The Toronto Blue Jays and Jose Bautista are in the middle of a game of chicken. With no negotiations, who will blink first?
Have you ever seen a cartoon where people get into a fight and dirt is flying around like a tornado, legs and arms flail about and then the dust settles and one of the participants is left by themselves? In those cases, one of the fighters ends up just fighting with themselves and then looks around to find nothing but quiet.
That’s kind of what happened Tuesday with Jose Bautista and the Toronto Blue Jays. In the span of 24 hours, we’d heard that Bautista was not going to negotiate for his potential extension. What ensued was a tornado of speculation and nonsense that resulted a whole lot of nothing…except an interesting staring contest.
He presented his offer and that is that. The club will either accept it, or they won’t. In classic Bautista fashion, honest and direct, he laid it out on the table (video via Sportsnet.ca):
The slugger told them what he wanted 2 weeks ago when they asked what it would take to retain him. In order to do that, Bautista has an idea in mind of what his contract should look like. He’s basing this idea on his current value as well as the previous 5 years of service he’s provided. And, you can see where he’s coming from. Since 2010, Fangraphs.com lists his value at a total of $243M, which is a major discount if you look at the $64M that he actually earned. One can see his point: the club has been making money off his bat for a long time. Think about the 2015 postseason alone!
The problem with that logic is that when the deal was made, it wasn’t actually providing a discount to the team. At the time, the club was taking a gamble that his late blooming bat would continue into the next 5 yrs. There was no way to know if it actually would. That is not offering a discount. And, while Bautista may say there is no such thing as hometown discounts, the reality is that there is no such thing as ‘hindsight discounts’. Unfortunately, this argument is a little thin.
He might have been better off discussing how, at age 35, he is not like all of the other comps a club might use to make their decisions. Often, people will look at Carlos Beltran to gauge Bautista as he ages. Beltran signed with the New York Yankees at age 35. He signed for 3yrs and $45M. At the point of that signing, the player had just come off 3 win and nearly 2 win seasons. He was far removed from his 5-7 win period. Since 2010, Bautista has put up 6.4, 8.1, 2.9 (injury shortened season), 4.3, 6.3, 4.5 win seasons. His value is arguably better than that of Beltran when he signed.
But, while Bautista is looking at what he’s done, the club will be looking at what he will do. How will he age? Will he be productive into age 41? Well, given his fitness obsession and routines, we can probably be safe in saying that he’ll age better than Beltran. If you’re looking at a player who will age and still produce, one has to think that Bautista is the guy to do it. David Ortiz saw $16M in 2015 and has 2 more option years remaining and he’s 40 and been hovering around 3 wins for the last few years. Again, one has to think that Bautista would out perform that.
Which also means that he’s looking to out earn that. And, apparently, the ball is in the court of the Blue Jays. When new president, Mark Shapiro, took over the helm of this club, he did so saying that he’d be operating with an increased “tolerance for risk” than he’d known in Cleveland. (PS: Ep62 of the Jays Nest Podcast put his theory of risk tolerance to the test by looking at the club’s offseason). Perhaps the biggest test of this tolerance is whether the club is willing to gamble on Bautista a second time. If it doesn’t happen, Blue Jays Land will be quick to jump on new management for such a travesty. Or, will they?
In a rather shrewd move, Bautista shifted the focus of the decision making away from management to (where it should be) ownership.
I think they know and realize the things that I say and agree with me. It’s just a matter of, are they willing to go there?” Bautista said. “And it’s not just necessarily Ross and Mark. I can’t say that, I don’t know. Some of that decision making, of a contract the size that I presented, has to come from ownership.”- via Noah Trister, Associated Press on CBC.ca
This might be the better part of Bautista’s “non-negotiating negotiating”. Before we get into that, let’s recall the several times that Bautista didn’t agree with ownership and their spending ways. Remember when he wanted the club to sign Ervin Santana but there was no money so he and other players offered to help pay by altering their own salary? Remember when he was frustrated by the lack of midseason moves to help his club make the playoffs? Ownership has shown a reluctance in the past to take on salary mid-season, 2015 notwithstanding.
Now, the attention is on Rogers Communications to approve a hefty deal. What kind of deal? Well, TSN’s Rick Westhead set Twitter afire Tuesday by passing on what his source told him: that Bautista is demanding 5yrs/$150M, an amount that had many Blue Jays fans questioning whether the club should actually ‘pay the man’. Once ardent supporters were saying, “Woah, now, Jose”. If fans aren’t willing to pay that much, even for their beloved bat flipping hero, do we think a so called “tight fisted” ownership would?
Bautista later said that this demand was false, which shifts the pendulum of sanity back in his favor. See, without even putting out a number, he is saying that he has a request, but it is not crazy. Which puts the focus back on Rogers. We’ll ignore the conspiracy theorists who say that the aforementioned “source” of Westhead was actually a Rogers employee who was trying to take support away from the slugger. That’s just too much crazy.
But, Rogers is now squarely in the spotlight and on the clock. For his part, GM, Ross Atkins says he’d love to have Bautista back, which is about the only thing he would say on Tuesday. One could view this as management also skirting any blame or responsibility in this fiasco…if one were really into conspiracies. But, Atkins did his part by saying that when you look at extensions, you look at what the future value would be.
This is what the game of chicken really comes down to. Bautista is thinking about all he’s done (and not been compensated for, according to market value) for the past few years and his value to the team right now. The club will look ahead to the next few years and how they will be set up to compete. When they only have Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki on contract and have to build their team, how much do they want to have committed? That is not even taking into account the possibility of eventually figuring out what to do with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna who will be free agents at the end of 2021.
This whole situation will come down to who will blink first. The cold, calculated approach by Atkins and Shapiro may not even play into this decision. It could come down to ownership, who has been stubborn in its spending habits (will the bend to public pressure?) and a player who has a high opinion of his value, both on and off the field. Who will blink first? Negotiation, or no, this just might be the best example of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object the Blue Jays have ever seen.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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