Griffin: Jays taking calculated risk in signing Bautista long-term
In the two years that Alex Anthopoulos has been Jays' GM, in fact, going back even further than that to five winters ago under his predecessor and mentor J.P. Ricciardi at a time when the up-and-coming executive had just begun dealing with many of the club's high-profile, long-term contracts, the 32-year-old boy wonder has never been afraid of negotiating with players during spring training and into the season.
There had been Aaron Hill and Alex Rios, each signed just as the season was beginning in '08. There was Adam Lind on the eve of Opening Day 2010 and Ricky Romero during the course of the season last year. One suspects that was to be his strategy all along in locking up Jose Bautista...that is until the impatient home run king laid down his own royal decree late last week that if a long-term deal wasn't struck by the time they entered the arbitration hearing on Monday, Jose wasn't going to talk again until after the season.
That unexpected hardball deadline for multi-year talks from his most important player, perhaps mirroring Albert Pujols' declaration to the Cards, forced Anthopoulos's hand. Luckily there is a clause written into the Basic Agreement with the union: “a hearing may be postponed by the arbitration panel upon the application of either the Player or Club based upon a showing of substantial cause.” He did it and now has until Friday.
The “substantial cause” in this case was that the Jays really, really wanted to get this long-term deal done with the new face of the franchise and so does Bautista. This will be shortly accomplished through his agent Bean Stringfellow. Recall that on the date that they exchanged arbitration numbers, Anthopoulos praised Stringfellow for the respectful, positive exchanges that they had. There can be no more postponements, because February 18 is the final day of arbitration hearings for this year. The clock is ticking.
Where to start? How about looking for a recent model in structuring a multi-year deal for Bautista? How about Dan Uggla? The art of the deal in modern baseball is all about history and precedent and both sides can agree that for Bautista, Uggla's the one.
Uggla, who will be 31 on March 11, is seven months older than Bautista (basically the same age) and like Jose was scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. The power-hitting second baseman, after being obtained by the Braves in trade with the Marlins, worked out a five-year contract for $62 million (all figures U.S.) in Atlanta through 2015. That's a model with some negotiable modifications for Bautista in this market, even though there are obvious differences in player histories.
There can be arguments made that because of Uggla's consistency, he is a safer bet to offer a five-year deal to for that amount of guaranteed money. With Uggla, what you've seen is what you're getting. He'll give you 30 homers, 90-100 RBIs and an OPS in the .800s. He'll also give you 150 strikeouts per year and some shaky moments on defence.
But with Bautista, there's something to be said for playing it safe when looking for a place to live (Uggla) and there's something to be said for moving into a renovated loft in what once was a shaky structure, one with spectacularly high ceilings (Bautista). It's risk/reward. You can learn to live with the leaky faucets. With Bautista you know he's only done it once, but you're getting great outfield defence with above average ability to play third base. Plus, you're giving a reward focus for other young players in the clubhouse.
Bautista has not yet proven he's a one-year wonder. What he's done is had one wonderful year. He showed in 2010 that when given regular playing time, whether it was improvement due to the added repetitions or finally grasping the hitting philosophies of Dawyne Murphy, the man that will continue to be his hitting coach, or whatever it was, he gets it. At some point the Jays have to quit pleasing fans in Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Dunedin simply backing up the prospects and roll the dice to re-fill the Rogers Centre.
The easiest thing to do is to say Jose can't and won't do it again. That's the easy way out for Toronto sports fans and, given recent history, who can say that they are wrong?
But at the recent State of the Franchise get-together president Paul Beeston scoffed at the idea that Toronto is anything but a large market and suggested that if needed, this franchise could support a player payroll of $140-150 million. Right now in terms of payroll for the coming season, they sit about halfway there for 2011. Anthopoulos likes to recall one of his favourite conversations from his first winter meetings in Indianapolis in '09 when he was trying to get the best deal possible for Roy Halladay. He met Dodgers' GM Ned Colletti in the hallway. Colletti talked to him about trades and moving forward and offered this simple piece of advice: “Alex, if you're scared, get a dog.”