Shortly after completing his first year as Blue Jays GM, Alex Anthopoulos mentioned how in order to be better than teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, the organization must be willing to take risks.
“We’re going to have take chances at times and make moves that may open us for criticism, but we also have to look at the upside of the moves. They may backfire and may not work, but if they hit, we’re going to do really well.
“And that’s how we’re going to get better.”
Anthopoulos took his biggest risk since taking over as GM, signing Jose Bautista to a 5-year/$64 million contract with a $14 million club option for the 2016 season. Bautista will be paid $8 million in 2011, and $14 million from 2012-2015.
Considering Bautista’s track record, his extension is about as unprecedented as his arbitration hearing would have been, so it’s no wonder it’s the talk of the Blue Jays fan base right now.
As a result of the significance of the deal, for the first time ever here on Jays Journal, both Mat and I have contributed to one article in an effort to effectively break down all aspects of Bautista’s contract.
The Jays obviously had quite the dilemma when it came to either signing Bautista to a long-term extension now or letting the arbitration process play itself out and look at extending him at the end of the season. There were pros and cons to either scenario, but Bautista ultimately got his contract, so let’s take a look at it.
The amount of money spent in the Bautista deal, at least to me, is irrelevant. Rogers, one of the deepest-pocketed owners in professional sports, has long been criticized by many fans for constantly cost cutting and not caring about the Blue Jays or their fans, only about themselves and their communications customers. The extensions for Adam Lind and Ricky Romero were good, but throwing this kind of money at Bautista is better for at least showing Jays fans what Anthopoulos has mentioned about how the money is definitely there for, apart from scouting and signing draft picks, something that will immediately affect the organization at the Major League level.
Many will be quick to point out that the four players mentioned above, among many others, had significantly more impressive track records than Bautista before they received their respective lucrative contracts, and how it’s preposterous that the Jays would sign Bautista to a 5-year contract, given his track record.
To be honest, I was in that group when I first heard the news, thinking a 3, or even 4, year contract with an option would have been much more appropriate, but there’s no guarantees that Bautista would have even signed a contract like that.
It is definitely a gamble on the Blue Jays’ part, but thinking more and more about the deal, it makes a lot more sense.
If the Jays had gone out and signed Bautista long-term after he hit .257/.339/606 with 10 home runs in September 2009, or even after he hit an unbelievable .287/.422/.766 with 12 home runs in May 2010, then there would be more reason to be skeptical of the signing, and about Bautista’s ability to consistently produce at a high level offensively for the next five years.
Obviously Bautista’s 2010 season was historical and remarkable, but his monthly performances this past season were even more fascinating:
April -.213/.314/.427 w/ 4 HR & 16 RBI
May -.287/.422/.766 w/ 12 HR & 25 RBI
June -.179/.324/.369 w/ 4 HR & 9 RBI
July -.347/.418/.765 w/11 HR & 29 RBI
August -.299/.431/.742 w/12 HR & 24 RBI
September – .224/.346/.589 w/ 11 HR & 21 RBI
It’s been well publicized that Bautista made changes to his swing, particularly the one he made with his front foot step. If you haven’t yet already, take a look at this mini-MLB.com feature on Bautista’s swing, which will visually show how he changed it. On top of changing his swing mechanics, Bautista changed his mental approach to the game and developed more confidence. When it comes to hitting, both of those elements are crucial. At the end of the day, Anthopoulos — and his immense, beefed-up scouting department — believe in Bautista’s ability to hit at a high level for years to come.
Defensively is where the length of Bautista’s contract could become an issue, though.
Entrenched as the Jays’ third baseman for 2011, it seems highly unlikely Bautista will remain there in 2012 and beyond, unless the players that will contribute to the Jays’ upcoming infield logjam, Brett Lawrie and Adeiny Hechavarria, take one extra year to develop into everyday Major League caliber players.
Even if that’s the case, Bautista is looking at playing in the outfield for the final 3 years of his contract, and by then, some youngsters — Anthony Gose, Jake Marisnick, Moises Sierra, Michael Crouse, and Marcus Knecht as examples — could be knocking on the door for a job at the Major League level.
The Jays could wind up slotting Bautista and his $14 million salary at 1B/DH anywhere from 2013-2015. He is not among the elite defensively at any position and he is versatile enough that even having him as a 1B/DH is far from heartbreaking.
Returning the Blue Jays to being free agent players
One of the best things about Bautista’s contract is that it should go a long way in helping the Blue Jays re-establish themselves as legitimate suitors for free agents, an important avenue to fill holes when the time is right.
Excluding the team friendly contracts like the ones signed by Aaron Hill, Lind, and even Lyle Overbay, the Blue Jays haven’t exactly had the best reputation over the last five years when it comes to more lucrative contracts.
A.J. Burnett inked a 5-year/$55 million contract in 2005 and opted out after the 2008 season, something he had in his contract and was able to do, but the Blue Jays did very little to retain him, though it’s hard to blame them. B.J. Ryan signed a 5-year/$47 million contract with the Blue Jays in 2005 as well, and after his performance slipped considerably, he was released by the Jays in the fourth year of the deal.
Frank Thomas signed a 2-year/$18 million contract with the Jays for the 2007 and 2008 seasons, which included a vesting $10 million option for 2009. After things went sour between Thomas and the Jays over an accusation that the team was intentionally cutting down on his plate appearances to prevent the option from vesting, the Jays released him 16 games into his second season with the club.
Alex Rios signed a 7-year/$69.8 million contract with the Jays in 2008, and was claimed off waivers by the White Sox the following season. The Jays opted to rid themselves of Rios’ contract and grant the White Sox their waiver claim, letting Rios walk for nothing in return, which was fine, but it still painted the picture that the Jays were relieved to not have to pay his salary. More recently Vernon Wells, signed to his infamous 7-year/$126 million contract in 2007, was asked to waive his no trade clause and finish the final four years of his contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Now virtually all of those cases had their appropriate reasons for what transpired, which I agree with, and Anthopoulos has definitely learned from J.P. Ricciardi’s mistakes by refusing to include opt-out clauses, no-trade clauses, or performance-based incentives in any contract. From a player’s perspective, though, all of the last 5 lucrative contracts the Jays have signed players to have resulted in the player finishing it with a different team.
One of the most important aspects a player factors in when signing a long-term contract is stability. With Bautista’s contract, it’s imperative that even if his performance drops off, that the Jays don’t just trade him as many fans have stated it would be easy to do. Keeping Bautista for the entire duration of his contract would send a message to players that they can actually anticipate staying with the team if they sign a long-term contract with the Blue Jays.
Face of the franchise
Excluding Bautista as a player, the Jays certainly love Bautista as a person. Whether Bautista likes it or not, if he wasn’t considered the face of the Blue Jays franchise in 2010, he most certainly is this season and beyond. His ability to speak English and Spanish will help him communicate with virtually all players, and his intensity, drive and determination — as we clearly saw in the epic game vs. the Yankees — are going to be positive factors over the rest of his deal as well.
Looking more at Bautista’s contract, since the Jays were going to have Bautista under contract for 2011 anyway, it’s more like a 4-year/$56 million contract extension with a $14 million club option.
It’s important to note that the Blue Jays aren’t paying Bautista to perform like he did in 2010 in 2011-2015. The Jays are certainly aware that Bautista is likely, but not guaranteed, to see his 2011 numbers drop from what they were this past season. Across his entire 2010 season, Bautista had 4 outstanding months, and 2 less spectacular ones. Addressing those who are skeptical about Bautista’s 2011 output, the worst case (but unlikely) scenario, using his worst two months from 2010 as a reference, would be something like this: .201/.318/.400 with 33 doubles, 24 home runs, 75 RBI, 84 walks and 126 strikeouts. Definitely no reason to call for Bautista’s head or for the Blue Jays to release him.
Now, history isn’t friendly to Bautista, when looking at players that had a breakout season in terms of power and what their performance was like the following season, with names like Brady Anderson, Adrian Beltre, and Luis Gonzalez all coming to mind. Bautista should definitely be different than those players considering the adjustments he has made, but many people are still skeptical of what Bautista will do next season.
One other player Bautista was compared to was Rich Aurilia, and Mat took care of addressing that issue as well as some other elements concerning Bautista’s contract:
I’ve seen the ridiculous comparison to Rich Aurilia and his “spike” in power for one season at age 29, when Aurilia hit 37 HRs, then hit 35 HRs the following season only to come crashing down to earth thereafter. Come on now, there’s a huge difference between hitting 37 HRs and 54 HRs. It’s a 17 HR difference, as a matter of fact, the same number which Aurilia only reached or beat once in HRs the rest of his career. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the ”comparison” has been brought forward by people who cheer for the Yankees and/or Red Sox in order to make themselves feel better about the chances of a similar crash happening to Jose. Good for them.
For me, I’ll rest easy knowing that only 2 players currently in MLB have ever hit as many as, or more, HRs than Bautista did in 2010 (beat: Ryan Howard 58 in 2006, Alex Rodriguez 57 in 2002, and tied: David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez 54 in 2006 and 2007 respectively). Jose tied the 19th highest total HRs in one season, hit 12 HRs more than Albert Pujols did in 2010, a player who will demand a $30 million per season salary or more, and is more likely to repeat a 40+ HR season than Alex Rodriguez is, a player who is earning $31 million in 2011 despite hitting only 30 HRs in 2010, 24 fewer than Jose Bautista hit.
The truth of the matter is that the more I think of this new deal with Jose Bautista, the more I love it. It doesn’t hamper the ability of the Jays to sign other players in the future. If the Jays were forced to deal Jose for whatever reason, they should be able to find some trade partners due to his versatility, health, and affordable deal. They’re getting a Latin American clubhouse leader, something the Jays will need with players like Adeiny Hechavarria and Henderson Alvarez coming up through the system. And, the Jays are getting a power hitter at a bargain if he even comes close to repeating in 2011 and/or 2012.
A better comparison for Jose Bautista‘s contract, which was noted as the basis for the new deal during the news conference, was Dan Uggla‘s new deal with the Braves. The Jays reportedly tried to acquire Uggla before he was dealt to Atlanta but failed to do so, and they wanted him to play 3B for the Jays. So, it’s interesting that the Jays are using a player they saw as a 3B as a comparable for Bautista, who they’ll also play at 3B in 2011. Uggla signed a 5-year $62 million deal ($9 million in 2011, and $13 million from 2012-2015). Bautista’s deal breaks down very similarly, with $8 million paid in 2011, and $14 million from 2012-2015. Not only does this tell us how they value Bautista going forward, in that he should have as much impact in the lineup as Uggla would have (30 or so HRs per season with around 100 RBI), but it also tells us that Bautista also expects that this may be his ceiling, since he didn’t wait until after the 2011 season to find out otherwise. Therefore, I would expect that if Jose Bautista does “come down to earth” in 2011, it will be to hit somewhere between 30-40 HRs with just over 100 RBI.
The one caveat to comparing Dan Uggla‘s deal to Jose Bautista‘s is that Jose’s defensive abilities outweigh Dan’s tenfold. That’s something that can’t be overlooked when speaking of players headed into the meat of their 30s.
You can also compare Jose Bautista‘s deal to Adam Dunn‘s new deal with the White Sox, since he hits for similar average (Dunn is 1 year older than Bautista). Dunn’s deal pays him more throughout, but only goes through 2014. It’s $12 million in 2011, $14 million in 2012, and $15 million in 2013 and 2014, for a total of $56 million. Dunn’s stats are fairly close to what I personally expect to happen to Jose’s over the next 2-3 years. An average anywhere between .250 and .265, a lot of walks, an above average OBP as a result, and close to 40 HRs per season with 100+ RBI if the team plays well and gets on base for him. Compared to Dunn’s deal, the Jays got a bargain because unlike Dunn, Bautista’s defensive abilities come into play when evaluating his value to the team. Whether it’s outfield assists or allowing the Jays to keep someone other than Edwin Encarnacion at 3B, Bautista does the Jays a world of good in both sides of the game. Add the leadership value, and you’ve got a real bargain.