After a breakout 2010 season at the ripe age of 29, the Toronto Blue Jays signed José Bautista to a five-year, $65-million contract, with a team option for a sixth year. By any standard, Bautista—who has been named an All-Star for six straight seasons—has dramatically outplayed his contract. To give just one example, over the past five seasons Bautista has accumulated 26.9 WAR, which made him “worth” somewhere around $161 million. He was paid $65 million.
Going into that final team option year and looking for a new contract, Bautista spoke to reporters today about his situation. He was very clear-eyed about the 2011 extension, explaining that it was a risk to sign him, that happened to work out very well for the Blue Jays. Via MLB.com:
I think I maximized on a great season back then. I just happened to outplay the contract to an extreme, even though I had to deal with a few injuries and miss a significant chunk of games. That sort of thing happens, and I never once complained about it, and I haven’t still. All I’m saying is, facts are facts. I did outplay that contract, and it did come out to be as if the team got a huge hometown discount. It wasn’t by design on anybody’s part. They took a gamble, that was a big risk, Alex [Anthopoulos] took a lot of heat for that, and I just came through. What can I say? I’m not going to apologize for that.
But Bautista isn’t about to make that mistake again. Over the past couple of weeks he has met with Blue Jays management about a contract extension, and he isn’t bothering to negotiate. He knows how much money he wants, and he’s going to get it.
I’m not willing to negotiate, even right now. I don’t think this should be a negotiation. I think I’ve proven myself. The question was asked what it would take, and I’ve given them an answer. It is what it is, I’m not going to sit here and try to bargain for a few dollars.
It shouldn’t be pull and tug over a few dollars here and there. I didn’t want to waste any time. I didn’t want to waste their time or their effort, so they can start planning ahead, and if it’s not going to happen, they have plenty of time to [respond].
Without knowing how much Bautista is asking for, we can assume it is dramatically more than the $14 million annually he has been getting. And that is going to force the Blue Jays to make an extremely difficult call. Bautista will be 36 by the time any contract extension kicks in, well past the age that most sluggers begin to decline, and decline rapidly.
But Bautista isn’t most old sluggers. His last two seasons have been the third and fourth best of his career, and he doesn’t have the same body type that you typically associate with guys who mash homers and then fall off a cliff. He was also a late bloomer, not even posting a decent season until he was 29. His aging curve obviously began later than most comparable players, but how much later?
That’s a question the Blue Jays will have to figure out an answer to, and they better get it right. If not, they could be signing him to a big-money contract that will weigh upon their neck like a millstone, or even worse, watching as he smacks 45 homers next season for another team.