It’s probably healthy at this point to remind ourselves that Jose Bautista’s five year contract for $65 million, plus a team option for a sixth year is still, at this point, a rumour.  But it’s a rumour coming from a reliable source and so you’ll have to forgive me if tomorrow morning we wake up to find that the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement and are heading toward arbitration on Friday.

Having said all of that, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has analyzed the proposed deal and come up with a realistic scenario in which the Bautista deal would work financially for the Blue Jays.

It looks something like this:

2011 – +3.4 WAR, $5 million per win, $17.5 million value
2012 – +2.9 WAR, $5.25M $/win, $15.23 million value
2013 – +2.4 WAR, $5.51M $/win, $13.23 million value
2014 – +1.9 WAR, $5.69M $/win, $11.00 million value
2015 – +1.4 WAR, $6.08M $/win, $8.51 million value

What bothers me about this set up is that the Blue Jays, if they had stayed course, had the opportunity to pay either $7.6 million or $10.5 million for Bautista’s expected best year of baseball.  If we take Cameron’s example literally, the Blue Jays could have paid at most $10.5 million for $17.5 million value in 2011, traded Bautista or collected the draft picks that a 3.4 WAR season would’ve brought when he signs elsewhere, and then sought a 2.9 WAR player through trade or free agency to replace Bautista in 2012.

Cameron comes close to saying as much:

Essentially, the Jays gave Bautista something like the market rate for this kind of player, but they did it a year before he got to free agency.

There would be several options available that wouldn’t come remotely close to costing the Blue Jays $13 million dollars.  Orlando Hudson, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Juan Uribe are just some of the names of players who had somewhere in the neighbourhood of a 3 WAR season in 2010.

It should also be remembered that the values that Cameron uses are based on the mean of the dollars per win handed out to free agents.  That takes into account every team’s free agent acquisitions.  One of the mandates of the Alex Anthopoulos era in Toronto has been that in order to compete in the AL East, the team has to be better than average in acquiring players, thus the increased scouting budget.  The Jays have also hinted at mimicking the Tampa Bay Rays in their approach to using players whose salaries weren’t determined by free agency, players who are still under six years of service time and are therefore have below market salaries under team control.

In other words, average isn’t good enough for the Toronto Blue Jays if they want to avoid spending like the Red Sox and Yankees while competing in the same division as them. Or as Andrew Stoeten puts it, over at DJF:

Another thing that gets me is that now people are justifying the by saying that even if his production takes a step back he’s still going to be paid in line with his WAR? Sure… but it would seem to me that you precisely don’t want to pay your players what they’re worth. You want what you got this year, guys on $2.4-million contracts giving you nearly $30-million worth of value.

Yes, that’s a ridiculously extreme example, and yes I do believe Rogers will pony up the cash to handle overpaying Bautista, if that’s what ends up happening. The fact that they aim to be loaded by then with young, cheap, controllable players also mitigates it somewhat, but still… the team assumes a hell of a lot of risk here, and it really strikes me as an odd move, given everything else they’ve done so far.

And at best, this comes across to me as an average move, that has just as good of a chance of crashing spectacularly (see Carlos Pena) as it does of working out to the team’s benefit.