters of his generation. He will haul in $31 million this season.
Davis’s new deal sees him earn $23 million over seven seasons and Gonzalez will bring in just over $21 million in his 13th season.
All these hitters mentioned (other than Davis who turns 30 this spring) are on the wrong side of thirty. Bautista, 35, would be the oldest out of this group to receive his big payday.
Bautista has done everything in his power, other than contracting the Benjamin Button disease, to warrant a large new deal. In order to retain Bautista, they are going to have to back pay for his last contract. With Bautista only getting older, that might be a tough pill to swallow for the new management.
Just how much is Bautista worth? And more importantly, how valuable is having a face to the franchise?
Bautista has said that he loves Toronto, the organization and he wants to finish his career as a Blue Jay.
Rick Westhead, a senior correspondent for TSN, wrote Tuesday that Bautista was searching for a deal around five years and $150 million, an average hit of $30 million.
That’s a lot of guacamole for any hitter, regardless of where they are in their career.
Bautista’s camp quickly denied that report.
It’s conceivable to think that Bautista has two great years remaining and then another year or two of mediocre-to-productive seasons.
If he wants five years, are the Jays willing to pay Bautista for one and a half seasons out of his prime?
Now if Bautista was a little more reasonable and wanted something around four years and $100 million, that seems fair deal for both sides. But Bautista won’t speculate on his asking price.
Right now, the bat speed is still there. Bautista still averaged the seventh highest exit velocity (94.3 miles per hour) and has remained relatively healthy during his playing career other than a late-season wrist injury and a shoulder problem at the beginning of last season.
His body handles the artificial turf in Toronto well, his offseason workouts keep him in great shape and he has the determination to play until he is 40.
Jayson Stark discussed with Buster Olney on the Baseball Tonight podcast Tuesday morning about the Jays moving forward without Bautista.
Stark asked, “Will the Jays be worse without Bautista? Are the Jays more marketable with Bautista?” He believed the answer to both was yes.
Toronto has always been a mid-market pro sports city that struggles to compete with the American glamour cities when it comes to recruiting free agents.
The Jays have a great window to reach the World Series this year with Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin creating the leagues top offence. But at the same time, those five players make up over $85 million of their payroll. The problem is, the Jays have never operated with a payroll over $140 million.
If the Jays want to extend their window by a few years, they need to bring Bautista back. If Shapiro feels they need to replenish the farm system in order to sustain success years down the road, then he will move Bautista.
The idea of the Jays being Bautista-less might become a reality before our very eyes.
Meer hours after Bautista’s declaration, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Jays were involved in a three-team deal that saw Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Jay Bruce returning to Toronto. Bruce is under team control through this season and has a club option for 2017. The quick take is that Bruce could fill in for Bautista and should still be around next season.
Bruce’s monstrous days of 30+ dingers are long gone. His batting average will never fly north of .230 again and his batting average for balls in play is drastically declining. He will not be a respectable replacement for Bautista.
At the moment, one of the prospects involved in the trade failed a physical and detailed the trade. Depending on who you follow out of spring training, some reporters still believe the deal has a chance and some think the deal is toast.
If it looks like red paint, tastes like red paint and smells like red paint, it’s probably red paint.
This has the makings of an uglier breakup than that first girlfriend in Grade 8 that you dumped before realizing that you sit beside her during French class and algebra.
If Bautista wants his money that bad, and Shapiro doesn’t plan on flinching in this game of chicken, at least Bautista gave the Jays a full season to deal with him to get rid of him.
The Jays will struggle to contend without Bautista while refreshing a pretty baron prospect cupboard.
It will be gut-wrenching to see Bautista play for someone else when he was last seen in October lighting up an elite reliever.
It is rare that massive contracts are looked back as good deals later on down the road. The time might have come to sell the Bautista stock while it is still high.
Whatever happens to Bautista, the laughable part about this fiasco is that the Jays get to go through this all over again with Encarnacion, who’s contract expires the same day Bautista’s does, but without all the headaches.