Bautista is Back!

While it’s not official yet, all signs point to Jose Bautista signing a long-term extension with the Blue Jays.

The speculated deal is a 5 year / $65-million contract, one that will keep the slugger in Toronto until the end of the 2015 season when Bautista will turn 35.

Since nothing has been confirmed by AA yet, it’s hard to formulate a real opinion on the signing.  For instance:

– are all 5 years guaranteed?

– is the contract spread evenly (i.e. $13-million per year)?  Front loaded?  Back loaded?

– does it include any options (club or player)?

– does it include any clauses?

Until those details are released we can only assume it is a straight up five year extension.  And if that is the case, the main question that has been flying around the Twitter-verse is this: did the Blue Jays overpay?

I’ve read many opinions and the reactions have been wildly different, ranging all the way from “it sucks” to “it’s amazing”.  Some have ventured a guess that the contract is important for reasons other than pure, on-the-field baseball, that it sends a message to the rest of the league, to the fans, to the current roster, and to other players.  That message is this:

The Toronto Blue Jays mean business.

The other side of the coin, the “nay-sayers”, are asking why sign a guy to $13-mil a year now when the other option was to go to arbitration and only pay him (potentially) $10+?  If the middle ground was close to $9-milion, why go $4-million above it?  It’s too risky.

Well, I actually agree with both cases. 

Is it a lot of money?  Yes.

Are those a lot of years?  Yes.

Does it send a loud and clear message?  Yes.

To put it bluntly, the Blue Jays are not going to win this year.  2011 is a learning year, a year when the young players get a chance to grow up some more, get a bit better, and prime themselves for a run in 2012. 

Now, I don’t want to put too much of an emphasis on off-field leadership, but any young team needs a veteran presence, preferably a strong-willed veteran presence, to lead them.  Jose Bautista fits that mould.  Keeping him around is important, especially in the context of who is no longer around.  In the last few years the Jays have rid themselves of veteran leaders – Rolen, Halladay, Gonzalez, Buck, Marcum, Overbay, and Wells.  The team now belongs to youngsters, kids such as Romero, Cecil, Morrow, Arencibia, Snider, and Drabek.  To win with a young core like that is very difficult, but even tougher (and maybe more important) is to learn how to lose.

They play in a different sport with different rules and different dynamics, but I think the Edmonton Oilers serve as a useful comparison here.  Hall, Eberle, Pajarvi, Dubnyk, and the rest have been thrown together and left to learn how to compete at the NHL level with essentially zero veteran leadership.  As expected, the results this year have been disastrous.  Next year?  Who knows.

By all accounts Bautista is a fantastic locker room presence and will go a long way to help this team build into a contender.  (His 30-45 HR power doesn’t hurt either).

Is that combination worth the $65-million over five years that the Jays are on the verge of paying him?

Maybe, maybe not.  But I think the Jays need Bautista to win.

And as a good friend of mine said: “I’d rather win the division with a $150-million payroll than finish 3rd by spending $90-million.”

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