The Toronto Blue Jays have a decision to make with regards to Jose Bautista’s contract, which means his time in Toronto could be ending
I do not want to move on. The Toronto Blue Jays have to make a decision that I would not want to make. Jose Bautista is an icon, a legend, easily in the Top 5 Blue Jays of all time (for those who’ve been debating that lately). He has provided a whole new generation of fans with historic moments. And, that is not a hyperbole. Few players have impacted the franchise like Joey Bats has. This is why it is painful to think about his contract situation.
The details of his contract are this: there is a $17M mutual option for next season that has a $500k buyout if either side declines. Should he return, there is a $20M vesting option for 2019 that is triggered if he collects 300 games over 2017 and 2018 (and is physically able to play…whatever that means).
It’s that 2019 option that could be the fly in the ointment. Right now, the soon to be 37 year old has 132 games to his credit. We have to assume that the team is not going to pull a move like Frank Thomas went through when he was sat just so he didn’t accumulate games played. So, Bautista will see more games. He’s been healthy this year and there is no reason to think he won’t be next year, which could bring him to his 300 games. Does a team want to risk being forced into giving him an extra year at $20M? As a fan, I don’t care. I would bring him back anyway. He’s Joey Freaking Bats!
But, for a team who continues to talk about getting younger, this doesn’t seem like something they are willing to do. This is especially true when you consider his 2017 performance. His slash line of .203/.311/.370 is well below his standards. So is his -0.4 fWAR, wOBA (.297), wRC+ (81) and his BB% (12.8%) and his strike out rate is uncharacteristically high (24.2%). These are not good. Remove the name from the player and you would be hard pressed to find a team that would give him anything over a minor league deal, which doesn’t bode well for his future.
Decline has been the narrative that has plagued Bautista ever since the dramatic narrative of “hometown discounts” and rumors of obscene contract demands. Looking at the above metrics, Bautista is declining. Considering he’s healthy, what else is there to think? Jose has seen his swing speed decline, which would fuel the decline argument. It is difficult to envision the Blue Jays being comfortable risking having him in the lineup over the next two years, especially at the above cost.
Instead, the Ross Atkins may feel more comfortable with giving his other “in house” options a chance. For example, September call up, Teoscar Hernandez is a player who could likely be slotted in a big league lineup today. He was Friday. In his Blue Jays debut, he went 1-4 with a walk. His combined 18 HR and 66 RBI in AAA this year give food for thought. As do his 16 stolen bases. He’s also had season of 20-30 thefts, which implies potential speed that is missing from this lineup.
As well, Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr could get looks this spring. With Kevin Pillar and Steve Pearce already in the fold and Ezequiel Carrera likely being tendered a contract, one has to ask if the Blue Jays would really allocate resources to bringing Bautista back, or focus elsewhere and allowing any one of the above options to take over.
They could still look to the free agent market, where there are options that would likely cost much less than the possible $38M over 2 seasons. If you look at the long list of free agent pitching, there can be a strong argument made for spending money there instead of on a declining franchise icon.
But, there is the rub. Jose Bautista is a franchise icon. We’ve already said that if you take away the name, his numbers are minor league contract worthy. But, he isn’t. Yes, he may be an unknown commodity over the next two years, but you can’t tell me that any of the above options are a slam dunk. As good as their MLB debuts were, Smith Jr and Alford are very much uncertain. And, as ‘big league ready’ as Hernandez appears, he is also an uncertainty. So, the Blue Jays will have to pick their poison.
Perhaps, the best idea is to decline the 2018 option, pay Bautista $500k, let him see what is out there – or isn’t out there…again – on the open market and work out a better deal to bring him back. Obviously, he is going to push for as much as he can. He should. But, the Blue Jays would look to keep any deal as far away from $18M as possible. Personally, I’d look around $9M, where a player needs to produce just 1 fWAR to be “worth” their contract. While they’ll try and save money, they are the only franchise that would pay something that the player could live with. It may not be what he wants, but it would be more than 29 other offers.
Mark Shapiro made interesting comments recently about Josh Donaldson and whether to trade him. He said that keeping a
newer fanbase happy might outweigh trading a guy for high end prospects. This is a paraphrase, but it highlights the desire for this organization to give fans what they want. And, let’s be honest, we want Jose Bautista.
We want to see him in a Blue Jays uniform for the rest of his playing days. We want to see him climb further on the franchise all time leader board. We want to see his name on the Level of Excellence. The heart says to give him whatever he wants and keep him in Toronto. The brain says that this front office doesn’t work like that. They will not waste resources on emotional decisions. Instead, they will look to make smart, logical decisions.
That could mean that Jose Bautista’s current contract would be coming to an end. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean that his time in Toronto is.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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