“I did not go to them. They asked me a question, ‘What would it take to get it done?’ and I gave them an answer. It’s not an adamant, drawn lines in the sand or anything. Simply questions were asked, I felt like for this process to go down smoothly there didn’t need to be any time wasted and efforts wasted for either party. If this is going to happen, they should know what it takes, and I told them the number because they asked me,” he told ESPN’s Britt McHenry.
In comments to reporters Monday, Bautista said the Blue Jays came to him with their question two weeks ago. He said he is “not willing to negotiate.”
“I’m not going to sit here and bargain for a couple of dollars,” he said, adding later, “They either meet it or it is what it is.”
So, what is Jose Bautista’s magic number? Well, according to TSN, it’s five years, $150 million.
On Monday, meeting with media on the first day of spring training, Bautista said the five-year, $65-million contract he signed with Toronto in 2011 has amounted to a “five-year hometown discount.”
But in a meeting with Blue Jays officials two weeks ago in Toronto, Bautista and his financial advisors compared the Blue Jays outfielder to Miguel Cabrera and retired Yankees superstar Derek Jeter, in terms of his value to his club.
Cabrera is baseball’s highest-paid position player, earning $31-million per season with the Detroit Tigers. Zack Greinke is the game’s top-paid player overall, after signing a free-agent contract with Arizona worth $34 million per season.
Now, we shouldn’t necessarily just take this report at face value. For one, the team has a decent incentive to sway the public perception of the negotiations towards Bautista’s ask being unreasonable, so that if they don’t re-sign their franchise player, he looks like the bad guy for asking for too much money, rather than them coming off as cheap. Bautista went on to note that Rogers stock price suggests the team’s ownership has plenty of money, so he’s clearly trying to drive the narrative himself, and this could be their way of countering his comments. Since he didn’t say what his number was, we don’t actually know what Bautista asked for.
But if the report is correct, Joey Bats is in for a reality check next winter; he’s not worth anything close to $150 million. Not to the Blue Jays or any other team in baseball.
A couple of weeks ago, I tried to come up with a fair extension price for Bautista, looking at what other recent players in his age group have signed for in free agency. As noted in that piece, the closest recent approximation of Bautista’s free agent value is Victor Martinez, who hit .335/.409/.565 in his age-35 season while finishing second in the MVP voting that year. The market looked at a terrific hitter heading into his late-30s and rewarded him at a grand total of $68 million over four years.
Now, I don’t think there’s much of a question that Bautista will be able to beat Martinez’s deal. His track record is stronger — Martinez was basically coming off a career year that didn’t line up with what he’d done previously — and he’s not yet definitively a DH; Martinez’s knee problems likely eliminated NL teams from the bidding, and there would be some teams who would see Bautista as still playable in the outfield or at first base as he gets older. Toss in the fact that prices have only gone up since Martinez’s deal, and his 4/$68M contract looks more like Bautista’s floor than his ceiling.
But the market isn’t going to look at them so differently that they see an $82 million difference. There’s simply no way that Bautista is going to get more than double what Martinez got two winters ago.
Bautista can compare himself to Miguel Cabrera and Zack Greinke all he wants, but it’s patently incorrect to look at what other players are going to get for their age 36-40 seasons on deals that start earlier. You simply can’t look at Cabrera’s deal with the Tigers, which covers his age 33-40 seasons, and pretend that the Tigers would have paid the same price for the last five years of the deal if they weren’t also buying out his age 33-35 seasons, and Bautista won’t have those to sell. The same is true of Greinke; he got $34 million per year for a deal that covers his age 32-37 seasons; at age-37, Bautista will be on year two of his next contract. These contracts are just not comparisons for what Bautista is going to get.
Now, if he wants to be paid on par with those guys in terms of annual salary, he can probably make that happen; he’s just going to have to take a very short deal in order to do it. If he has a normal 2016 season and doesn’t show too much age-related decline, he probably could get something like 2/$60M as a free agent, putting him in that tier of players who make $30 million per year. But no one is going to pay him $30 million per year on a long-term deal, nor should they.
For 2015, Bautista projects slightly below a +4 WAR player. If he were a free agent this winter, we would have projected his free agent price to look something like this.
|2016||35||3.7||$8.0 M||$29.6 M|
|2017||36||3.2||$8.4 M||$26.9 M|
|2018||37||2.7||$8.8 M||$23.8 M|
|2019||38||2.0||$9.3 M||$18.1 M|
|2020||39||1.2||$9.7 M||$11.7 M|
|2021||40||0.5||$10.0 M||$4.5 M|
Bautista, of course, isn’t a free agent, so he doesn’t have the ability to include his 2015 value in his next contract. Take that year out, and the rest of the contract prices out at 5/$85M. But, maybe you think Bautista is going to age really well, and that projection is too harsh, given that he’s already shown that he can sustain his performance later in his career than a lot of other players. Let’s look at what he’d have been worth as a free agent this past winter if we gave him the most optimistic aging curve you could possibly imagine.
|2016||35||3.7||$8.0 M||$29.6 M|
|2017||36||3.5||$8.4 M||$29.0 M|
|2018||37||3.2||$8.8 M||$28.2 M|
|2019||38||2.7||$9.3 M||$25.0 M|
|2020||39||2.2||$9.7 M||$21.4 M|
|2021||40||1.7||$10.0 M||$16.9 M|
If you see that $150 million figure there and think that maybe his ask isn’t so crazy, remember that this still includes the 2015 value. Since Bautista isn’t a free agent until next winter, this most-optimistic forecast still comes up at $120M over the five free agent years he’ll actually be selling. If Bautista has a really good year, and can convince someone that he’s an outlier when it comes to player aging, then maybe he can push up towards this $120M figure. Maybe.
But there’s zero reason for the Blue Jays to pay him that right now. They’d be paying a top-of-the-market price while also swallowing all of the risk that Bautista doesn’t have a great walk year, or blows out his knee, or one of the many various things that can happen to sap a player’s value overnight. When you’re signing a player in advance of free agency, you get a discount for buying up the risk the player currently owns. For the Blue Jays to sign Bautista now, they need to pay less than what he’d get in free agency.
Maybe Bautista thinks he deserves a premium because he’s been underpaid for the last five years, and the Blue Jays should make it up to him. That’s fine; he’s allowed to believe that. But the reality is that no one else is going to give him a make-good contract, and if he hits the open market, he’s not going to get anywhere near $150 million. To ask the Blue Jays to pay a significant premium in order to sign him in advance of free agency, and then state that you aren’t willing to negotiate off that number, is simply telling the organization that he doesn’t actually want to re-sign in Toronto.
If the $150 million report is accurate, Bautista will be a free agent at the end of the year. And if he goes into the winter expecting to get $150 million, he’s going to have a nice long vacation as an unsigned player, waiting for an offer that is never going to come.
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