It seems the hot topic of the day is Jose Bautista. He has come out and told the world that he has named his price to Rogers and the Blue Jays management. He has assessed his worth and has given them an all or nothing ultimatum. He doesn’t want to quibble over ‘a few dollars’, but just to be clear, the ‘few dollars’ that he’s talking about would take the average person a couple of lifetimes to accumulate.
Let me get this out-of-the-way right off the top: Rogers will not meet his initial demands. His assessment of his value is based partly on the fact that he feels he was underpaid for the past 5 years and should be compensated for it. I presume that he also feels that he will continue to be a strong hitter and fielder for at least the next 5 years. Rogers made a lot of money off of him and he wants his share.
Now, I don’t fully disagree with him. At the time of signing, his contract contained risk for both sides, but there is no disputing that he has provided substantial value above the contract. The risk turned out in the Jays’ favour. But does that mean that they should shell out back pay as a bonus?
Additionally, there is no disputing that Jose Bautista is the face of the Blue Jays. Some might even argue that he is one of the best and most impactful in team history, and I don’t disagree. The bat flip may be a polarizing moment, but to me it was one of the best punctuation marks to a moment that will stand among the greatest moments in the history of the franchise. Without question, there is a value to opening the vault and having Bautista retire with the Blue Jays in terms of fan support and goodwill.
Blue Jay fans are still upset at the departure of their ace pitcher and ace GM, with new management known only for its track record of budget management in Cleveland. In my view, the hatred heaped upon the new management is a bit unfair. There are some valid questions that have been asked about whether Mark Shapiro really had the track record to be picked as the top guy for his job. That said, I am willing to give him a shot to succeed. He has definitely been thrown into a tough spot. The cost of last year’s playoff run was a significant hit on our prospect pool, leaving few guys who appear to be ready to be ready for the majors in the next couple of years. Additionally, a significant portion of the team are pending free agents, including Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who make up a big part of the core of this lineup.
Bautista’s timing and tactics are very calculated. By going public with his contract talks, he is hoping that management is swayed by the emotions of a fanbase who are still upset over not signing David Price and who want ownership to pay anything to keep their franchise player around. There is a fairly vocal swell of support that is saying “pay him whatever he wants.”
I think Jose Bautista has provided value far above his contract. His offensive numbers put him in an elite class. I think he is worth a healthy raise. I have no problem with the notion of offering him a contract that acknowledges that he has been underpaid and gives him a bit of a bonus for that, as well as a contract that factors in his value as the face of the franchise. But if the rumours of a request of $150MM over 5 years are even close to true, then it is time for us to prepare for 2016 as Jose’s last year in Toronto. I cannot justify giving $30MM per year to a guy entering his late 30s whose defense is declining and whose bat and health statistically are due to decline as he gets older.
Moreover, I need to state a personal bias. I love Jose Bautista the offensive machine, but I do not like what I see of Jose the team leader. I will admit that my knowledge as an outsider is extremely limited. What I have seen is a guy that shows a consistent me first attitude. I’ve had endless debates about the value of character, and about Bautista’s character specifically. Here are my main arguments:
- I’m not saying he’s not a leader or a clubhouse influence, as many affirm that he is. But I’m not sure he’s a positive influence. Every time I saw Brett Lawrie have an outburst, I thought he’s learned that well from the best player on the team.
- I don’t have a problem with Bautista’s passion. What I do have a problem with is his tendency to blame others every time something goes wrong. Strike out on a close pitch? Blame the umpire. Team not performing up to your standards at the trade deadline? Blame management for not getting better players. But the most recent and glaring example for me was last year in the playoffs. A pop up drops between him and Ryan Goins due to some miscommunication. A good veteran player covers his teammate and says ‘these things happen, we’ll both do better next time.’ Bautista says ‘check the tape’, implying that the tape clearly shows that Goins was at fault. Sure, it can be argued that he simply didn’t want to engage with reporters on the issue, but to me, a strong leader comes publicly to the defense of a young teammate there.
- His current negotiating tactics are another example. Whether he, or us fans, like it or not, the Blue Jays are working within a budget framework. They have a certain number of dollars available to try to field a competitive team. An unselfish team player starts a negotiation with the stance of finding a way to get valued while working with the team to make their contract fit within the budget framework. Bautista says ‘I know what I’m worth, I’m not negotiating, and I know how baseball works so I’m rejecting the idea of a budget’. Basically, he thinks he sees the pie, wants his slice, and wants to ignore how that impacts the rest of the team.
So, what does this all mean? Do I think that Bautista’s demands are unreasonable? Not at all. As Baltimore proved with Chris Davis, there is always someone out there willing to pay more than a player is worth in a true sense. I absolutely think Bautista has a right to ask for top dollar, and to go to the team that pays it. But as someone who wants to see the Jays be a competitive team for years to come, I don’t want to see the Jays enter into a contract based on sentiment that ends up with them tying up significant money in a declining player who isn’t nearly worth the level of their contract. He may be a DH soon, but isn’t asking for DH money. If the Jays want a smarter investment, they’ll offer a contract to someone who is already a DH. Bautista may be the sentimental choice, but extending a contract to Encarnacion is the better investment.
It’s time for us to embrace the present and move on. Thanks Jose for all the great memories. I hope that you get to ride off a winner and provide us some more great moments in 2016. If you want to sit down and talk about a price that helps both you and the team, I welcome you back. If not, we wish you well and every success as you move on to greener pastures.
For a counterpoint see Time to Pay Bautista