Window to sign Bautista long term closes Monday

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 PM ET

DUNEDIN ó If the Blue Jays are waiting to get a peek at Jose Bautistaís 2011 season to see if it matches 2010 before they start talking long-term deal, then they may be out of luck.

With an arbitration hearing looming on Monday in Arizona, Bautista told the Sun Thursday that if the two sides havenít reached a contract extension prior to the hearing, there will be no further negotiations until the í11 season is over and Bautista is a free agent.

ďI wonít be open to it after the hearing,Ē said Bautista following a workout at the Jays spring training facility.

ďAfter the hearing, I believe we will notify the team that (a long-term deal) is not going to be a possibility, unless itís in that window they have from the end of the season until the free agency period begins.Ē

Itís a crapshoot for both sides. By seasonís end, Bautistaís value could be through the roof or plummet back into the real world.

Bautista contends the reason he will close off negotiations is that he doesnít want any distractions for himself or for the team. Nobody should read into this decision that Bautista wants to play anywhere else but Toronto. He made that clear.

ďMy desire is to play in Toronto long term but, after the hearing, or during the season, I have come to the conclusion that itís probably not the best thing for me to be negotiating any type of deal,Ē he said. ďI want to focus on the game and trying to win ballgames.

ďIf Iím in that type of negotiation, itís going to shift my focus from what I need to worry about and thatís baseball. I donít want my mind to be elsewhere when I come to the ballpark to help my team win.Ē

Bautista could be the first Blue Jay player to be taken to an arbitration hearing since 1997. After failing to come to an agreement on this yearís contract, the teams exchanged figures in January, Bautista asking for $10.5 million and the Jays offering $7.6 million.

If they go to a hearing, each side will argue its case and the arbitrator will have to choose one figure or the other. There is no provision to split the difference.

The Blue Jays have not discussed an extension with Bautista or his agent, Bean Stringfellow.

ďAs far as I know, we havenít even started (negotiating),Ē said Bautista. ďI have to be prepared for the hearing because itís what has been presented to me. I havenít had another choice.Ē

Bautista understands this is all about business and not personal in nature.

ďI see where the club is coming from and they see where Iím coming from.

ďUltimately the club is a business. Financially they are trying to operate with the lowest possible payroll they can. Any way they can save money, Iím sure theyíre going to pursue it. Thatís business and thatís their job.Ē

Bautista presents a unique problem for the Jays and for the arbitrator. His 54-homer season was such a dramatic break from past performance that a team would like to know if itís repeatable before committing long-term. Nobody is expecting a repeat of 54 homers but anything within 20 of that number will put Bautista on the front line of free agents available next winter, especially considering he has added value as a defender at third base or in the outfield.

ďIím going to hit the ball hard and have a good approach, swing at strikes, lay off bad pitches and get myself into good hitting counts,Ē said Bautista. ďIf I donít get a good pitch to hit, take the walk and when I do get a good pitch to hit, Iím going to hit it hard.

ďThatís all I can do. I canít control where the ball goes. You just try to do what you can to help the team win. Thatís my approach.Ē

The Jays, no doubt, would like to get a glimpse of how successful that approach will be this season before making a commitment of, say, four years at $40-50 million.

From Bautistaís point of view ó and heís a very self-aware 30-year-old whose window of opportunity is right now ó by waiting until next year, he could be adding to the treasure that awaits, or he could see it evaporate.

ďItís going to be a tough act to follow,Ē he said, ďbut I welcome the challenge and Iíve been working hard all off-season to prepare myself for it.Ē

ken.fidlin@sunmedia.ca


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