Bautista sets contract value, won't budge

DUNEDIN – There are many days throughout the season when Jose Bautista brings it on the baseball field. There are fewer days when he brings it with the media but, as is the case annually, there are occasions when the legendary Blue Jays’ right fielder commands a gathering of microphones and recorders and delivers a message he’s considered, seemingly, well in advance.

Monday was one of those days. Bautista turned heads with his unusually early arrival to Dunedin; pitchers and catchers are mandated to be here but position players aren’t on duty until Friday. He lives in Tampa Bay and so it’s convenient but, surely, Bautista could have avoided Florida Auto Exchange Stadium if he didn’t want to be noticed.

He did; and why not? Bautista is an impending free agent, one of eight of relatively significant consequence the club will deal with at – or before – season’s end. If president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins want to talk, Bautista won’t hear it. He’s set his price.

“I’m not willing to negotiate even right now,” he said. “I don't think this should be a negotiation. I think I've proved myself, the question was asked what it would take (to stay in Toronto) and I've given them an answer. It is what it is; I'm not going to sit here and try to bargain for a few dollars.”

Bautista, not surprisingly, will not be putting his number out for public consumption. He offered a forceful “yes” when asked if he thought he could play five more seasons. A man attuned to the business of baseball to his degree would be well aware of the amount of nine-figure contracts which have been pumped into the sport’s universe. He’ll be after that kind of money.

Don’t forget this nugget, either: Bautista is supremely aware of the fan base’s anger over former general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ departure; he knows the club’s ownership, Rogers Communications, and its new front office comprising of Shapiro and Atkins aren’t popular as a result. He’s got a grasp on what he means to Toronto and to Canada, having performed to a Hall of Fame caliber over most of the last six seasons, accentuating it all with the “Bat Flip,” which needs no further description.

Bautista met with the front office while in Toronto for the NBA’s all-star festivities; the discussion was cordial, apparently, but Bautista was right to the point.

“If this is going to happen, I think it should be natural, organic, quick and easy,” he said. “It shouldn't be pull and tug over a few dollars here and there. I didn't want to waste any time. I didn't want to waste their time or their effort so they can start planning ahead and if it's not going to happen, they have plenty of time to do so.

“There's no negotiation, I told them what I wanted. They either meet it, or it is what it is.”

Okay, then. It’s up to Shapiro and Atkins to determine whether they wish to pay someone who will be 36 years old when the new contract would begin that kind of money. It’s a tricky business, baseball; you prefer to pay for positive projections rather than prior accomplishments. It’s the classic “what have you done for me lately” routine.

At one point, Bautista seemed to let Shapiro and Atkins off the hook.

“Some of that decision making of a contract of this size that I presented has to come from ownership. How much? I don't know. I don't really know how long their rope is to make exclusive decisions on contracts like that.”

Is it simply dollars? Or did Bautista present something broader, something longer term beyond his playing days? It’s not hard to envision a man with his business acumen poring over the financial records of a publicly traded company; it’s his belief, which has been substantiated, that the Jays were a significant boon to Rogers’ bottom line and he knows he was among the biggest contributors to the team’s success.

There’s no bitterness about the contract that’s about to expire, which paid him about $80-million over six years. Again, Bautista is a businessman; he knows the Jays took a risk on him being a one-year wonder and so he jumped at $65-million guaranteed off his 54-home run campaign of 2010.

“I think I maximized on a great season back then,” said Bautista. “I just happened to outplay the contract to an extreme even though I had to deal with a few injuries and miss a significant chunk of games. That sort of thing happens and I never once complained about it and I haven't still. All I'm saying is: facts are facts. I did outplay that contract and it did come out to be as if the team got a huge hometown discount. It wasn't by design on anybody's part.”

Bautista is willing to stay in Toronto. He said another four or five years of his rate of production would land him on the Level of Excellence; really, he’s already earned a spot up there. He has business interests in Toronto. Until he retires, though, baseball is his main game and he’s not planning to accept anything but the best offer available.

“I didn't say take it or leave it but they asked me what it would take and I answered,” he said. “Since, there has been very limited conversation had. There were attempts at negotiations to which I said this is not happening. You asked me what the number would be and I gave it to you. So that's it.”

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