Jose Bautista won't come cheap. Just ask him.
Joey Bats, as MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported last week, is seeking at least five years and more than $150 million as he prepares to hit free agency next winter. And that's not negotiable.
"There's no negotiation," Bautista said last week of his current club, the Toronto Blue Jays, per Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling. "I told them what I wanted. They either meet it, or it is what it is."
That's about as unequivocal as it gets, and the Jays should actually thank their slugger for it. At least they know where they stand.
The obvious question now: Is Bautista worth it, for Toronto or anyone else? He's 35, after all. He'll be 36 in October. Any team that meets his demands will have to pay him beyond his age-40 season. That's a risk wrapped in a gamble with a side of cross-your-fingers.
On the other hand, Bautista is a rare commodity in today's power-starved MLB. He's finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting in four of the last six seasons and made the All-Star team in all six. During that stretch, he's clubbed 227 home runs and amassed 33.8 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com.
He is, without hyperbole, one of the baddest bat-flipping bashers in either league. And he'd be a game-changer for any lineup.
Again, though, does he make sense at the years and dollars he's demanding? Let's first parse that question for the Blue Jays, then expand our lens.
For Toronto, the answer is a fairly unambiguous "No."
The Jays boasted baseball's best offense in 2015, pacing the pack in runs, home runs, OPS and a host of other categories. They kept their core intact for 2016, and that's why they're in the mix in a crowded American League East even after losing ace David Price to the division-rival Boston Red Sox.
Looking further down the line, however, Toronto will have to make some hard choices. It just signed a two-year, $29 million deal with reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to avoid a potentially messy arbitration hearing.
But, as yours truly recently argued, that should be a mere preamble to a long-term megadeal between the Blue Jays and their franchise player, who turned 30 in December.
Additionally, Toronto needs to decide whether to re-up 33-year-old Edwin Encarnacion, who can become a free agent next winter but has indicated he'd rather work out an extension this spring, per MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm.
But even if they expand their payroll, the Jays don't have deep enough pockets to keep all these hitters in perpetuity. Someone's got to go. And as the oldest—and seemingly least financially flexible—of the bunch, that someone looks like Bautista.
So let's say Bautista finishes his final campaign north of the border with a stat line similar to last season's 40 home runs, 114 RBI and .913 OPS. Is there a club out there that'll hand him the gaudy contract he's set his heart (and wallet) on?
It's far from impossible. In 2012, the Los Angeles Angels gave a soon-to-be 32-year-old Albert Pujols a 10-year, $240 million commitment, which runs through his age-41 season. Yes, Pujols was in his own stratosphere at the time, and that pact has turned into a cautionary tale more than a road map.
But Bautista is asking for fewer dollars, especially if you adjust for inflation. And he'll be a rare gem in a dreary 2016-17 free-agent class. Any club that offers him five years would surely understand it would be eating cash later for production now—a common trade-off when it comes to top-shelf talent.
It's obligatory to mention the New York Yankees whenever the subject of expensive veterans is broached. But the Yanks seem to be moving away from massive contracts—at least until some of their current albatrosses come off the books.
Instead—and this is purely speculation—Boston could be a logical landing spot.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox have shown a willingness to throw their financial weight around, tossing $217 million at Price among other high-profile moves.
And David Ortiz, whom Bautista has credited as a mentor, is retiring after this season, leaving a Papi-size hole in the middle of the Boston lineup.
Red Sox fans still stinging from the overpays lobbed at Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval may resist another splashy, risky payout. But they'd be lying if they said the thought of Joey Bats in Beantown didn't hold appeal.
That's true for most clubs, of course. And while the safe bet is Bautista netting a contract in the three- to four-year range next winter, it's entirely possible some team will meet his demands.
That organization might regret it. The list of players who stumbled off a cliff after age 35 is much longer than the list of players who kept raking.
Regardless, Bautista won't come cheap. That much he's made clear. And next winter, someone with cash to burn and expensive tastes may well dig in.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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