There’s a bit of a misconception going around that by trading Vernon Wells, the Toronto Blue Jays can now afford to sign Jose Bautista to a multi-year contract.  The reality of the situation is actually that by trading Vernon Wells, the Toronto Blue Jays can now afford to wait on signing Jose Bautista to a multi-year contract.

Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports recently spoke with Bautista’s agent Bean Stringfellow about a multi-year deal and the impending arbitration hearing in which his client and the Blue Jays are almost $3 million apart.

Jose is interested in exploring it, but they have not made any multiyear proposals. As the date gets closer, we’ll see what direction we’re going to go. It takes two sides to engage in talks. Jose is content going either way. He loves playing for the Blue Jays. He also understands that he’s a free agent at the end of this current season. Alex and the people in Toronto have treated him so well.

I’ve always assumed that there’s a bit of disingenuousness on the part of teams when it comes to making their case in arbitration hearings.  No matter what the Rangers tell the arbitrator during their hearing to decide what Josh Hamilton will make next season, Texas still wants the AL MVP on their team, putting up AL MVP like numbers all year long.

However, when the Toronto Blue Jays make their case against Jose Bautista’s $10.5 million arbitration claim, their arguments will also be their genuine worries.  By now we all know the Bautista story: few, if any players in MLB history have come from such a history of mediocrity to put up MVP caliber numbers at the age of 29.

From 2004 – 2009, Jose Bautista appeared in 575 games with 2038 plate appearances.  Over that time he hit 59 home runs, had an on base percentage of .329 and a slugging percentage of .400.  In 2010, Bautista appeared in 161 games with 683 plate appearances.  Over the course of last season he hit 54 home runs, had an on base percentage of .378 and a slugging percentage of .617.

The Blue Jays’ arguments and worries are pretty obvious: Which is the real Bautista, the one that positively demolished everything he saw last season, or the player who consistently struggled against right handed pitching in his six previous years?

The thinking goes that if Toronto were to offer Bautista a multi-year contract, it wouldn’t be for as much or as long as it would be if Bautista is able to duplicate his 2010 in 2011.  Of course, there’s a discount for a reason. By signing Bautista to an extension right now, an element of blindness exists as to his ability to duplicate the numbers he put up in 2010.

Make no mistake, the Blue Jays want Jose Bautista on this team.  They didn’t trade him at the deadline last year and they didn’t seem serious to interested teams during the Winter Meetings.

But if that’s true, then why not lock him up now?

It comes down to being a bet.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is willing to risk the potential increase in terms of a contract to see Bautista play baseball this season.  And with the $86 million no longer being owed to Vernon Wells, the Blue Jays can afford to do exactly that instead of jumping at the chance to be in partnership with Bautista at a reduced rate. Anthopoulos can afford to play the slow roll in this situation.

If Bautista’s numbers severely diminish this season from last, the Blue Jays can let him go and in all likelihood still receive draft pick compensation when he signs elsewhere.  No harm.  No foul.  If Bautista’s numbers regress a little bit, but still make him an important member of the team, the Blue Jays can consider if he has a place in their long term plans and then choose whether or not to compete with a free agent market that may be scared by his regression.  If Bautista equals or betters his 2010 numbers, the Blue Jays will have to compete with the big dogs to retain his services, but with Wells gone, this is something they can realistically do.

Which of those three options seem most likely?

As for Bautista’s place in this team long term, there’s another reason to wait a year.  With Brett Lawrie moving to third base, Bautista’s future with the team would be in one of the corner outfield spots.  Travis Snider has one of those spots locked up, but who else from the Jays organization is knocking on the door?

Eric Thames has been steadily rising through the system, and with 27 home runs and an OPS just below .900 in his first full season at Double A, the 24 year old corner outfielder might be given the opportunity to impress at Triple A this year.

The success or failure of Thames could have just as much say in Bautista’s future in Toronto as Bautista himself.  But whatever the most important factor is in deciding the slugger’s future, the Blue Jays can finally afford to sit back and wait for it to emerge.

Comments (19)

  1. It will be sickening to see bautista destroy AL pitching again, and to see rogers refuse to pay him, and him walk as a FA. just sickening. i can see it happening.

  2. Wolf, exact same thing was said about Vernon Wells, do not over pay this guy to placate fans. I think AA is hoping this goes to arbitration, Jays win and use that number as a starting point for a multi year extension

  3. I would like to point out that Bean Stringfellow is an excellent name.

  4. Excellent analysis! It appears that it really came down to who did AA want to put his money on. Wells and his ceiling of 35 homers or Bautista and his ceiling of 54 homers. Bautista is the riskier bet, but if there is a huge regression we can walk away. Wtih Wells there was no walking away if we didn’t jump on this chance to move him.

  5. @Chris: Bean Stringfellow is the best legume related name I’ve ever heard.

    @JRock: This is a big year for several players at every level of Jays organization. I can’t understand those radio call in types complaining that this isn’t an exciting team. Total garbage.

  6. NO. You don’t want to have the same thing that happened to Vernon. This is a team that needs young players. If anything, trade Bautistsa for a top prospect and a 1st rounder.

  7. Does anybody else constantly mis-read his name as String-Bean Fellow? I do…

  8. Bean Stringfellow is indeed a fine legume-related name, but places second in the all-time rankings to Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.

    Also, if Bautista could be traded for a first-rounder as per James’ suggestion above, then AA’s genius would be fully cemented in my mind, if only because it would be the first time in MLB history that a draft pick got traded, what with it being against the rules and all.

    Anyone have an ESPN Insider account to tell us where KLaw put the Jays in his organizational rankings?

  9. @James. You can’t trade picks in baseball. The only way to gain picks for a player is for that player to be rated Type A or Type B and then reject your offer of salary arbitration and sign as a FA with another team. Type A yields a 1st, 2nd or 3rd round pick (depends on signing team’s oklace in standings and other FA’s they have signed) and a supplemental round pick. Type B yields a supplemental round pick.

  10. As has been pointed out elsewhere, unless he’s insane, JBau’s agent would be looking at something like Dan Uggla’s contract extension, which is five years at about 13 million a year. As good as Bautista was last year, that would be foolish. Uggla is as consistent as they come; Bautista’s previous high in HRs was 16. I think he’s a 30 HR, 90+ RBI guy over the long haul — which is still something you want on your team. But he’s got to show it for longer than he has. Is he Juan Gonzalez or Davey Johnson? I have no idea, neither does AA. He’s also significantly older than the young core of this team. That’s a factor as well, esp. when you’re throwing around a lot of money and a lot of years.

  11. I wonder if AA is betting on a successful arbitration decision, and hoping to negotiate an extension afterwards? Not a bad strategy if you’re optimistic of your chances.

    As for Bautista’s value, I think AA has a strong appetite for risk. I think it’s largely a scouting decision- how confident the coaching and scouting staffs are that Bautista’s approach will continue to prosper, and how well they think he can man third base. I don’t think the Jays are going to sign him to a long-term contract with the view of him staying in right. They’ve already cleared EE off of third, Bautista has very poor range in right (as much as we love his arm), and third base is about a 1 WAR difference in positional value.

  12. I know Mr. Parkes likes JBau at third, but I’d argue the plus arm in right does more for the team than the weak routes to the ball hurts us (partly because he often makes up for them with the plus arm) . He doesn’t have E5′s throwing issues, but to these eyes Encarnacion was a far superior defender at third than Bautista in every other way (ranging toward short especially). JBau is athletic, but he just doesn’t look comfortable at third. And with Davis (or Patterson) in centre, he might also be able to cheat a little toward the line in the OF. I keep hoping the next move is for a guy who can play third. That position has been a constant issue for this team for ages.

  13. “I wonder if AA is betting on a successful arbitration decision, and hoping to negotiate an extension afterwards? Not a bad strategy if you’re optimistic of your chances.”

    I’m almost positive that’s the plan. Of course, banking on an arbitrator to do the right thing is, as any lawyer worth their salt will tell you, never a good idea.

  14. i want Pujols! Maybe if we all lobbied enough we either scare st louis into coughing up a lot of cash that will limit them for him, or we get AA excited with this idea. Worst case scenario, nothing happens and we waste further time talking about this (which we will anyways)

  15. Ike, no, worst case scenario is that St. Louis drops out when it gets too expensive and he goes to someone in the American League other than Toronto.

  16. wouldn’t the best time to sign him would have been before last season with 2 years of club options or so?

    i realize that that is easy to say now, but the jays have been successful with the multiple club options in the past.

  17. Before last season there was no reason to consider Bautista for anything but a year to year contract. Last year change everything.

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