Jose’s Last Ride

I’m going to start this off with a not-that-hot of a take: the 2016 season will be Jose Bautista’s last as a Blue Jay. Too many people are too skittish to actually say it out loud and many live in a dream world where David Price is still on the Jays. I just don’t see a match for a contract extension between Bautista and the Jays beyond 2016.

Over the past couple of days Bautista has been making headlines from Dunedin with some of his comments on his upcoming free agency.  His first comment was a sound bite that Tim and Sid type shock jockeys have been milking. Jose told the media that he doesn’t believe in a “hometown discount” because he argues that he has “given this organization a 5-year hometown discount already”. In other comments he shifted the extension focus from the Jays’ front office and took aim at the Rogers ownership:

“It’s no secret that in a publicly traded company, everybody can track their performance fairly easy. It’s not a secret, it’s out in the public. Stock prices are monitored very closely by the whole financial world and I think there’s a direct correlation with the success of their earnings per share after we started experiencing success. Are they going to put it out in the media and say because of the Jays we made all of this money? No. But everybody can read between the lines. Nobody has a way to measure how much money the team makes when we win because of the way that we’re structured. It’s really unfair to talk about revenue, payroll and all of that stuff to me, for this organization, are non-existent.”

*The quote was from a Gregor Chisholm article that I’m having trouble tracking down but I was able to find in an Andrew Stoeten Daily Duce.

The real bombshell was the dollar figure and term of the contract that Bautista was seeking that TSN’s Rick Westhead reported yesterday:

That is just nuts. To put it into context, only Miguel Cabrera is the only position player who makes more than $30 mil annually. Considering Bautista will be 36 in the first year of his potential deal, there is no way I would consider offering that contract. Although keep in mind that it is good practice to aim high and work down in a negotiation.

That isn’t to say that Bautista doesn’t deserve to get paid. Fangraphs wrote a great piece where they compare the big contract extensions that have been signed between 2007 and 2013. The Bautista contract signed in 2011 that paid him $70 mil over 5 years is ranked as the best contract extension handed out over that stretch. Fangraphs figures that over the term of his deal, Bautista’s production has been worth $164.8 mil giving the Jays a $94 mil surplus. That might be one of the biggest steals in MLB history. But for Bautista to call that a “home town discount” is a little rich.

When Bautista signed the deal it was the offseason after his magical 54 home run season. But prior to the 2010 season he was a relative unknown that the Jays had picked up in 2008 from the Pirates for Robinson Diaz. After a breakout season at age 29, Jose Bautista’s impending free agency gave Alex Anthopolous a tough choice to make.  He ended up making a gamble that Jose’s great season was a result of his new batting stance and not an outlier, and locked him in long term. Now for Jose to call this a hometown discount is laughable. Alex was heavily scrutinized for signing him to this deal at the time, and Jose was more than eager to finally get a big paycheck. Pretending that the contract was a favour from Jose seems incredibly arrogant. But that all comes with the Joey Bats package.

What I don’t understand in all of these Bautista stories is the overwhelming idea from media and fans that Bautista should be humble and grateful to the Blue Jays for giving him an opportunity. The same people that criticize him for being a shark and ruthless negotiator are the same ones that have Bautista’s incredibly cocky, but incredibly awesome, bat flip as their Facebook cover photo. Over his career in Toronto, Bautista has shown nothing but arrogance and confidence. But, as long as he’s pumping dingers over the left field wall and flipping bats, the fans love his swagger and steely demeanor. But as soon as he talks about maximizing his earnings for his inherent talent, the fans find these same mannerisms off-putting. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Yesterday I had some of my friends try and convince me that the Jays should trade Bautista now. Another concept that I can’t wrap my head around. Donaldson is the MVP and Stroman is the ace, but Bautista is the face of this team. The Jays not re-signing Price, paired with the imminent departures of  Encarnacion and Bautista has created a perfect storm of pessimistic fans calling to tear it all down. Game 5 of the ALDS may as well have been ten years ago. Vegas has the Jays as 18/1 odds for the World Series. This is the exact same as the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates and nobody’s is questioning them as contenders. The only reason a Jose or Edwin trade makes sense is if the Jays are way out of it at the deadline and there is 100% chance of them leaving. Just because these guys are in their mid-thirties does not mean that they aren’t extremely valuable. Any trade talk surrounding them shouldn’t be taken so lightly because the Jays are still in the thick of World Series contender talks. Any shot of a champagne-soaked World Series win dies with a Jose Bautista trade. Making this trade is not as easy as pushing a button. This isn’t a god damn video game.

Now this isn’t the first time Shapiro has faced this type of contract situation. When he was still the GM in Cleveland in 2002, Shapiro let 31 year old slugger Jim Thome walk for the Philadelphia Phillies on a 6 year $85 mil deal. While it was an unpopular decision at the time, Thome never came close to the 7.4 WAR he posted with the Indians in 2002. This is to say that although Jose is a strong personality and an elite talent, I don’t see him being able to bully Shapiro into an unfavourable  deal.

Now I’m not saying that I don’t want Bautista back. If money was no object I would give him whatever he asks for. But the reality is that the Jays budget is not flexible and they already have several players under contract into their thirties. Bautista is asking for a lot of cash and quite frankly he isn’t getting any younger.

Bautista’s future is likely at first base or designated hitter, and if the Jays try and also retain Encarnacion, those are two very unflattering Victor Martinez type contracts on the books for the next couple of years. A comparable situation when the Cardinals ultimately let Pujols walk for Anaheim. I can’t imagine that the decision to let Pujols walk would have been any easier than the Bautista one will be. Albert was still 31 years old, was coming off of a 5.3 WAR year where he finished fifth in National League MVP voting and is considered one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time. But since signing his massive deal with the Angels, Albert has been good, but not nearly the player that garnered a 10 year $210 mil deal.

I don’t fault Bautista for wanting to get paid. Since his deal in 2011, Bautista has been one of the best-hitters in baseball with the fifth highest Offensive WAR over that stretch according to Fangraphs. Now imagine being on top of your profession and being locked into a “mediocre” contract (relative to the industry). Now imagine that while you are performing at an elite level, yet have to watch lesser employees get paid astronomical amounts of money (hello Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chris Davis etc.) while you are locked into your contract. This is really his first and only chance to make his big payday so why shouldn’t he go all in?–and  as I type this I can just feel the moans from the thousands of people that are in the “professional athletes are overpaid” camp.

Now this series of stories have come at a wildly inopportune time. The Jays are coming off a wildly successful playoff run followed by a wildly disappointing off-season. Despite still having the best offense in baseball and being favourites in the wide open American League, Bautista, Shapiro and Atkins have created a very big distraction, which has created a very negative tone. I for one am ready to watch some baseball. As much as I pretend to be emotionally prepared for Jose’s probable exit, I will probably still be in shock next winter when Jose bat flips, and walks away into the sunset towards Boston… Too soon… Way too soon… Can we just get some actual baseball over here?

 

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