Friday, February 18, 2011

Bautista Scores Big Contract

In case you missed it yesterday, the Blue Jays and power hitting 3B/OF Jose Bautista finalized a five year contract worth $65M.  According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Blue Jays will pay Bautista $8M in 2011 and $14M per season from 2012-2015.  The deal includes a club option in 2016 for $14M with a $1M buyout. 

With Bautista entering his third and final season of arbitration eligibility, he went for broke and submitted a salary request of $10.5M; the Blue Jays countered with $7.6M.  The extension makes those proposals meaningless, and allows both parties to avoid a potentially ugly arbitration hearing.  The deal buys out Bautista’s first four (or perhaps, five) seasons of free agency.  As a result, the earliest he can become a free agent is after his age-34 season.

Around the industry, the feelings about this deal have been mixed.  If you think he’s likely to repeat his big time power production, you love the deal.  If you think the 54 home runs he hit in 2010 were somewhat of a fluke, then you probably hate the deal.  There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room.  

Personally, I think the deal's a huge gamble.  I have serious doubts as to whether Bautista can sustain his elevated fly ball (54.1% in 2010 vs a 45.8% career) and HR/FB rates (21.7% in 2010 vs 13.8% career).  The whole season just screams "outlier" to me.  Given his previous career norms, I think it's much more reasonable to expect him to hit 25-30 home runs per season over the next few years.  Will that be enough to justify paying him $65M over the next few years?  I don't know.  That depends on how you project his position (3B or OF), ability to stay in the lineup, play defense, and ability to get on base.  I tend to think he'll justify the deal, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.  Why?  Assuming salary inflates at a rate of 5% per season, Bautista only needs to provide 11.8 fWAR over the next five seasons to justify his contract, which averages out to be just over 2.36 WAR per season.  In other words, he needs to prove that he's worthy of being a starting quality hitter/defender over the next five years.  I think he can do it.

But like I said, I wouldn't bet my life on it.

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