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Jose Bautista Announces Extension Deadline: Now or Never for Blue Jays?

Discussion erupted among Jays fans yesterday when Jose Bautista told Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun that if he can’t agree to a long-term contract with the Jays prior to Monday’s scheduled arbitration hearing, he will not discuss the matter further until the end of the season, setting a Pujols-esque deadline for contract talks.

There’s nothing wrong with Bautista doing so, as many players have not wanted to negotiate a contract during the season in order to prevent any kind of distraction on the field, and it’s simply a negotiation strategy by Bautista and his agent. Bautista put up monster numbers this past season, and he wants to get paid for them, now. You can’t blame him for that.

“My desire is to play in Toronto long term but, after the hearing, or during the season, I have come to the conclusion that it’s probably not the best thing for me to be negotiating any type of deal,” he said. “I want to focus on the game and trying to win ballgames.

Bautista’s decision yesterday effectively erases the idea of the Jays being able to wait and see how he swings the bat in the first few months of the season before opting to sign him to a long-term contract.

There are now simply two scenarios regarding Bautista’s intriguing contract situation that can take place.

Scenario #1: The Jays sign Bautista to a long-term contract

This is unlikely, because it just seems that if GM Alex Anthopoulos was so intent on getting Bautista signed long-term, he would have already done so by now. Bautista also said that his agent hasn’t even started negotiating an extension yet with Anthopoulos, with less than three days to go before Monday’s hearing. Nevertheless, let’s take a stab at the contract extension scenario in the event it comes to fruition.

There are two important components of any contract extension – years and dollars – and Bautista’s case is no exception. We know that Bautista submitted a salary figure of $10.5 million for the 2011 season and the Jays countered with $7.6 million, but there has been no information on how much money Bautista would be looking for in an extension, or for what length of time.

The trouble with Bautista’s situation is that there is virtually no precedent to compare to, and that issue has been beaten to death in the media ever since the 2010 season ended.

In 2006, a 30-year-old David Ortiz signed a four-year extension with the Red Sox at an average annual salary of $12.5 million plus a $500,000 signing bonus payment each year, with an option for a fifth year at $12.5 million.

In January 2008, a 27-year-old Justin Morneau signed a six-year extension with the Twins at an average annual salary of $12.3 million plus a $1 million signing bonus payment each year.

29-year-old Josh Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP, signed a 2-year/$24 million contract with the Rangers this week, after filing for $12 million in arbitration. The deal pays him $7.25 million in 2011, $13.75 million in 2012, and a $3 million signing bonus split evenly between both seasons.

The difference between these three and 30-year-old Bautista, though, is that they all had some kind of dominant track record before they got their contract. Ortiz was a beast in his four years in Boston before he signed his deal, averaging a .294/.391/.609 line, 43 HR, 131 RBI, 89 walks and 39 doubles per season. In Morneau’s three full seasons before getting his deal, he averaged a .279/.343/.499 line, 29 HR, and 106 RBI per season. Even Hamilton, who had a monster year this year after a sub-par, injury shortened season in 2009, had a dominant 2008 season where he hit .304/.371/.530 with 35 doubles, 32 HR, and 130 RBI.

This does not discount the fact that Bautista was noticeably a different player in 2010 than he was throughout the rest of his career. He changed his approach at the plate, tinkered with his mechanics, received regular playing time, and was just more confident overall. His lack of a track record, though, is likely too much of a red flag to a very meticulous GM in Anthopoulos to just hand over an expensive contract.

If Bautista managed to get locked up to a long-term deal before Monday, though, how many years would it realistically be for?

With Hechavarria and Lawrie having the potential of cracking the Jays’ roster in the near future, Bautista’s time as a full-time third baseman could be limited after 2012, or even 2011. That sparks the question of how many years the Jays would want Bautista in right field after potentially the 2012 season.

Factoring in the Jays’ current depth, what the sluggers mentioned above received on their contracts in terms of average annual salary, and Bautista’s likelihood to repeat his 2010 success, the type of contract Bautista could realistically be offered prior to the 2011 season would be something in the neighborhood of 3-years/$27 million. The average annual salary for that contract would be $9 million, or roughly the halfway point between Bautista and the Jays on the salary figures they submitted for arbitration.

To sweeten the pot, similar to Romero, Lind, Rauch, and Dotel, Anthopoulos could add 1-2 club options onto the deal for roughly $11.5 million each, bringing the total possible value of the deal to roughly five-years, $50 million.

The likelihood of Bautista his deadline yesterday and the Jays frantically handing over a lucrative long-term contract to him in the next two days is slim, bringing us to scenario number two.

Scenario #2: Bautista settles in arbitration and the 2011 season runs its course

Arbitration. It’s an ugly process that has the team telling a panel of arbitrators, in front of the player, why the player is not worth the amount of money he is asking for.

In Bautista’s case, with no real precedent to use in comparison, the most obvious arbitration case to bring up would be Ryan Howard‘s from 2008. Howard won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 before having back-to-back monster seasons in 2006 and 2007, where he averaged a .292/.409/.623 line, 25 doubles, 52 HR, and 142 RBI, and made just $1.25 million combined for those two seasons.

Howard was asking for $10 million in arbitration, and the Phillies countered with $7 million, virtually identical figures to what Bautista and the Blue Jays submitted. The $10 million Howard asked for represented an increase in salary of $9.1 million from his 2007 season, where he made only $900,000. Howard wound up winning his case, and set a new record for the highest salary ever awarded to a player victorious in arbitration.

Regardless of Bautista’s improvements on and off the field this past season, he has never had a season at any point of his career anywhere close to the kind of season he had in 2010. Howard managed to follow up his stellar MVP winning season in 2006 with one very similar, if not better in some aspects, to Bautista’s 2010 campaign in 2007.

Needless to say, the Jays will likely win their arbitration hearing with Bautista and he will have a 2011 salary of $7.6 million. What happens once the season starts though, is where Bautista’s situation with the Jays really gets interesting.

Next year, pitchers are definitely going to change the way they pitch to Bautista, and likely learn at the start of the season to pitch him away in the zone more. Bautista should counter with his own adjustments, as well as his exceptional swing and keen eye at the plate.

While it’s certainly possible that Bautista’s numbers next season could be considerably worse than they were in 2010, there’s reason to believe that he will still be successful offensively next season.

That leaves Alex Anthopoulos with some decisions to make.

If Bautista continues to be the offensive juggernaut he was in 2010, teams will likely line up to acquire him at the trade deadline. Alex Anthopoulos will have a prime chance to unload his soon to be 31-year-old slugger for more of the top-of-the-line, young, controllable players he salivates over. If Anthopoulos doesn’t get an appropriate offer for him at the deadline, he could decide to hold on to Bautista for the rest of the season and tackle his contract situation once the book closes on the 2011 season.

Keeping Bautista until the end of the season, a likely scenario, creates another sticky situation for Anthopoulos. Bautista could possibly qualify as a Type A free agent at the end of 2011, the final year of Major League Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement. If the Jays are unable to (or decide not to) sign Bautista to a long-term contract at the end of the season, they could offer him arbitration and, if Bautista signed with another club, he would net the Jays two picks in the 2012 draft. As the Jays unfortunately discovered with A.J. Burnett and recently Scott Downs, though, the two picks they can receive from a Type-A free agent signing elsewhere are not guaranteed to be high in the draft order.

The Jays could sign Bautista to a long-term contract at the end of the season too, whether it be during their exclusive negotiation window or when Bautista formally hits free agency. If Bautista puts up numbers anywhere near the ones he did in 2010, he could double his salary and finally get his lucrative long-term contract, whether it be from the Blue Jays or any other team in baseball.

Conclusion

The likely scenario with Bautista is that the arbitration process will play itself out, with the Blue Jays winning, and he’ll make $7.6 million in 2011. If he continues his 2010 form at the plate next season, other teams around the league will no longer be skeptical about his abilities and Anthopoulos could have many suitors for him at the deadline, or keep him until the end of the season.

Like I’ve said before, 2011 is going to be a very valuable year for the Blue Jays from a player development standpoint, as virtually every position on the Blue Jays 2011 depth chart has some kind of question mark. Arencibia, Lind, Encarnacion, Hill, Drabek, the list goes on. In addition to the Major League roster, all prospects in the minor leagues will develop as well, some of whom could affect where Bautista plays in the future.

Waiting to table contract talks with Bautista until the end of the season – even if it costs the Jays more money – gives the Jays the chance to fully understand what kind of players they have as an organization, which will ensure Bautista gets offered the best contract for the team going forward.

-JM

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Tags: Alex Anthopoulos David Ortiz Jose Bautista Josh Hamilton Toronto Blue Jays

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