Well….that was quite a week wasn’t it?
Ever since Josh Donaldson grounded out to end the 2015 ALCS, and with it the Blue Jays season, it feels like a never-ending whirlwind has been circling this club. If that is the price to pay for having a successful, winning team, I guess I’ll take it, but seriously – look at what has happened:
-Alex Anthopoulos resigned as GM, instigating unprecedented levels of fan rage and fury towards new president Mark Shapiro
– After appointing long-tenured Blue Jay (and one of Anthopoulos’ most trusted executives) Tony LaCava as interim GM, Shapiro hands the permanent job to Ross Atkins, his former colleague in Cleveland, further angering the fanbase
– David Price leaves as a free agent and signs with Boston
– Donaldson and the team file for arbitration over a relatively minuscule difference in contract proposals
– Shapiro hires former Indians manager Eric Wedge as a player development advisor, giving the impression to fans that he is there to replace John Gibbons at the first hint of trouble
– Plans for a natural grass field for the Rogers Centre are seemingly shelved for the time being
And then, literally on the first day of training camp opening, at a time when all off-field distractions should be fading away with the promise of a new season, comes an attempted botched trade for Jay Bruce, and the seemingly out-of-nowhere comments by Jose Bautista.
Seriously – never a dull moment.
I’m going to leave the Bruce / Saunders deal alone other than to say that I didn’t understand the deal at all and I’m glad it’s (hopefully) dead. Bruce put up a -0.3 WAR over the past two seasons combined whereas Saunders posted a 2.3 WAR for a significantly lower salary. Bruce has been much healthier than Saunders, but for $10-million more you’d expect a much bigger upgrade.
As for Jose Bautista…..
There are many ways to look at his comments. In an era of athletes being boring, tame, and by-the-book, Jose’s demands were refreshingly real and honest. They also were an ingenious social marketing ploy on his behalf, as suddenly the ball (and with it, the pressure) is fully in Rogers’ court. From a fan perspective, Bautista has made his proposal, and it’s now up to Rogers, viewed by many as a corporate conglomerate that makes billions of dollars a year in profit, to retain the best and most popular player this franchise has seen in over a decade.
But the question remains: was Jose Bautista right? My answer to that is both yes and no.
He is without a doubt correct in saying he has already given the Blue Jays a hometown discount. He outperformed his $14-million per year contract significantly in each of the past four seasons, and going into 2016 it looks like a massive bargain. Bautista’s 2016 salary ranks as the 69th highest in the major leagues, behind guys like John Danks, Melvin Upton, Colby Rasmus, Brett Anderson, Anibal Sanchez, Andre Ethier, Rick Porcello, and Ryan Howard. Using that as a comparable point, he should be getting paid much, much more.
But Jose was also wrong to come out guns-a-blazing on Monday, and there are many reasons why I believe so.
For one, baseball players, like all professional athletes, operate in a different form of reality than the rest of us. The salaries that these guys command are obscene and whenever a player stands up and demands more money they look greedy, 100% of the time. Yes I understand the concept of value and earning what you feel you are worth in comparison with others in your industry, but at some point that stuff falls on deaf ears. Even if Bautista loses half of his salary to taxes, and then for argument sake loses an additional $2-million to other deductions and payments, he would be left with $5-million. That works out to just over $192,000 every two-weeks, or well over 100 times what a regular person makes each paycheque. His bi-weekly after-tax paycheque is higher than the annual gross salary of 98% of all Canadians. So while one can understand why Bautista feels he should be paid more than Colby Rasmus, nobody is going to empathize with him. It’s hard to win the public opinion battle in terms of wages when the people you are trying to get on your side make a pittance compared to you.
Secondly, he is picking a fight with an organization that historically does not react well to such demands. Two recent cases to look back on are Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado, two players who were clearly after more than the Jays were willing to offer, and were let go. Yes those were different front offices with different GM’s, but Shapiro has a history of doing the same thing in Cleveland, so I can easily see him letting Jose walk.
Third – he is also picking a fight with Rogers Communications, which is one he will never win. He pointed out the obvious – that the company is a huge global conglomerate that makes a ton of money, that the Jays were responsible for an increase in shareholder value due to their playoff run last year, and that they can easily afford him. But this is not Detroit, or Milwaukee, or any other team with a solo owner. For the Tigers to sign a player, the front office asks Mike Ilitch, who says yes or no. Clearly not the case in Toronto.
Fourth, and maybe most crucially, it’s hard to see Rogers and the Jays caving to Jose’s demands when they can likely sign a comparably productive player for less. Over the past three seasons, Edwin Encarnacion has outproduced Jose Bautista in the following categories: doubles (87 to 80), home runs (109 to 103), batting average (.272 to .266), slugging percentage (.546 to .521), and OPS (.912 to .902). He is also over two years younger than Jose. Of course, Edwin doesn’t play the field, but that might have the double bonus of a) putting less wear on his body and b) bringing down the value of his contract. If I’m Rogers and can either sign Jose Bautista for $30-million annually or else use that money to sign Edwin for say $22-million and another player for $8-million, I’ll take option two all day long.
Look – Jose Bautista is the face of the Blue Jays franchise. I want him to re-sign and retire as a Jay, going out as one of the all-time greats. But I just can’t see it happening anymore, especially after this past week. So as we embark on what is likely his final season in Toronto, the only question left is how he leaves.
Does the team falter and Bautista get traded in July?
Or does he leave town a hero after delivering a World Series title?
Let’s hope for the happy ending.