DUNEDIN — It was always going to be a gamble for Jose Bautista. Now the Blue Jays apparently have some serious skin in the game as well. Exactly 65 million skins.
The Jays and Bautista went overtime in their negotiations but in the end — and still with some i’s to dot and t’s to cross —appear to have agreed on a five-year, $65 million contract that also includes a club option for $13 million in 2016.
Enrique Rojas, of ESPNdeportes, who earlier this week was the first to report that Bautista’s arbitration hearing had been postponed, was again first to report the tentative agreement Wednesday.
Apparently the main holdup to the deal is the formality of Bautista passing his medical examination.
The multi-year contract that Bautista so wanted, and that will keep him in Toronto possibly for six more years, came together Wednesday, two days after Major League Baseball postponed an arbitration hearing that would have decided Bautista’s salary for 2010, but would also have closed off negotiations on a multi-year deal until the end of the season.
Bautista had previously informed the Jays that if the impasse went to arbitration, he would not negotiate again until the season was over and he was a free agent.
The Jays, no doubt, will be roundly second-guessed for reaching so deeply into their corporate wallet to commit to a player who had never come close to superstar numbers before 2010, when he hit 54 homers and drove in 124 runs.
Even Bautista knows that 54/124 is going to be tough to duplicate but there is nothing in how he conducted himself in 2010 to indicate he’s going to regress to pre-2010 levels.
After coming out of the gate with 24 home runs and 56 RBI in 304 at-bats before the All-Star break, he was even better in his final 265 at-bats, launching 30 homers and knocking in 68 with 20 fewer strikeouts, despite being targeted for special treatment by opponents.
Clearly he was able to deal with all the adjustments pitchers were making by showing unfailing patience at the plate.
The feeling within the industry is that if Bautista could follow up his breakout season with a 35-homer, 110-RBI season, he could have been in the $90-100 million range as a free agent next winter.
It was either a multi-year deal now or the two sides would have gone to arbitration on Friday and Bautista’s 2011 salary would have been either $10.5 million or $7.6 million. Then, at the end of the year, the Jays would have had to join the fray if they wanted to keep him.
“There are so many ebbs and flows to this,” said Anthopoulos Wednesday afternoon. “Negotiations rarely go smoothly. 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 consistent production over several years?
On that subject, Anthopoulos came very close to tipping his hand Wednesday afternoon, before the tentative deal became public knowledge.
“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, though now nobody will ever know.
What’s clear is it’s a bet the Jays are 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 also 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 we’re going to find out.