Today In Poorly Formed Thoughts

There has to be a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to list all of the faults of the most important person in your life while they try to make a case for their value.  Yet, if you replace “person in your life” with “player on your team” in the previous sentence, it’s exactly how the Toronto Blue Jays and Jose Bautista have spent February 14th this year, embroiled in the least sexy threesome imaginable.

Today was the day in which the Toronto Blue Jays made their case for why Jose Bautista is only deserving of being paid $7.6 million for the coming season, while Bautista explained to an arbitrator why he’s deserving of $10.5million.

Late last week, Bautista’s agent, the humourously named Bean Stringfellow, warned the Blue Jays that if they didn’t discuss a multi-year deal with his client before the arbitration hearing, like Albert Pujols, he would be unwilling to negotiate until the very end of the season, during a five day window in which the Blue Jays would have exclusive rights to Bautista before he becomes a free agent.

The Blue Jays have let Stringfellow’s deadline pass, and The Toronto Sun’s Ken Fidlin believes that:

It clearly sets the wheels in motion for Bautista to be out of here at season’s end, or even before that. And that is a mistake.

In fact, Fidlin believes the wheels to be so clearly “set in motion” for Bautista’s departure that he doesn’t actually get around to explaining how it does so.  As I’ve tried to explain in the past, by ridding themselves of the Vernon Wells contract and the Alex Rios agreement before that, the Blue Jays are actually in a place financially where signing Bautista to a multi-year deal before he further proves himself isn’t necessary.  The only reason the team has to sign him right now to multiple years is that they can cash in on the discount that won’t be available if he manages to repeat last season.  The Blue Jays no longer need a risky discount.  The team can afford to take a laissez-faire approach with Bautista for the coming season.

Fidlin disagress.

Having just gotten themselves out from under two monster contracts in the past 18 months, maybe they are wary of signing another. And, yes, the focus of this team is clearly on the future but, last we checked, the American League isn’t going on hold until the Jays are ready to compete. They have an obligation to their fans and their current players right now and signing Jose Bautista should be part of that obligation.

If the Blue Jays have any obligation to their fans, it’s to fulfill the promises that their president and general manager have made.  We’ve heard the term “sustainable success” over and over again from Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos.  And we’ve seen the moves that back up their claims: paying Philadelphia an extra $6 million in the Roy Halladay trade to bring back better prospects, paying Adeiny Hechevaria’s signing bonus, not being afraid of going over slot at the draft and acquiring Brett Lawrie.

Risking a multi-year deal on a potential flash in the pan, as baseball history compels Bautista to regress, is not part of building sustainable success.  Waiting to see how Bautista performs a year after his breakout and how the rest of the players in your system perform, especially when finances allow you that luxury, is exactly how it’s done.

Because of swing changes and regular playing time since late in 2009, Bautista is not even close to the same player he was before that.

Couple his final month of ’09 with his monster 2010 season and you have a player whose confidence is through the roof and is matched only by his intense desire to keep it going.

If Mr. Fidlin actually understood the swing changes that can take a baseball player from a career high of 16 home runs to 54, I’d imagine he’d have a far more lucrative career as a consultant for professional baseball teams rather than merely a writer on the baseball beat.  It’s a nice idea that Bautista can maintain his success through confidence and intense desire, but is he suggesting that Davey Johnson lacked confidence or intense desire after his 43 home run campaign of 1973, when his previous career high was only 18 home runs? Johnson was never able to repeat his (to that point) outlier season, so what makes Fidlin so positive that Bautista will be able to repeat his?

Just look at what happened to Jayson Werth who, at 31, is a year older than Bautista. Despite a career that has included just one season in which he has hit more than 30 home runs and has never included a 100-RBI year, Werth hit the free agent motherlode this off-season, signing a seven-year, $126-million US contract with Washington. In his past 1,125 at-bats, he has hit 73 home runs, or one every 15.5 at-bats. In Bautista’s past 667 at-bats, he has hit 64 home runs, or one every 10.4 at-bats.

First of all, no one outside of Washington believes that contract is going to turn out well or be repeated on the free agent market anytime soon.  Secondly, sure Bautista’s best season is better than Werth’s best, but Werth then has five seasons better than Bautista’s second best.  Handing out a multi-year deal should be rooted in the belief that a player can perform at a particular level on a consistent basis.  Say all you want about his last 667 at bats, but Bautista hasn’t proven that yet.

So, let’s compare Bautista’s potential against that of Adrian Beltre, another 31-year-old who scored big this off-season, signing a more reasonable five-year, $80-million contract with the Texas Rangers.

Sure.  Let’s compare.

Again, there’s a slight difference between the two over their careers.

Do you not think that Bautista, with a 30-homer, 100-RBI season, hardly unreasonable to expect, would command at least something the same as Beltre’s deal, especially when you consider his positional versatility? This is a guy who is an average defender at third base and an above-average defender in right field, who possesses of one of the better outfield arms in the game.

First of all, the numbers indicate that Bautista is a passable defender at third base and below average in right field despite having a very good arm.  Beltre is quite likely the best defensive third baseman in the league.  But I’ll play along so that we can assume Bautista hits thirty home runs this coming season, which if you want to bring in reason and consider his previous seasons, is likely somewhat unreasonable.

Nevertheless, let’s assume Bautista’s 30 home runs renders him a four WAR season.  He’s still nowhere close to delivering the same type of consistency as Beltre, unless he’s able to have three or four more four WAR seasons after his imaginary 2011.  Any team willing to pay Bautista more than the five year, $80 million contract that Beltre earned should be welcomed to do so.  They’d still be taking a ridiculous risk, committing to paying a supposed late developer into his mid-thirties.

So, what it all comes down to is belief. Once again, 54 home runs is off the charts. But, if you believe he can hit 30, with 35 doubles, maintain a high on-base percentage and drive in 100 runs, then where’s the hesitation?

The hesitation comes from the lack of belief.  It’s like winning one hand at poker, and assuming that you’ll win every hand after that, even though you lost the previous six before the one you won.

In the past 18 months, Bautista has gone from being an expendable bench player to assuming a role as a clubhouse leader both on and off the field, articulate and unafraid to speak his mind when necessary. This spring, he has already shown, in unofficial workouts, that he is more than willing to share his knowledge with youngster Brett Lawrie who is learning to play third base.

Just great.  Jose Bautista is a clubhouse leader and teaches younger players how to man their positions.  He can become the most expensive coach in the league then when he fails to ever come remotely close to repeating his 2010 during the fourth year of his contract.

But if the door closes on that hearing room, Bautista will be as good as gone. Until that moment, the Jays still have a chance to lock him up for four or five years.

Risky? Sure it is. But so is letting a stud like Bautista walk.

Again.  Where does this illogical assumption come from that the Blue Jays, if they truly want to, won’t be able to sign Bautista at the end of the season, or for that matter, that they couldn’t throw an offer his way at the mid-point and have it listened to?

You’d imagine that an article that makes this assumption three times would somehow explain the root of it.

Anthopoulos is as creative at the art of the contract as they come. I’m sure he could figure out — or maybe he already has — something that would ensure Bautista gets his money, while the club gets a discount for accepting some of the risk. There are also ways of including provisions for additional performance bonuses for extraordinary production, such as another 50-plus homer season.

So Anthopoulos is ingenious enough to talk Bautista into a deal that isn’t as risky, but not smart enough to sign him when he becomes a free agent.  If Bautista’s pay day is so clearly destined, why would he ever consider signing a long term deal with the Blue Jays right now?  Why would the Blue Jays not even bother offering him a multi-year deal to this point?

They need to get it done.

Ten one sentence paragraphs apparently prove it.

We’ll learn the results of Jose Bautista’s arbitration hearing tomorrow.