Jose Bautista and the “Hometown Discount”

Love him or hate him, there’s one thing that can be said about Jose Bautista — the guy is one of the brashest, most unfiltered players in the league today. The bat-flipping, preening slugger made waves yesterday by declaring that there would be no hometown discount for the Toronto Blue Jays when his contract expires at the end of the 2016 season. Bautista went so far as to reason that the six-year, $78 million contract that he is currently playing out actually represents a hometown discount.

In some ways, that’s true, but in others, it’s not.

Over the past six years, after bursting on the scene as a relative unknown who once played for four teams in a single season, Bautista has arguably been one of the top-five offensive players in baseball. The same player who slashed .235/.329/.400 with 59 home runs over his first 575 big-league games, ranks fifth in oWAR since 2010, at 34.4. He is 2.1 oWAR behind Robinson Cano, proud owner of a $240 million contract. Of the other players in the top-five — Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, and Cano — Bautista has hit the most home runs and drawn the most walks.

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Trout and McCutchen will get their big paydays. The pricier years on Trout’s six year, $144 million extension are beginning to kick in. The Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder has just as much right to gripe about his contract as Bautista. McCutchen signed a six-year extension for only $51.5 million after his second year in the league. Cabrera and Trout are both locked up on long-term deals that will pay them close to a combined half a billion dollars.

Bautista will never get that chance at a real long-term extension, and he’s not getting another shot at a blockbuster contract. That’s what happens when your first All-Star season comes at the age of 29. By any metric, the first five years of Bautista’s contract alone have been worth at least $78 million, and probably more. Under different circumstances, he would have signed for something similar to the Chris Davis deal — seven years, $161 million.

The Blue Jays have definitely gotten a steal in having Bautista in their lineup for $66.4 million over the past six seasons. He’s been a veteran player paid like a youngster who agreed to a team-friendly extension prior to arbitration. Unlike those players — McCutchen, Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura, and Corey Kluber come to mind — Bautista will not have a shot at earning a huge, nine-figure contract. He will be 36 by season’s end, and his defense is in decline. There have also been injury concerns. Still, he shows no signs of slowing down at the plate.

Bautista is entitled to feel as though he has been underpaid for the past six years. In all reality, he has been. Coming off his first All-Star season, however, Bautista was not willing to bet on himself and ride things out to free agency. He got a very fair deal for a player nearing 30 with only one good season under his belt. There was a very real possibility that Bautista’s freakish 2010 season was a complete fluke. No one would have blamed the Blue Jays for wanting to go year-to-year with Bautista until he showed he was more than a one-hit wonder. Toronto chose to bet on Joey Bats, and it paid off in a big way. Other teams would have forced Bautista to endure the ugliness of arbitration.

Jose Bautista has become Toronto baseball, much like David Ortiz has become a symbol for the city of Boston. Coincidentally, Ortiz has never made more than $16 million in a single season. Bautista is destined to become a full-time DH as his career winds to a close. The new management in Toronto has taken a rather cold-hearted approach to player evaluation, and it is unclear how willing they are to overpay Bautista for what he means to the franchise. Bautista has already given the Jays one team-friendly contract. He does not have to do that again. As the new Shapiro-led regime looks to curry favor with the locals, perhaps acquiescing to the demands of Jose Bautista is not such a bad idea.

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