Yesterday, Jose Bautista denied a report from TSN’s Rick Westhead that his apparently non-negotiable asking price was an extension of five years and $150MM. What that figure raised eyebrows around the baseball world, it may actually have been too modest, as both the Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman have reported that Bautista’s contract demand was actually higher. Griffin suggested that the number could be higher if Bautista’s $14MM salary for the coming season was included as well, though Heyman says that Bautista is looking for both more years and more money. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal puts the dollar figure at less than $180MM, however, as the average annual value of a six-year deal wouldn’t have cracked the $30MM threshold.
Needless to say, this is high demand for any player and a stunning one coming from a player entering his age-35 season. When I looked at Bautista as an extension candidate last November, I reasoned that he would certainly land at least a $20MM average annual value in a new contract, perhaps even something in the range of a four-year/$100MM deal for his age 36-39 seasons (2017-2020). Only seven players in history have ever received an AAV north of $25MM per season, and six of those contracts began when the players were much younger than 36 years old. (The exception was Roger Clemens’ one-year, $28MM deal with the Yankees when he was 44, an altogether unique situation.)
Given the size and unprecedented nature of this contract, it’s hard to see the Blue Jays meeting Bautista’s demand. The Jays already have expensive commitments to Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin on the books, Edwin Encarnacion is also a free agent this winter and the club will certainly at least explore extending Josh Donaldson before he hits free agency after the 2018 season. Bautista pointedly mentioned on Monday that Rogers Communications, the Jays’ parent company, has derived huge financial boosts from the team’s recent success, so he doesn’t seem willing to accept an argument that ownership couldn’t put more resources into re-signing him or into the club in general.
Payroll commitments aside, it could be argued that it would be unwise to sign any 36-year-old to such a massive deal. While Bautista is universally considered to be an excellent athlete who keeps himself in prime shape, he’s also had some injury issues in his career and his defensive metrics in right field took a sharp decline in 2015. If Bautista is already becoming the type of player who only provides value with his bat, then he’d have to keep his elite hitting numbers through his age-41 season to live up to the value of such a big contract.
Would Bautista land such a deal on the open market as a free agent? At first glance it would seem unlikely that any team would make such a huge commitment to a 36-year-old, and yet the 2016-17 free agent class is notably thin. Bautista’s performance in 2016 will obviously play a major factor in his next deal, and another superstar-level season would help boost his case. Bautista told reporters on Monday that he wasn’t going to budge from his asking price, though it’s possible that this was a negotiating tactic and that he’d be willing to go lower if the Blue Jays or another suitor countered with something at least in the ballpark of the initial demand.