After the Blue Jays freed up $86 million in committed payroll from the Vernon Wells trade, fans and pundits speculated that the team would use some of their savings to sign Jose Bautista to a multi-year deal.  Yesterday, we learned that the Blue Jays and Bautista had postponed their scheduled arbitration hearing in order to further discuss that very same subject.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been arguing against offering Bautista a multi-year contract, claiming that the money that the team has saved by ditching the long term deals given to Wells and Alex Rios would be better saved rather than spent for the time being.

My point being that if Bautista is able to match his 2010 in 2011, and the Blue Jays want to bring him back, the money saved would allow them to compete for his services on the free agent market.  If Bautista regresses, which as a 30 year old with a single season of above average baseball wouldn’t be surprising, the Blue Jays will have the opportunity to consider whether or not he has a permanent place on this team before making their decision.  If he falls all the way back down to the earth that was beneath his feet in every other season before 2010, Toronto can walk away relatively unscathed.  No harm, no foul outside of increased arbitration figures.  All the while, the team would be able to see how the younger players in their system further develop.

In other words, the team has the money to buy him now at a discount, but I believe that money would be better spent, or rather not spent, waiting a year.  Obviously, any argument for or against a long term contract depend on the actual figures, but the main one against my point of view is that the extra money doesn’t allow them to wait and see, it allows them to take a risk and write it off more easily if it doesn’t pan out.

I understand that argument, but to me, risks are for the desperate, not those already on the path to success. And with their recent transactions that shed unwanted payroll and created a farm system that now ranks among the best in baseball, the Blue Jays aren’t just on that path, they’re turning it into a road.

There’s no need to take a risk on cashing in on a lower rent Bautista, when the downside to spending so much money is that he becomes a similar burden to Wells and Rios.  The potential savings from avoiding competition on the free agent market don’t match up to the potential cost of another albatross contract.

You can make the Jayson Werth comparison all you want, but that deal was laughable to most of baseball, and Werth would still appear to be a more consistent performer even if Bautista is somehow able to repeat his 2010.

Last night on Twitter, friend of Getting Blanked Jonah Keri speculated that the Blue Jays are probably looking at a three year deal for Bautista, spending somewhere between $36 and $39 million.  That seems high to me, especially considering the arbitration figures that were filed by both Bautista and the Jays, but the $12 – $13 million annual price tag stands out.  The last four guaranteed years of Alex Rios’ contract will pay him $12 million in 2011, $12 million in 2012, $12.5 million in 2013 and $12.5 million in 2014.

While Rios has never had a season like Bautista had last year, his career peak to this point came at the age of 27, which was followed by a drastic decline the next season, and a rebound last year.  Let’s assume that Bautista regresses from last season into a four WAR player, which is still a massive improvement over everything he showed prior to last season.  Would you be willing to pay him the Alex Rios money that the Blue Jays were so grateful to rid themselves of to essentially perform like Alex Rios?

If there’s one player whose career arc can compare to Jose Bautista’s, it’s Carlos Pena’s.  Both players were disappointing prospects who came out of nowhere to have career years at the age of 29.  Pena has since gone on to have three seasons of declining production culminating in last season’s depressing accomplishment of having a batting average below .200, while collecting more than 150 strikeouts.

Like Bautista, Pena was entering his final year of arbitration after his career year.  The Rays signed him to a three year deal that paid $24.125 million, divvied up as such: $6 million in 2008, $8 million in 2009 and $10.125 million in 2010.  Over the course of the contract, Pena accumulated 7.8 WAR, which according to the dollar value of WAR worked out by FanGraphs, could be seen as a success.  But in terms of a team that consistently takes advantage of the market inefficiency bargains that pre-arbitration players offer, it can be seen as less of a winner.

If, as Keri suggests, Bautista will be seeking a figure substantially more than $24 – $27 million over three years, I can’t see the value in it.  In discussing a multi-year contract, the Jays should be looking to pay for two years of 7 WAR, and a roll of the dice with the third and final.

Under those tempered expectations, I could excuse the Jays for pursuing a three year deal with Bautista, but I still think it’s best to let him play out 2011 and see what other teams are willing to offer him after his numbers regress back to the mean.  By doing so, the team also has the option of taking a page out of the Rays handbook and seeing what their own pre-arbitration players can do with another year of development.

By signing him now, the Jays limit their options for the sake of potentially saving a few dollars, and even that is to assume that Bautista will have a place on this team in 2012 and 2013.  If Bautista’s incredible season taught us anything last year, it’s that we can analyse and ponder all we want, but when a ball bounces off a bat there’s no telling where it’s going to end up.

Comments (44)

  1. There`s a big problem with using WAR (a counting stats) to define Bautista`s career. You are comparing his total figure to other players who had many more PA/season than did Bautistas prior to 2010. Bautista has always been an all-or-nothing type of player. The new swing has meant more all, less nothing.
    Try comparing Bautista to Rios/Pena on a WAR/100PA level. How does that change your assessment?

  2. I understand what you’re saying, and I agree if I was arguing over whether or not Player A is better than Player B, WAR/PA would make more sense. But I’m more interested in overall contribution to a team, which I think has a lot more to do with how much teams would be willing to invest in a player, especially when it comes to long term contracts.

  3. I think that was well thought out and well written, but I disagree with you.

    If Bautista has a terrible 2011, then yes, the Blue Jays will find themselves happy they didn’t sign an extension.

    Lets say, though, that Bautista regresses but is still an effective player. Lets say he hits around 30 home runs. We can only speculate what he could command on the open market, but I don’t think something like 5 years/75 million would be out of the question. That’s a deal I personally wouldn’t love signing Bautista to.

    And if Bautista puts up elite numbers again, you can assume his contract would be outrageous.

    So, if Bautista doesn’t completely fall apart next season the Jays will likely be stuck paying him a deal that will look MUCH worse than 3 yrs/39million (or whatever it may end up being). Or – another alternative is that they lose him all together.

    As long as the extension isn’t too egregious, the wait and see approach really only benefits the Jays if Bautista regresses massively.

    So, when you consider the massive deal Bautista would likely command on an open market if he has a decent season next year, it’s almost like your argument is this:

    I don’t want to give him a 3 year 39(ish) mil deal based on one amazing season. But if he has a second good season, then I would be OK giving him a much bigger and longer contract (likely). Do two great seasons indicate his future performance THAT much more than one great season?

    In the end, a speculated three year deal at about 13 million a year (assuming that’s the number they’re floating) won’t hamper this team THAT much, regardless of what Bautista does. But the kind of contract he could command on the open market after another even decent season really could.

  4. I’ll attempt to put on my “AA contract thinking cap” (TM) with this one. 3 years/$35 mil. Here’s how it breaks down:

    $3 mil signing bonus: $1 mil right away + $1 mil on each of 01/01/12 and 01/01/13

    2011: $8 mil 2012: $10 mil 2013: $12 mil

    Club options on 2014: $14 mil and 2015: $16 mil

    Must decide whether or not to pick up both options before Opening Day, 2013. If no, the 2015 club option disappears, and the 2014 option remains with a $2 mil buyout. How’d I do? ;)

  5. Totally agree with James.

    Waiting is risky for Jays too. I think we can all assume that Jose is neither going to hit like he did last year nor will he regress completely either. He will be somewhere in the middle. The important thing here is contract length more than anything. The problem with Vernon were two fold..too much for too long. I think the Blue Jays can live with a JB contract that maybe is either of those not both.

    Listen potential 30+ HR ,Good OBP and a competent fielder at two positions don’t grow on trees so if you wait and then can’t afford him or lose him for some other reason…who do you replace him with? A rookie ? Doesn’t he entail the same if not more uncertainty that JB has only not as MLB ready.

    3 years for 30 – 40million…wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. Are you overpaying? sure probably a little but not a lot.

    • The difference is you’re paying less than $500k for that uncertainty versus $10 million plus. We’ve heard Anthopoulos and Beeston both say they want to build an organization that sustains its success. I don’t see how investing that much money in a player who is more than likely to spend the rest of his career regressing is in line with that.

  6. @ Dustin – but you are looking at value he had contributed, as opposed to value he is expected to contribute going forward. And that’s where I think you may be shorting Bautista.

  7. One more thing – the Jays have a great system right now, but RF is not an area of particular strength, and even the interesting guys they do have (Knecht, Sierra) are a few years away at best. If we view Bautista as a 3B, the Jays are even weaker and further away there (Cenas, Sweeney). Might as well lock him up for 3 plus an option (team or mutual – an AA special).

  8. @Dustin…by that logic why pay any player that is not a prospect/rookie. Prospects and rookies are nothing but potential. you could have 5 players come up and be duds. That saves u money but doesn’t get you anywhere. Eventually you have sign actual players that have played for at least some of your positions. RAWagman makes a good point as to the lack of replacements for the positions that JB plays. When considering whether a contract for any player is a good idea you have to consider alternatives and are those alternatives come close to provide what JB has the potential to provide. There certainly doesn’t seem to be one in the near future. If a 3 year contract at 45 is not right, what’s the play then? who is 3B next who year or who is RF?

  9. @ Wagman: I agree that future payment should be based on future performance, but between that simply not being the case for the majority of MLB teams and the fact that past performance including cumulative totals are the best indicator of future performance, I still say total WAR is the most well rounded thing we can look at.

    Moises Sierra isn’t that far away. He’s played amazingly at every level so far, and should start this season at Triple A. He had a mysterious write up by Kevin Goldstein too in his Jays rankings for BP. He does have a bad arm, and Snider moving over is also a possibility.

    @ Mat: Look at what the Rays are doing. Instead of investing in free agents and long term deals they’re taking advantage of the system and buying low cost free agents to compliment their investment in amateur players they have on their roster. If you don’t want to spend like the Yankees or Red Sox, this is a far superior option than being like the Orioles.

  10. Regarding RF, I hope we see Travis Snider patrolling there for many years to come. LF is an easy position to fill with an aging slugger, and Snider’s improved OF defence this past year gives me the confidence that he can handle right. His arm isn’t quite as strong as you’d ideally like to see in RF, but it isn’t poor. I should add that to me, he looked like he has better instincts and reactions in right (I’m not sure why that would be, and the numbers don’t reflect it, so it’s likely just a false impression, but I’d be interested if anyone else has an impression of whether Snider is more at home in left or right field).

    That, of course, places Bautista at 3B, which is definitely where I want to see him if we sign him to a multi-year contract.

  11. “Would you be willing to pay him the Alex Rios money that the Blue Jays were so grateful to rid themselves of to essentially perform like Alex Rios?”

    Yes, actually. Though I’m not sure Bautista would cost that much.

    For the record, though, Rios was actually worth his contract. I’d love to still have his defense on this team, even at his salary.

    “I don’t see how investing that much money in a player who is more than likely to spend the rest of his career regressing is in line with that.”

    You talk like he’s in his mid 30s already. Bautista is right in his prime and should remain there for the next few years. His main skills (power and batting eye) are also skills that age well.

    If the Jays believe they have an elite player on their hands (or even anything close), they should be doing what they can to get him signed before the season begins within reason. If they don’t, they risk giving up a great player or potentially giving him 80-90M next offseason in order to keep him.

  12. “Look at what the Rays are doing. Instead of investing in free agents and long term deals they’re taking advantage of the system and buying low cost free agents to compliment their investment in amateur players they have on their roster. If you don’t want to spend like the Yankees or Red Sox, this is a far superior option than being like the Orioles.”

    The Rays are doing that because that’s the only way they can do business. While the last few years aren’t a good indication, the Jays actually have the money to keep their good players, and should do so whenever it makes sense.

  13. Ahh yes, the Rays, for whom losing for near a decade allowed them to be where they are. Now granted they had to have some skill applied as there are other such perrennial bad losers that never get better (i’m looking at you Pirates). However, they are now starting to win of course and have decided on a system that has them recouping assets for players leaving in the form of draft picks. This seems to be working now but what after a couple of years..what if they have a bad streak of luck..what then? What if the terms of the CBA change things in terms of draft pick compensations? I think Tampa is JB, not very for a long time then all of sudden really good. They still don’t have the track record to know if their plan is sustainable.

    I think the Blue Jays need to be a litle bit Rays and a little bit red sox. Have a sustainable farm system and apply money to players that are useful pieces to positions that are difficult to get home grown talent.

  14. Since when does power age well? Where’s that study? Take another look at the Pena comparison. When do you think players reach their peak?

    The more I think about it the more I start to wonder if the Jays should consider Bautista at all. What’s the point of having him if the team won’t be competitive until he’s not the player he is now. The Jays may have the money to do it but blowing it right now on Bautista doesn’t seem prudent to me.

  15. @Mat: These CBA thingies usually involve give and take. I would imagine that if the players want to put a stop to the current compensation system, the owners will demand that the trading of draft picks be allowed, which would probably be better for both sides in the long run. One thing’s for certain, the current system needs tweaking, if not a complete overhaul.

  16. Parkes – if the Jays end up signing Bautista to a 5 or 6 year extension at crazy money, then I agree with your sentiments.

    But if it’s a three year deal at around 12 or 13 mil a year (And I realize I’m making a huge assumption that’s all it would take) I don’t mind it at all. At a contract that (relatively) insignificant, I don’t believe it’s worth the risk that Bautista has another good year.

    Maybe you’re overpaying him a bit. Maybe Bautista is far more likely to dramatically regress than produce near his 2010 levels. But in the world of crazy MLB contracts, isn’t a 3 year, moderately priced contract worth that risk? Particularly on a team that claims it can reach a $150 million payroll?

  17. I understand what you’re saying, Parkes, and if we’re just looking at the player “on paper,” I’d agree with you completely. But I know you’ve seen him play. I think continually focusing on what Bautista did up until Sept 09 is irrelevant. I think he’s a different player. I think your analysis fails to account for how he did what he did last year, and you’re under-estimating his future value. Certainly it’s a matter of (non-expert) opinion on both our parts, but I just think you’re wrong about him.

    Barring injury (a risk with any contract of any kind, at any point in any player’s career), I think Bautista is going to have a comparable season in 2011. If the Jays wait, and he does, I don’t think they should sign him for what he’ll command at that point. Then, I think, all of your arguments about over-spending would make sense, even though you’d admit that the player had “proven himself.” I think he’s already proven himself, and the Jays should sign him to what I think will turn out to be a bargain contract, 3 years guaranteed with a team option for a 4th.

    The Jays aren’t the Rays. The Rays simply can’t afford to keep players. The Jays can afford a reasonable contract with Bautista at this point. When Lawrie comes up to play 3B, whether that’s mid season this year, or to open next year, JB can move back to the outfield. If some minor league outfielders develop during the life of his contract, he can move to DH. And a “bargain contract” could still be traded if need be.

    Looking at Bautista’s body type, his play last season, his confidence and plate discipline, I don’t see him regressing according to the norm. I think he’ll continue to defend adequately, and hit well, beyond the life of this contract.

    If the worst happens, and he suffers a debilitating injury and doesn’t play well again, this contract won’t kill the Jays and limit future signings. A Werth-like contract would be far more damaging if something like that occurred.

  18. @ Parkes – About Moises Sierra: unless you’ve heard something I haven’t, no way he starts the year in AAA, given his lack of playing time since coming back from injury. More importantly, I expect better drunk blogging from a famed drunk fan- Sierra has one of the best arms in all of professional baseball.

  19. I’m just leaving. I’ll try to get to the other comments before I go, but about the Rays, losing for near a decade had nothing to do with how good they are now. That’s a ridiculous statement. Look at MLB. This isn’t the NHL.

  20. @ Gabe Sorry. Meant Eric Thames.

  21. @ Parkes That makes a great deal more sense. I do see Sierra as the better prospect, but perhaps Thames will turn out to be a bit of a Joe Carter or George Bell-type, if we’re fortunate.

  22. @ Parkes That makes a great deal more sense. I do see Sierra as the better prospect, but perhaps Thames will turn out to be a bit of a Joe Carter or George Bell-type, if we’re fortunate. He has been pretty much only played in LF, though.

  23. AA has been very focused at drafting ‘up-the-middle’ players, which is generally a very sound principle. Defensively, some don’t pan out and have to move to a bat-first position. But they don;t always have the bat for that. Looking at only the assets currently in the system, I don’t see anyone that will out-perform Bautista at the MLB level barring (hopefully) Snider. Snider should stick to LF and Bautista would make a great RF. After an injury plagued year last year, BA is not very enthused about Sierra (23rd on the Jays – below David Cooper!) Thames is 12th in the stacked system, but is tools scream “LF only!” But even he is a little bit K-prone and not as patient as Bautista. remember – power and patience are the quintessential old-player skills. And Bautista has those. I wrote a quick study on Bautista on – essentially, I beleive in his power. I want to compare my findings to some of the famous one-year wonders to compare (Foster, Anderson, Johnson, any others?) but, as of right now, I believe in Bautista’s adjustment and think he can maintain a very high level of offensive productivity for at least another three years.

  24. You miss the point. The Jays desperately need one star quality player in their lineup for a lot of reasons, if only to sell tickets. But Jose is a good influence in the clubhouse and especially among the Latino players. Since we are emphasizing this source of talent moreso than in the past decade, that is very important. The Jays have $150 Million, so says Beeston, to spend where necessary and if that means money to tie up their young players in the future, then it will be there. So money is clearly not the issue. Freeing up space on the roster for young talent, then, is the issue and the reason for the Wells trade, not economy like most misguided sports reporters seem to think.

  25. If Bautista didn’t sell tickets last year, he’s not going to sell tickets as he regresses.

    Where did that $150 million figure come from? I haven’t seen that.

    I promise you, money had everything to do with the Wells trade. There’s no one knocking on the door in CF for at least a couple years that would be better than Wells. It’s going to take money to do what the Jays want to do, and although the team has a lot of money, they’re not going to spend it recklessly or ever be the team from 1992/93 that had the highest payroll in baseball. You’re going to see money being spent on amateur talent, player development, and foreign signings instead of free agents.

  26. One thing that worries me is how pull happy Bautista is. It was pretty evident that the book on wells was throw him breaking stuff away. bautista has a much better walk rate than wells so hopefully that sort of strategy won’t work. I doubt he will see many inside fastballs.

  27. @ Fullmer: Good points on power/eye regression, but I’m not sold entirely on what they say about speedy guys. Compare to Tango’s study. Also, Pena is the ultimate power/eye guy and he’s been regressing steadily the last three years, and compares well with Bautista coming out of nowhere.

  28. @ Jerkstore: I remember a game against Sabathia this year, where he made Bautista look foolish with changeups away. Fortunately, not every pitcher has as good of a change as Sabathia.

  29. @ parkes

    saying the rays’ losing had nothing to do with their current success is a bit disingenuous. Yes Friedman has made a bunch of astute moves. But having a ton of talent in the minors is not unrelated to always drafting in the top 5.

  30. It’s not disingenuous in the least. It’s not the NHL. Draft order matters much less in the MLB.

  31. on the pena comparison:

    he still put up 374 wOBAs in the regression years. Last year he dropped to 326 wOBA with a babip 50 points below his career avg and 25 points below the previous year.

    so just using him as a point of comparison, 4 years doesn’t seem like a terrible risk.

    My vote would still be pay the premium to see what he does this year.

  32. Winning sells tickets in this market and in most markets. Where you’re likely to see a bump in attendance based on star power is on the road. The best example of that will probably happen here on Canada Day weekend. Roy Halladay couldn’t draw flies when he pitched here. There was no discernible difference in attendance when he pitched. However when he comes back here as a Phillie, there will probably be a considerable bump in attendance on the day he pitches.

  33. @ parkes

    draft order doesn’t matter in terms of a one year tank nation. but when you are talking 10 straight years it does matter. the Evan Longorias of the world don’t fall very far in the draft.

  34. I’m all for taking a page out of the Rays book, hell, I’m all for taking a whole chapter but, with all due respect Mr. Parkes you seem to be advocating taking the entire book.

    The Rays operate as they do out of necessity. The Jays have the advantage of being able to make a small mistake or two without it crippling the team, a luxury not afforded the Rays. If the Jays do not extend Bautista then it would seem to me he’s as good as gone. If he puts up similar numbers to 2010 in 2011, the prudent move would be to move him at or just prior to the deadline, because he’s is going to get overpaid by someone in free agency and hopefully not by the Jays. Resigning him after a successful 2011 to market rates in my opinion would be a bigger mistake than extending him now and taking advantage of the discount. It’s a high risk, high reward situation, that would cost the Jays nothing but money.

    I’m basing my argument on my best guess of 4yr $45mil extension. If I can’t get a deal done very close to that I go to arb, hope he performs and move him at the deadline

  35. Beeston threw out the $150 million payroll figure at the state of the franchise a couple weeks ago.!/ArashMadani/status/30795251769675778

  36. How quickly does everyone forget about Hill and Lind. They both had career years in 2009 and then fell to below average in 2010. It makes sense for he jays to wait and see what happens.

  37. I love how everyone is scrambling to explain Bautista’s performance and how he’ll continue to play that way. Then, when he signs the deal and regresses, the same people will be booing him and calling AA a moron for the contract. Players have big years and then regress back to the mean all the time. Settle down with these assumptions that he’s an elite player after one season.

    If the Jays and Bautista are close, I think everyone is going to be surprised at how low the figure is. There’s no way it surpasses $10 mil per.

  38. The Jays would be terrible without Bautista. Without Bautista, the Jays would’ve scored over 200 less runs last year. That’s almost a 3rd of their total runs. They have no new good batters that would make up for that, so it looks like the Jays will score only 3 runs/game instead of 4.6 runs/game. 3 runs is not enough to win games in the MLB unless you have excellent pitchers, which the Jays do not have.

  39. “Players have big years and then regress back to the mean all the time.”

    Players also have big years and maintain their performance (or at least stabilize at a higher level all the time). What’s your point?

  40. parkes, you lose all credibility when you say draft position has no impact. the rays drafting top 5 every year had a huge impact. longoria and price? just getting a couple of studs can have a huge impact on your team for years

  41. I think you’re taking lightly what an achievement hitting 50 home runs is. The risk of signing Jose Bautista is less than you think.

  42. A buddy of mine (which i won’t name for privacy reasons) played with j-bau during his years at chipola college, said he had incredible power the rawest he had ever seen, and didn’t seem to believe last year was a fluke at all. I think we can all argue that Baseball maturity comes in the late 20′s, The only thing that really scares us here is an injury. Let’s take a chance here and if it all fails and he hits say 20 HR a year, i’m sure a wealthy team will want to take a shot and take on his contract the same way the white sox or angels did.

    “In AA we trust”

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