This tidbit is a week old, but it’s more than important enough– and hasn’t been dealt with much elsewhere– that I don’t think I should just let it slip into the ether. Not that, y’know, at its centre isn’t a question that’s going away any time soon: what the Jays should do with Jose Bautista.
Truthfully, I have no doubt in my mind what the Jays should do with Bautista. I essentially wrote about it last week, when I insisted that Rogers must continue to spend– that jumping a year early into the coming TV-fueled explosion of salary shouldn’t excuse them continuing to spend on a level commensurate to an RSN-powered club owned by a company that just a year ago spent half a billion dollars on a sports property, and thus has a very good idea what that sort of business, run well, is worth.
I hinted about it as well when I scoffed at the questions raised about Bautista’s leadership earlier this month– not that I’m interested in going to deeply down that road again today. Besides, Stephen Brunt, speaking on Prime Time Sports last Monday, elucidated the same sort of thoughts as I have, explaining, “Now, I don’t put a tonne into the old ‘clubhouse dynamics’ stuff. You know, the fun guys in Boston with beards now are great, but they would have been the chicken and beer guys two years ago. The Blue Jays with secret handshakes would have looked great if they were winning, but I think all of that stuff’s crap.”
I might add that, this time a year ago, the story was that the Jays’ clubhouse reportedly became unhinged after their leader, Bautista, went down with a wrist injury in mid-July– though he returned and played two late-August games for the club before shutting down for good. But… whatever.
More crucially, Brunt being bang on about such silliness wasn’t nearly the most interesting thing he had to say on the matter of Jose Bautista.
Asked by guest host Elliotte Friedman if he was of the opinion that Bautista gets dealt, Brunt explained, “Well, I’m not– I’m more inclined to believe that he could be dealt than I was a month ago. Let’s put it that way.”
Yeah, it’s just– there’s just some stuff. There’s some rumbling around the team that suggests that that might be the direction they’re going to go. That’s all. Look, obviously he’s got a tonne of value. It’s a great contract– it’s an owner-friendly contract– and he is a guy who’s going to his 35 and drive in 100 for you in a bad year– and he’s still probably 40 or 45 in a good year. He plays plus outfield defence, and he’s got a great arm in right field– and, you know, a guy who remade himself. I don’t think there’s any– there are no work ethic issues with him, or anything like that. He’s a self-made player if there ever was one. But they’re going to need to deal value to get value, and the free agent market doesn’t look enormously good in terms of starting pitchers right now. And the other thing is, he’s a very large– he’s a larger than life presence on that team.
It was at that point that Brunt gave his thoughts on clubhouse dynamics. The conversation continued:
SB: Jose is a very strong, strong personality. He’s a smart guy. And he was the king in that room, and then they changed the dynamic, and it was a little uneasy. I thought he was– I talked about this in the spring– he was not quite the same guy. I think he felt a little uneasy with the surroundings and the new hierarchy there, and… I’m not sure. I’m not sure how he got along with the manager, but– he is a guy where Alex Anthopoulos would answer his phone calls. He has a direct pipeline to the front office, because when they made moves in the past, they always wanted him to be happy– to be satisfied.
EF: Well, the Miami move, certainly they went to him and said, ‘Can you sell some of these guys on coming?’
EF: No doubt about it.
SB: So he’s got that– that’s not always– having a player who’s got that kind of power is not always desirable.
The last part is certainly true. in general. And it’s not like– whatever one may think of its value– the kind of leadership through force of personality that people usually talk about in this context comes with an infinite shelf life. Still, it was Bautista who this entire project of Anthopoulos and Beeston’s was built around, which is why these rumblings continue to seem so strange– especially since, at least on the field, Bautista appeared to be no different a personality this year than in prior ones.
On the other hand, Brunt isn’t the first one to suggest something was different in the room– which, if real, combined with Bautista’s value, gets to the nut of why this conversation continues to have legs.
Brunt and Friedman continued later in the segment:
EF: Steve, as you were making your spiel at the beginning there, I got the sense that while you understand why it may happen, you may not be 100% comfortable with the idea. What do you think? If you were writing a column…
SB: Well, I like him as a player– I think he’s a terrific player. And I actually like him as a guy. He’s a very, very interesting cat. And he’s not like your average ballplayer in a lot of ways– and he’s different than a lot of the Dominican guys. It’s funny that we all say there’s all these Dominicans there, but he’s an urban guy, he went to private schools– he comes from a different place than Jose Reyes comes from, or Edwin Encarnacion comes from. He’s a very different guy, culturally, and in terms of education, and in terms of a lot of things. I just– I really like him, as a person. And I like him as a ballplayer. And I like the story. And I like the fact that they guy has remade himself– that doesn’t happen very often. But they’ve got to win. They’ve got a three year window here, and then we’ll decide where things are going to go after that. But everything that was done last year was predicated on a three-year window, and so that was him, and Encarnacion, and Reyes, and Buehrle, and a bunch of guys– there’s a bunch of unmovable blocks there.
And then the money quote:
EF: On a percentage scale, from one– it probably won’t happen– to ten, meaning I think he’s gone, what’s your percentage that Bautista’s traded?
EF: That high, eh?
SB: I think so. I think so.
That, of course, doesn’t mean anything will happen, but it’s not like Brunt isn’t credible, either. So… it’s rather dispiriting to think that the club would actually be so seriously considering going down this road– unless, perhaps, they’d dangle Bautista, and the tremendous value of his contract, to a club looking to shed salary, and would actually take on more money themselves.
Take, for example, the Cincinnati Reds.
Matt Klaassen wrote at FanGraphs this week about the trade value of Brandon Phillips. “Earlier this week John Fay wrote that the Reds apparently had interest in Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who is projected to play second base in the big leagues,” Klaassen explained. “With Phillips’ perceived down performance and the organization’s reported irritation with some of his comments, reading the tea leaves could mean the team is ready to see if they can trade Phillips this winter.”
Now, per year, Bautista– who might not fit a Reds outfield already full with Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce, and Billy Hamilton, but who could certainly be a big offensive improvement over for Todd Frazier at third– makes more money than Phillips. With salary relief being a motivating factor for the Reds– who had a payroll of just $73-million in 2009, which shot to $107-million by 2013– and with Phillips having a down year in 2013, the suggestion doesn’t quite add up until you consider some other things. For starters, Phillips is owed $50-million through the end of 2017, compared to $29-million guaranteed for Bautista through 2015 (plus a $1-million buyout on a 2016 option). That certainly would save money for the Reds, though it doesn’t do much for the Jays. What might pique their interest, however, is Homer Bailey. The right-hander is, according to MLBTR, projected to make $9.3-million in his final year of arbitration, and may be intent on heading into free agency at the end of 2014, which has prompted rumours that he could be dealt this winter.
Bautista would be a hefty price for one year of Bailey and the right to overpay a declining Philips to turn double plays on the fast turf with Jose Reyes until 2017, but that kind of an exchange– plus whatever peripheral names you’d need to add to work it all out– is, in my view, probably closer to the reality of what a Bautista trade might bring than a lot of fans are dreaming.
I, of course, have no idea. I’m just spitballin’ here. But I’m pretty sure if you’re not giving a team some kind of salary relief, even on a deal as great as Bautista’s, unless you’re seriously going to limit your market to the few big spenders of the world– who wouldn’t see the same value in such a team-friendly contract anyway– you’re not likely getting the kinds of players you need to get immediately better.
I could certainly be wrong there– maybe there are revenue-neutral fits, or teams that have enough of a need for two years (plus an option) of Bautista that they’d give up excellent, cheap, immediate-impact players to get him– but it gets harder and harder to think of realistic possibilities the more you try to stick by the notion that the Jays wouldn’t be able to take on salary in a deal without selling themselves short in the exchange of talent. In other words, how best to maximize Jose’s value still very possibly comes down to money, in which case I again can’t help but wonder why the Jays– or, at the very least, Rogers– would think they’re better off creating a gigantic hole in their offence than spending in free agency. Especially when you consider how legitimately close they may actually be to having to blow this whole thing up and start dealing big league talent for prospects.
I’d maybe want to keep Bautista around for a time like that, while banking on returns to form of Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow in 2014, plus adding a free agent pitcher of some sort, while tinkering with the roster’s needs elsewhere.
Before last year Alex Anthopoulos was actually pretty conservative when it came to acquiring big league talent, so I wouldn’t necessarily put that sort of a plan past him, but… that’s easy for me to say from here. After all, I don’t think for a second that whatever might possibly be problematic about Bautista in the clubhouse is enough to justify running him out of town for pennies on the dollar (obviously– I mean… I’m suggesting they trade a supposed clubhouse problem and bring in Brandon Phillips here!), plus, more importantly, it’s not my job on the line.