Let’s Craft an Extension for Jose Bautista

Last night, the Jays avoided arbitration with Josh Donaldson, agreeing to a two year deal that gives him nearly $29 million in guaranteed income, and helps the team avoid a second huge raise next year if Donaldson has another great year. The team had publicly stated their desire to get Donaldson locked up long-term, but as a Super Two coming off an MVP season, Donaldson had plenty of leverage to get paid while still retaining his ability to hit free agency after the 2018 season. The team can still revisit a longer deal with Donaldson if they wish, but most likely, this two year deal signifies that he’s not looking to sell any of his free agent years at prices the Blue Jays are currently willing to pay.

So, now, with that piece of business out of the way, the Blue Jays focus can turn towards a more pressing contract issue: what to do with star outfielder Jose Bautista. The face of the franchise, Bautista is in the final year of his contract, and will likely be the best hitter on the market next winter if the Blue Jays can’t sign him to an extension this spring. Both sides have publicly stated an interest in getting a deal done, though with the Jays bringing in Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins from Cleveland to run their baseball operations department, there’s some expectation that the club will operate a bit more conservatively, and that could limit their willingness to pay Bautista the kind of money that would convince him to forego free agency.

On the other hand, there’s clearly a lot of sentiment towards just giving Joey Bats whatever he wants, and the team will face significant negative backlash if they let Bautista leave, at least in the short-term. So even with some expected belt-tightening, let’s see if we can construct an extension that both sides would be happy with.

The most important data point in negotiations is going to be Bautista’s age. Because he’ll turn 36 in October, we’re looking at a more narrow scope of potential deals than most players of his ability; this is going to be a short-term extension, most likely. When you look at what other older free agents have gotten, even coming off excellent seasons, both sides have ended up settling for deals for no more than four years. Ben Zobrist got four years for his age 35-38 seasons this winter, while Victor Martinez also got four years for his 36-39 years last winter. Going back a few years ago, Carlos Beltran got three years for ages 37-39, coming off an offensive season that is similar to what Bautista is projected to do in 2016, though his defense was certainly worse than Bautista’s is now.

So that’s the term we’re looking at, realistically. If Bautista has a good year and can hit free agency as a guy still viewed as an elite player, he can get four years, but the Blue Jays would probably be more interested in tacking on three more years to the existing one year he already has left. More than the per-year salary, my guess is the sticking point in negotiations will come down to whether the Blue Jays will extend to the fourth year, with the organization probably preferring to just stick to the 2017-2019 timeframe that would give them his 36-38 years.

Clearly, they can’t expect Bautista to continue to put up great seasons into his late-30s. As we noted last week, the highly productive older player is becoming a rarity, and the game is skewing younger and younger. The Blue Jays have to build a lot of expected decline into their offer, and expect that Bautista won’t be a particularly good value by the end of the deal. The key is to find an offer that still gives them enough short-term value to justify the fact that he’ll be overpaid at the end. As a projected +3.7 WAR player for 2016, we should expect him to go something like +3.2, +2.5, +1.8, and +1.0 over his 36-39 seasons, so he’d be selling roughly +8.5 WAR over four free agent years, or +7.5 over three.

At today’s market rates, that would put Bautista’s value on a three year deal at around $67 million, or $77 million over four years if Bautista wanted to push for that extra year. That puts him squarely in the same range as what Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes got as free agents this winter; Bautista has arguments for a stronger track record than either, but both are significantly younger, and the money in the game is moving towards youth. $77 million over four years would allow Bautista to clear Victor Martinez’s deal and be the largest guarantee a player in this age range has gotten in years, but also feels like it’s probably a bit of a discount relative to what he could get if he ended up on the open market with few other good free agent hitters available.

After all, the market puts a premium on power hitting, and Bautista remains one of the game’s most terrifying sluggers. If he reached the open market coming off a strong season, I wouldn’t be too shocked if he landed something in the 4/$90M range, but he’d have to bet on himself and his health to get there. Taking roughly $75 million now would alleviate some risk, and still wouldn’t be dramatically less than he would likely be looking at as a free agent next winter anyway.

So that’s my suggestion to both sides. $75 million for the 2017-2020 seasons, covering his 36-39 seasons. Bautista gets to retire a hero in Toronto, and the Jays get to keep their contention window open a bit longer with this group. By the end of that deal, they won’t be thrilled to be paying him nearly $20 million per season, but it gives them enough value in the next few years to justify the extension, and gives the organization a real chance to have Bautista ride down Yonge Street in a championship parade.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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BanderXogaerts
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BanderXogaerts
3 months 19 days ago

Toronto cred points for the correct spelling of Yonge.

Snarfle
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Member
3 months 19 days ago

What’s the correct pronunciation?

aascd
Member
aascd
3 months 19 days ago

Young.

hirsh39
Member
hirsh39
3 months 19 days ago

Pfft, clearly not a local.

It’s pronounced YAWN-gee. Keep that in mind if you ever come to visit.

Shauncore
Member
Shauncore
3 months 19 days ago

Pronounced like “Yon-j” right?

Arjon
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Arjon
3 months 19 days ago

young

Danny Middaugh
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Danny Middaugh
3 months 19 days ago

I think if you’re the Jays you’d do that for sure.

Don’t know if Jose would do that deal though.

ice_hawk10
Member
ice_hawk10
3 months 19 days ago

as a Jays fan, i would be happy with 4/$77mill. Bautista remains fairly athletic, takes meticulous care of his body, and has a well-rounded offensive skillset that is likely to age well. he hasn’t put up a wRC+ less than 135 since 2009 and has been well above that in the past two seasons, and has cleared 525 PA’s in 5 of the past 6 years.

then the issue is what about Edwin? a couple years younger and roughly equal to Jose with the bat, but pretty much locked into DHing these days. hard choices.

jbizzy
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jbizzy
3 months 19 days ago

Just pay him whatever he wants.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 months 19 days ago

“I like this line of thinking!”

–Ryan Howard

WilliamHKirk
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WilliamHKirk
3 months 19 days ago

As a Braves fan, it was awesome to revel in the greatness of a player like Chipper Jones for 19 years. As a result, I have become a huge fan of when players stick with team for the long haul, especially when they are already the franchise player. Even though I am not a Jays fan, they are very fun to watch, and I am a huge JDog fan. Watching this team in the playoffs last year was addicting, and I hope that Joey Bats is in the picture again. As a baseball fan, however, I’d like to see the jays improve their rotation. What was already a weak group of pitchers has now lost David Price. I am a Red Sox supporter, so I am obviously not going to cheer for the Jays to win the division. But for the sake of their incredible fans, I want to see the front office improve this team where it needs it (the pitching).

northball
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northball
3 months 19 days ago

I’m a huge Jays fan and I’ve never heard of this JDog you speak of. Do you mean Orlando Hudson who went by the name ODog when he played in Toronto?

StroShow
Member
3 months 19 days ago

I think a guy with the nickname of Junkyard Dog played for the Raptors, but that memory is a little faded.

Matt
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Matt
3 months 19 days ago

4/80 seems about right to me.

The key to me though is I don’t think you can bring EE back. Not just because of the money, but that the later we get on Bautista’s deal the more he should be playing as DH. If we can rest Bats more games by having him start 40 games a year as DH or 1B, that might keep him in the lineup to use his bat more.

TrueNorth
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TrueNorth
3 months 19 days ago

I wonder if there’s been many studies how power hitters with extreme strike zone command like Bautista and to a certain degree Encarnacion age?

Bautista is somewhat an anomaly in that as a power hitter he actually walks more than he strikes out , which is somewhat unusual. Compare him to Chris Davis who strikes out 3 times as much as he walks.

Cory Settoon
Member
3 months 19 days ago

Brian Giles is a similar-ish player. More walks than K’s, but the power took a plunge after age 35 (which coincided with the end of the steroid era).

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU
3 months 19 days ago

Not too bad.
Among similar players since 2000, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Chipper Jones, and Moises Alou remained productive beyond 35, putting up league-average seasons at 39. And then there is Barry Bonds.

Todd Helton, Brian Giles and Luis Gonzalez are kind of mixed bags, but even then they remained somewhat effective in their late 30s.

Of course, this really only means that the best hitters remain good hitters longer, which isn’t exactly rocket science.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU
3 months 19 days ago

I forgot to mention that one of the cautionary tales would be Albert Pujols. Scraped together OK seasons at age 34-35, but the walk rate has declined significantly and the future outlook isn’t too bright. On the other hand you also have David Ortiz who’s still a good hitter at 40.

ice_hawk10
Member
ice_hawk10
3 months 19 days ago

his walk rate is a big plus, but it is largely connected to his other skills as a hitter. he walks a lot in part because pitchers respect his ability to do damage when they miss over the plate. if he were to lose significant contact or power ability, the walk rate would plunge too.

Psy Jung
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Psy Jung
3 months 19 days ago

From having watched Bautista a whole lot, I don’t think this is true. Check out this chart I made(http://imgur.com/1Y4qLwF), his zone% is higher than you’d expect based solely on his power, so pitchers aren’t particularly avoiding him. The part of Bautista’s game that drives his walks is his elite ability to discern the strike zone: his 21.1% O-swing rate was 4th in baseball last year. So his walk rate is less dependent on Zone% than some other sluggers, and anyway if we assume that pitchers are generally operating according to optimum game theory, and given that Bautista is currently rocking the Zone% of the average guy with a .200 ISO, there’s only so much more that pitchers can increase his Zone% without just giving him more meatballs to hit.

Psy Jung
Member
Psy Jung
3 months 19 days ago

also meant to say that his O-swing is clearly driving the high zone%: like with Votto, pitchers are damned if they do throw it over the plate and damned if they don’t

TrueNorth
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TrueNorth
3 months 19 days ago

Excellent stuff.

scott
Member
scott
3 months 19 days ago

I understand the age but 4/77 just feels like a massive discount. His age limits risk because it limits term. I want more annually if I am him. He is a far greater hitter than Cespedes. I think YC being younger evens them out some of course, but I don’t think it makes YC more valuable considering the gap as hitters right now. Another strong year, like the last 6, I think can net him close to 4/100 mil as a free agent next year.

Jayfan34
Member
3 months 18 days ago

Assuming the qualifying offer I’m not expecting a ton of teams willing do go above 4/80 but you never know.

I think Jose in a different uniform would be even weirder than Dave Stieb in a White Sox uni.

Spicerello
Member
Spicerello
3 months 19 days ago

I would really like to see an article about how J-Bats made his transformation. In Sept/Oct of 2009 he hit 10 home runs, that seems to be when he first went off. This must have been covered already, so if someone could send me the link, I’ appreciate it.

tz
Member
tz
3 months 19 days ago

Most of the credit goes to his work with Dwayne Murphy, who was the Jays’ hitting coach at that time:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Bautista

However, Baseball-Reference gives first credit to some advice from…..wait for it…..Vernon Wells:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jose_Bautista_(bautijo02)

tippie
Member
tippie
3 months 19 days ago

Bats would get more than 90/4 (22.5 aav) on open market. If he hits FA market Jays will get priced out starting at 25/yr. He’s in better shape and produced more than Davis. He’s more valuable on and off the field and can play IF over Cespedes.

Curacao LL
Member
Curacao LL
3 months 18 days ago

Taxation is a huge problem when Toronto teams try to compete vs. the market.
4/80M in Texas is a lot more than 4/80M in Toronto.

Antonio Bananas
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Member
Antonio Bananas
3 months 18 days ago

Healthcare costs are lower though

Also, how much does the jock tax balance the income taxes?

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