What a way to start Spring Training. Jose Bautista showed up for the first official day of workout for pitchers and catchers, and spoke to the media to clear the air about his contract status (video in link).
One of the biggest quotes that jumps off the page is Bautista saying he is unwilling to negotiate off the deal he has proposed to the Blue Jays. I find it hard to believe he won’t budge one iota. Surely his representatives have or will tell him that no player has ever gotten exactly what he wants in contract demands, not even in free agency. No, not even David Price. To me, this seems like an extravagant negotiating tactic. He’s sending a message to ownership–not even general manager Ross Atkins & president Mark Shapiro, who are charged with negotiating opposite him–but all the way up the corporate ladder. By citing the company’s public trading information, and questioning the “budget” of the team, he’s demonstrating he will not be pushed over. So I’m hesitant to buy the “this is my number and either they pay it or I walk” (paraphrase). How MUCH he will budge is the question. But I’m willing to bet it’s not much.
So how much is he really asking for? Well, considering he told reporters today he absolutely believes he can play five more years, I think it’s safe to assume he’s asking for a five-year deal. That will take him through to just shy of his 41st birthday upon expiration of the deal. How much does he want per season? Well, given he’s probably worth $20-million on the market, he might push the envelope and ask for $25-million. That sounds like a nice round number, and puts him on par with other sluggers around the league given his production over the previous five seasons of his current deal, which was signed following his breakout 2010 campaign.
He told reporters today that hometown discounts don’t exist for him, because he’s “given this organization a hometown discount for the last five years.” That’s a huge over-simplification, and apparently he clarified his comments later, but that’s the sound bite that will be repeated on sports radio and television until this situation is solved one way or another. That contract was a leap of faith by the organization after one good season, and it paid off for them, big time. He continued his upward trajectory, and ended up out-playing the value of the deal, but to say he gave them a hometown discount would be wildly inaccurate.
So is Bautista worth $125-million over five seasons right now? That’s the huge question facing ownership, since that’s probably what it’s going to take to keep him. How will his body hold up? How will his production hold up? It’s unlikely he’ll hit 40 home runs and drive in 100-plus runs every year for the next five, but his plate discipline, on-base percentage, and clubhouse leadership will all age well. And it’s hard to imagine him ever falling out of the good graces of the fan base given his 2015 playoff heroics. His already declining defence means he likely won’t still be in right field until he turns 40, but another 2-3 years in the field, at least on a part-time basis, seems plausible. And even beyond that, he’s athletic enough to make a shift to another position (first base?) in lieu of becoming a full-time DH.
Despite Jose saying everything we were already thinking, today still rubbed me, and many fans, the wrong way. It paints him in a me-first corner. Fans always want to believe their guy won’t be as selfish as the rest of them, but in reality, he is. His tone of voice and body language could have been slightly more positive while delivering a mantra we all knew he believed anyway.
Most of the fan base wants ownership to pay him whatever he wants. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. However, I don’t believe failure to re-sign him and/or Edwin Encarnacion (who we haven’t even discussed yet) will cause a mass exodus of fans, especially if the team is successful on the field again this season. Does an un-signed, highly-motivated Bautista propel the Blue Jays to a World Series title? Would fans happily trade losing both sluggers as the price to pay for a championship banner at SkyDome? (Full disclosure, I would.)
I don’t expect Shapiro to respond with anything very interesting in the coming days. In fact, the most compelling response would be inking Bautista to a long-term extension.
Needless to say, it’s going to be an incredibly fascinating month of March in Dunedin.
Oh, and as of this writing on Monday night, the Jays appear to be on the verge of trading for Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. Which could be a good thing, but on the surface sounds like an unnecessarily expensive thing. We’ll see!