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The Blue Jays & A Possible Jose Bautista Extension

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Jose Bautista has become the face of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise. He’s clubbed his way into our hearts and earned his position among top Blue Jays of all time. And, thanks to a playoff performance like few others, he’s established his legend in Blue Jays lore. His 2015 season made the decision to pick up his 2016 option a no brainer. He will be with the club to start one more season. The question here is whether they should look to extend his time in Toronto. Should the Blue Jays consider an extension for Jose Bautista?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

2015 was one of Joey Bats’ best seasons ever. He put up 40 HR, 108 runs and 114 RBI while walking 16.5% of the time. He struck out less than that at 15.9%. He has been an All Star for 6 seasons in a row. There is no questioning his contributions to the club over recent years. He has great value. His $14M salary in 2015 is a bargain for a guy who, according to Fangraphs.com, has been worth $31.5M, $48.3M and $35.6M over the last 3 seasons respectively. That’s the kind of value you don’t want to let go. But, here’s the rub: Bautista is now 35 years old.

Extending a guy at 35 yrs old is a fairly big risk for any club, especially in a time period where baseball is trending toward younger talent. I wanted to find out if there is precedent for this kind of move in order to find some context for the situation at hand. I found a list of a few players who’d been extended at or near the latter stages of their careers:

Adrian Beltre will turn 37 at the start of the final season in his big deal with the Texas Rangers. At 31, he signed for 6 yrs/$96M. Now, he was decidedly younger than Bautista when this deal was struck. At the time, he was hitting 30 HR per season. Now, his power is starting to decline. He’s still a very productive bat, though. He might give a team cause to think that, while a hitter may not be elite at an advanced age, he can still produce. In fact, Fangraphs put his 2015 value at $37M! Admittedly, his glove has a lot to do with his value.

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David Ortiz was an interesting case of the club wanting to play things cautiously with an aging star. He was signed to a 1yr/$15M deal for 2015 with team options in 2016 and 2017. It seems like years that we’ve all been waiting for Ortiz’ value to regress to the point where even the Red Sox don’t pick him up. It hasn’t. The 9 time All Star keeps producing. And, he’ll turn 40 soon. Could the Blue Jays consider moving Bautista to first base and then DH to enjoy his production for a few more years? Even with no glove, Fangraphs lists Ortiz 2015 worth at $22.5M. Could Bautista replicate this?

Speaking of DHs, Alex Rodriguez is fresh off a comeback season himself. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2017 season, where he’ll be 42. While his suspension for PED use and hips have hindered his ability to produce on the field, Fangraphs says he was still worth $21.4M in 2015. Like Ortiz, A-Rod was limited to the bulk of his time as the DH.

Carlos Beltran is now 38 years old and in the middle of a 3 yr/$45M deal with the Yankees. He’ll start the final year of that deal at age 39. This might be the best comparison for Bautista in that Beltran plays right field, has been a good bat late into his career and signed at a similar age. His power numbers do not even come close to Bautista’s, but he’s been able to produce. Fangraphs lists his 2015 value at $15.4M. However, Beltran highlights the fear of signing an older star. He’s declining and injuries are an issue for him. Do the Blue Jays want to commit to that?

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If the Blue Jays were so inclined, they could use the above examples of players who have recently played into advanced years (with varying degrees of success) as examples to make the decision easier for them. Signing a batter at this age is not exactly the same as a pitcher, remember. And, the DH role certainly provides a less strenuous opportunity to continue a career. The Blue Jays could very well benefit from moving Bautista to first base and then the DH spot, if they were so inclined. Bautista keeps himself in great shape and there is no reason to think that he’s going to simply fall apart at age 36. The level of contributions might be in question when looking at his defense, but his bat shouldn’t really be questioned.

Of course, the new team president, Mark Shapiro, just might disagree with me. According to his DiamondView analytics, which were highlighted nicely by Spencer Redmond a few days ago, players do not produce the right value beyond age 35. Barry Bonds is the only exception to this belief. This approach very well may halt this conversation before it actually begins. Does Bautista represent that greater amount of risk that Shapiro is more comfortable with in Toronto than he was in Cleveland? The new order of the Blue Jays is such a Wild Card at this point, so it is difficult to think along with them.

We do know that there is question as to where payroll will be moving forward. We’ve heard that it could actually go down in 2016. If that is the case, and money is an issue, then an extension for Bautista might be out of the question. Of course, management just might want to take a wait and see approach and deal with this later. Or, not at all. With Bautista in the fold for 2016, they very well could wait and see how the team does next season. If they are out of the race by July, Bautista could make a very enticing trade chip. That is not something that Blue Jays fans would be happy about, but it could happen.

Next: Blue Jays 2016 Rotation Decisions More About Asset Usage

At the end of the day, signing Bautista to a contract extension would make sense. It could work out. If Alex Anthopoulos were still in charge, we could actually make a logical guess as to whether it would happen. He’s said many times he’d like Bautista to finish his career as a Blue Jay. But, with so many balls in the air and unknown factors about the new president and what he’ll do to guide this team forward, we might just have to square ourselves with the fact that for 2016, Jose Bautista is a Toronto Blue Jay. After that is anyone’s guess.

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