DUNEDIN — Three days into training camp, general manager Alex Anthopoulos finally got a brief chance to match the player names that clutter his office wall with real, live flesh and blood.
The general manager dropped by the Bobby Mattick Training Centre to get a look at some of the pitchers and catchers going through their paces but, not surprisingly, it was an absent player that people queried him about.
The Blue Jays and Jose Bautista have until Friday to work out a long-term contract that will allow both sides to avoid an arbitration hearing.
The hearing was supposed to happen Monday but was postponed at the request of both sides while they try to get Bautista locked up.
“We continue to have dialogue with him and his representatives but that’s all I can say at this point. I wish I could say more but I can’t talk about it,” Anthopoulos said.
“I guess the fact we don’t have anything announced today should point to the direction we don’t have anything resolved yet.”
The postponement is solid evidence in itself that there is a basis for a deal in place. The Jays seem convinced that the package of talent, the willingness to work hard, the leadership qualities and the general integrity that Bautista brings to the table mitigates the risk posed by a resume that includes just one monster season.
To get the job done, the Jays will probably have to guarantee four years beyond 2011 and will likely try to include a couple of club options beyond that. The guaranteed money, including 2011, should come in around $60 million but could run to $70 million.
The feeling within the industry is that if Bautista can follow up his 54-homer, 124-RBI season with a 35-homer, 110-RBI season, he could be in the $90-100 million range as a free agent next winter. It’s either a multi-year deal now or the two sides go to arbitration on Friday and Bautista gets a 2011 salary of $10.5 million or the $7.6 million the club will argue for. Then, at the end of the year, the Jays would have to join the fray if they want to keep him.
“The only way that a one-year deal gets done is in a hearing room,” said Anthopoulos. “The hearing has been postponed but it can still happen.
“There are so many ebbs and flows to this. Negotiations rarely go smoothly though that’s not to say they’re not going well. There are a lot of dynamics involved, especially when you have arbitration in the background.”
Bautista’s legitimacy has polarized not only Jays fans but baseball insiders as well. How do you gauge the value of a player who has not shown the kind of consistent production over several years? On that subject, Anthopoulos came very close to tipping his hand.
“You rely on your staff, you rely on your scouts, you rely on your coaches. What I hang my hat on moreso than anything else is you’re ultimately trying to make a determination on the person himself.
“I can’t say enough good things about the type of person Jose is; what kind of worker he is; his character. The person will lead you in the right direction. If you make the right bet that way, you end up being right more often than not.”
That is precisely what this is: It’s a bet. And the payoff could be a savings of up to $30 million over the life of the deal, especially if Bautista continues to produce. But it’s a bet the Jays seem close to making, based on a lot of research. They’ve studied the marketplace. They’ve crunched numbers. They know the player better than anyone else.
They’ve looked at comparable players. Dan Uggla’s name has been mentioned in a published report and that’s someone who seems to have struck a chord in the Jays’ Bautista musings, we’re told. Coincidentally, the Jays tried to trade for Uggla last fall but he was dealt to the Braves instead. They then signed him to a five-year, $62 million deal a year ahead of free agency, same as Bautista.
Uggla is a model of consistency at the plate who will hit 30-35 homers and drive in 90-100 but his glove is made by U.S. Steel. You can hear the clank a mile away.
Bautista, on the other hand, is a solid defender with positional versatility. It remains to be seen if his late-blooming offensive explosion can be extended over a stretch of ground but if he has a Dan Uggla-type year this year, the market will speak, and speak loudly.
By Friday, though, it’s looking strong that the Jays will have him under lock and key.