Jays mailbag: Bautista, Bautista and more Bautista
At this moment I'm still at home gratefully packing for a 4:20 p.m. Air Canada flight to Dunedin on Wednesday aternoon heading to spring training.
It's actually the latest date in February for a Florida departure for this columnist since my frst year in Toronto in 1995 at which time the real players were regrettably still on strike and the “replacement player” experiment was being peddled to a skeptical, savvy, not-buying-into-it public.
The Jays' organization, to its credit, was preparing back then to play the entire '95 home schedule at Dunedin Stadium, with Bob Didier as manager, allowing real manager Cito Gaston to maintain his dignity and credibility -- and lower his handicap.
The real major-league Jays players meanwhile were forced to practice on their own at local high schools and public parks waiting for the strike to be settled...which it was on the eve of phony Opening Day in Miami.
My personal crisis that spring, having spent 23 years in the National League and then coming to Toronto, was that when I showed up at that particular day's ever-changing Jays' workout venue somewhere in the Dunedin area, the only guy I recognized was Dave Martinez, an outfielder who had just recently played for the Expos.
The Globe & Mail's beat guy Larry Millson, who I had known well from multiple beer-soaked sunrises on long Montreal homestands during Expos' pennant races in the early '80s, laughed his butt off at this rookie columnist's daily dilemma but he always ended up helping, quietly slipping a note with the Jays' proper identities (I think).
The season finally opened in late April and there has been labour peace in MLB ever since, although the Jays have never recovered from the season-ticket hit they took that year. Thursday at 1 p.m. I'll open from Dunedin with a live chat online. On to the mailbag.
Q. My question is in regard to Jose Bautista's new contract. Often teams will give a player a multi-year contract where the player's salary increases over the last few years. With the Jays not planning on competing this year, and extra money to spend now, why couldn't the Jays do the reverse? Give Bautista the same $64-million deal but pay him around $20 million this year and/or next year, then go down from there. This would give the Jays more financial flexibility when they are that "one player away" from really competing and need the extra money to make a big signing.
Josh Cymbalista, Thornhill
A. The Jays' $1 million buyout of Bautista's $14 million option year in 2016 actually makes the official guaranteed value of the five-year contract $65 million, with the average annual value being $13 million.
The details start with an $8 million payment in 2011, followed by $14 million for each of the finaI four guaranteed years. Then comes the option season, by which time Bautista will be a 35-years-old.
I originally had the same thought as you in that given the money they saved on Wells, Overbay, Downs, Gregg et al this year, the Jays might have been wise to front-end load the Bautista contract, with the least money being doled out in 2014-15, but they didn't.
Then I re-thought that logic, trying to place myself in GM Alex Anthopoulos's shoes. When you think about it realistically, with no salary cap in baseball to worry about, it doesn't make much difference in what order you pay the money out. Rogers ownership quite frankly has the financial wherewithal to put any or all of the $65M aside right now in an interest-bearing account if they so desired. There is also the factor that the Jays already had a $5 million obligation to send to the Angels for Vernon Wells. Combine that debt with Bautista's '11 money, and it adds up to $13 million.
The other thing is Bautista was headed to arbitration at either $7.6 million or $10.5 million if they had not been able to work out the long-term deal. Perhaps Anthopoulos was concerned that in future years, if he had started the Bautista contract with a $15 million season, that number might be used by future arbitration-eligible Jays as a precedent, complicating matters. Then again, it might just signal that Anthopoulos was still planning on the possibility of adding another big contract prior to this season.
Q. Richard. My problem with the Bautista deal is not so much that he has no track record of producing at the level he did last year — it is that he has a lengthy track record of producing at an underwhelming level. To use an example close to home, Adam Lind had no track record of performing at the level he did in 2009 (.305 average, 35 home runs, 114 Rbis), and yet he signed for a steeply-discounted $18 million over four years. Why does Bautista, (who at some point in time over the course of this deal will become a diminishing asset) merit three times the amount given to a young player who appeared to be on the rise?
Neil Paris, Toronto
A. There is a huge, huge difference in the rationale and the amount in the Jays negotiating Bautista's five years plus an option contract as opposed to Lind's four years plus three options deal signed on the eve of opening day last year.
The four guaranteed years for Lind were his arbitration years leading up to free agency. He had nowhere to go. That's automatically a lower price than buying out years of free agency.
The Jays made sure they also built in club options for what would be Lind's first three years of free agency (2014-16) at below market value. On the other hand, with Bautista, only the 2011 season was an arbitration year, after which they will be paying him market value for the first four years buying up his free agency.
There's a dramatic difference in terms of the gross amount of money to be paid between the two men. It's forever a two-way street. There are different advantages built in to the process both for player and for team in the Lind and Bautista deals.
For Lind, he's getting more money up front taking the mystery out of his arb years and also does not have to worry about injuries because the money is guaranteed. For the Jays there is cost certainty for the four years of his obligation prior to free-agency, then they also have him for three free agent seasons at a reasonable price ... or not.
They can always let him go if it's not working out production-wise or if there's long-term injury. With Bautista, he receives his guaranteed free agency reward a year before his free-agent class in a city and clubhouse of his choosing, while the Jays for their part removed all question marks and uncertainty surrounding 2011 and now have a contract with a player they hope will be an offensive cornerstone, also tradeable down the road, if circumstances change.
Q. Why are people comparing the Bautista deal to the one signed by Uggla? Uggla has not only posted exceptional numbers (career OPS 100 points higher than Bautista's) but has also been the model of consistency over the past 5 years all while playing in one of the game's worst-hitter parks.
More importantly, Uggla is a middle infielder, not a corner outfielder, which increases his value tremendously. Personally, I am stunned by how many fans (and often media members) do not understand the relationship that exists between a player’s position, offensive output, and overall value. Valuing a power hitting middle infielder the same as power hitting corner outfielder (with similiar stats) makes about as much sense as the Leafs’ "rebuilding" plan. $65 mil over 5 years for Bautista is insane given his career numbers (not solely 2010) and age.
Kyle Smith, Toronto
A. On the other hand has Uggla ever had a 54 home run season with a .995 OPS? Face it, teams are supposed to be paying future money for future performance, not throwing future cash at the past. It's all well and good to point out Uggla's consistency and his four straight 30-homer seasons, but which of the two men has the higher ceiling moving forward? Which is a better two-way player? Which is more important to the fabric of his team? In looking at the dollars, people underestimate the importance of simlar age and years of service in determining market value of MLB players, as a factor over homers, RBIs slugging average and OPS. Uggla and Bautista were born eight months apart and were each playing their final arbitration year prior to free agency. That, even more than recent on-field results, is why the two players were compared when it came to contract time.
Q. True or False: Rajai Davis and Jose Bautista are the first outfield combo with the same birth date since Ozzie and Jose Canseco.
Tony Baer, Baraboo
A. However, it should be noted Jose Canseco's biceps, triceps, quadriceps and lats are far younger than Ozzie's, although both twins apparently attended the same driving school.
Q. Love the blog. Scott Podsednick hit .297 and stole 35 bases last season. Nobody on the Blue Jays matched him in either category. Why did have such trouble finding a major league job?
Josh Lavine, Toronto
A. Good question. One reason might be the re-occuring foot problem that sees Scott reporting to Jays camp on Wednesday in a walking cast to ease the pain of his plantar fasciitis.
Another reason he may have had trouble finding a job this winter can be found in his personal transactions history.
Since turning pro in 1994, the 34-year-old lefthanded hitter has been traded three times, was selected in the Rule 5 draft, was plucked off waivers once and has been a free agent six times. Even after batting leadoff for the World Series champion White Sox in '05 and hanging with them for another two seasons, he has continued to have trouble gaining respect.
Passed over and ignored? Consider that in this day and age, with 12 pitchers on most staffs, the versatility of bench players becomes of utmost importance. Podsednik is a lefthanded thrower that does not play first base or the infield. At age 34, earning over $1 million, there are younger, cheaper, more versatile options for teams to have coming off the bench. The Jays became a logical landing site after the Wells trade to the Angels and with new manager John Farrell's desire to upgrade team speed. He or Corey Patterson should make the team.
Q. Hi Richard. I like the Bautista signing for all the reasons AA said. Another consideration is the if (maybe it's a big if) he hits say 40+ home runs in 2011, he's a $25-30 million Yankee or Red Sox playing against us in 2012. That would be a lose-lose for us.
A. Hey, realize nobody has ever been able to post consecutive seasons of 40+ home runs without first having had one season of 40-plus home runs.
Since you bring up the Red Sox, it's worth mentioning once again the similar case of Big Papi. As a young player, David Ortiz was a lefthanded DH and occasional first baseman for the Twins.
In six Minnesota seasons, Papi hit 58 home runs. What a stiff. Then he went to the Red Sox and put up a 31-homer season in 2003 followed by 41, 47 and 54. His 54 home runs came at age 30, the same age as Bautista with the Jays in 2010.
The next season, his HR total dropped to 35, but he still drove in 117 runs and the Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Following the 2006 season at age 31, Ortiz signed what amounted to a five-year, $64.5-million contract (sound familiar) and was lauded for his loyalty, for cutting Boston some hometown slack.
And yes, if the Jays had not signed Bautista this winter and allowed him to play out his final season and if he did hit 40-plus homers again, the Jays would have ended up being asked for a lot more money and likely would not have paid it.
Rules of the Basic Agreement need to be optimized. When you have a star player and you have exclusive negotiating rights for 12 more months, why not take advantage and get a deal done. The dollar amount is nowhere near as onerous as that of Wells and is tradeable.
Q. I love your column and baseball knowledge. I like Jose Bautista a lot and hope he does well, but I'm dumbfounded at the Blue Jays for giving out another albatross contract (think Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Frank Thomas, etc.). Could you explain how it's possible for Bautista to be awarded more years and total money (5 yrs, $64M) than both the NL MVP Joey Votto (3 yrs, $39M) and the AL MVP Josh Hamilton (2 yrs, $24M)?!?!
Votto has had one great season and two very good seasons, while Hamilton has had two great seasons. Bautista has had exactly one career year and even then only a .260 average, and is still only a .244 career hitter. Given all these numbers, Bautista definitely deserved less money ... why not something like 3 years $30M or an Aaron Hill-like contract with more club options and an increasing scale? I'm worried that awarding $65M might represent another very expensive Blue Jay mistake. From what I can see, the Dan Uggla contract is a bad one. I'm not sure how this became the one and only contract uses as a benchmark for negotiating with Bautista.
Thanks for listening.
A. There are huge differences between Bautista's contract compared to Votto and Hamilton. The key is that the Reds and Rangers negotiated those deals with their best hitters locking them up only through their arbitration years, bringing them to unrestricted free agency. Four of Bautista's years are free agent years. It's not primarily statistics that account for salary levels. As important is service time.
Consider there are three levels of contract negotiations between players and teams. The resultant salaries at those three levels are almost totally distinct.
First from 0-3 years of service (with some 2-plus exceptions called Super-Twos), the player is totally under team control. Most times that salary will range from major-league minimum (just over $400,000) to just under $1 million.
The second level is 3-6 years of major-league service during which a player is arbitration eligible. During those arbitration years contracts can almost be entirely predictable by running all the variables of service time, age and performance through a computer and comparing to those that have gone before.
Both club and agent have access to the same numbers which is why so many cases are settled before reaching an arbitration panel. The third level is six-plus years of service declaring free agency. This is the least predictable and most expensive level for teams. All you need is for one crazy, desperate, delusional ownership that thinks they are one player away from winning the Workd Series. Then all you need is that one team to overpay that one player and the ripple effect hits all free agents. That's why the players association loves A-Rod and loves the Yankees.