Jose Bautista’s bat flip of a contract non-negotiation has made it easy for the Toronto Blue Jays.
This will be his last season in Toronto.
The Blue Jays, under new management, under the ownership of Rogers Inc., will not cave in to Bautista’s ask for $150 million over five years, a number first reported on Tuesday by TSN investigator Rick Westhead.
(For the record, in a tweet by Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Bautista called that number “false.”)
This basically closes the Bautista file beyond this season. It takes the complicated and makes it uncomplicated. Typically, Bautista is all about noise and fury and bringing attention to himself, because that’s what he does and that’s who he is. He manages it all well.
He lives for the big moment, the Bat Flip Moment, the Look At Me Moment, and frankly, he’s been mostly terrific being that player. But if his intention was to stay in Toronto, finish his half-a-Hall of Fame career here, then he has misplayed his hand.
His latest moment came on Monday in Dunedin when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training and the outfielder dropped a bomb on the proceedings. With his proclamation that he knows his worth and has no intention of negotiation, he did what Bautista does — at his best and worst.
He took over the conversation. He took over talk radio and sports television. He owned the market again, maybe the country. But the only ownership that will matter now isn’t the one that won’t pay him. It’s down to him, on his own, and how he performs in his last season in Toronto.
Before, he needed to be great for the fans, for himself, for his teammates, because he is consumed and driven to prove the world wrong, that he can be the ball player no one ever expected him to be.
Now it’s a little different. Now it’s personal and all about him.
Bautista has to be great because he is again banking on himself — he wants to be paid giant money after the age of 35 for the next five years, possibly the last five years of his career. To get giant money, you have do giant things.
In fairness, he has been an enormous contributor — and he wants to be that until just before his 40th birthday, and maybe longer.
The kind of compensation he is asking for is similar to the money that the Jays wouldn’t even bid on David Price. The term is just shorter.
All for an outfielder whose defensive skills began to show signs of erosion last season.
That’s a lot of money for a 35-year-old, even though there is all kinds of evidence to indicate many ball players of similar age and quality have been productive up to the age of 39.
I could see the Jays engaging at five years and $100 million. Maybe $110 million.
But five years and $150 million? Not a chance.
The logical move here is to sign Edwin Encarnacion, who in everything but performance is the complete opposite of Bautista. He is a whisper to Bautista’s storm. If he makes contract proclamations, they are done without pomp or circumstance. Encarnacion would rather his moments be reserved for others, even when they are his own.
And the statistical component, save for playing the outfield, actually works in Encarnacion’s favour.
Over the past four seasons, he has his more home runs than Bautista (151-130), more RBI 423-355, hit for a higher OPS in three of those seasons and had almost the same on-base percentage.
He is also two years younger than Bautista — and a whole lot cheaper.
You can probably sign Encarnacion for somewhere in the Victor Martinez-David Ortiz DH range, maybe a little more considering he just turned 33. That’s $18 million a year. If you want to stretch it to $20 million, fine.
The betting here is you can sign Encarnacion for three years and $60 million today — and save two years and $90 million by not signing Bautista.
And if you keep Bautista for the season, the Jays get a first-round pick when he signs elsewhere next year.
This is a delicate dance or sorts, trying to balance playing the ego game, the dollars game, the power game, considering today and the future. It isn’t that the Jays don’t want Bautista. Who wouldn’t want him?
But what you don’t want is a Ryan Howard on your hands: Huge money for a guy who is no longer a huge contributor.
Bautista may be a better athlete than Encarnacion, a better base runner, an outfield arm of quality, a driven force of a ball player, a public face of a franchise, a daily topic of conversation.
But as hitters, they are pretty much equals.
In a strange and bombastic way, you could argue that Jose Bautista did the Blue Jays management team of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins a favour. He made it easy for them to make a determination.
Now there’s this baseball season to attend to before Bautista has to move on and we say our goodbyes.
Steve Simmons Toronto Sun