TORONTO (Feb. 23) — Jose Bautista arrived at spring training in Dunedin, Fla. with a financial chip on his shoulder. Edwin Encarnacion carved his chip over the winter. It smacks of collusion, but the Blue Jays’ veteran sluggers have no desire to penny–pinch with the publicly–traded company that owns their team.
And, that’s why the ball club should say “thanks, but no thanks” to each player.
Try and swap ’em at the trade deadline in July. But, don’t latch onto them.
Until Toronto’s Major League Baseball team is sold to an individual (or private company) that makes it a priority, committing dollars and term to aging, front–line personnel will be fraught with peril. Baseball has a luxury–tax system but not a hard salary cap. The Blue Jays — under the awning of Rogers Communications — will always have a hard cap. As such, it makes little sense for the club to sign Bautista and Encarnacion to lengthy deals that will take each man into his late–30’s (Bautista, possibly, beyond 40).
An owner determined to contend each year wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a pair of five or six–year contracts that may yield 50 percent return. It would “eat” the remaining portion and be happy with immediate and short–term value. With a publicly–traded company, however, in which every dollar is accounted for and enmeshed on a grander scale, such contracts fuel restraint. No matter how Jose and Edwin are performing three years down the road, Rogers will compensate for the entire term of each agreement. If production declines, as one might expect, the Blue Jays will be “stuck” with their devaluing investments.
That means the potential for three “bad” years of Bautista and Encarnacion will eat into the Blue Jays’ budget until both men are off the books. Only then might the club re–open its vault. If the Jays begin to founder in Year 3 of these contracts, so be it. Roster gaps will be plugged with middling, cost–effective reinforcements — the norm under Rogers’ ownership until late–July of last season (and, even then, former general manager Alex Anthopoulos was said to be operating within his 2015 allocation). Given the prevailing model, the Blue Jays will again lapse into indefinite mediocrity.
JOSE BAUTISTA DID NOT MINCE WORDS IN HIS FIRST SPRING TRAINING SCRUM WITH THE MEDIA.
Do not be surprised, therefore, if Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have already determined they will allow Jose and/or Edwin to go elsewhere — attempting to trade one or both to help re–stock a depleted farm system. Both have 5–and–10 rights (ten years of Major League service; five with the same team), which allows them to reject a trade proposal. In a worst–case scenario, they walk, opening up roster spots and payroll. Within the Rogers blueprint, this would be a sound decision — enabling the club to perhaps remain competitive while other teams swallow the back portions of each contract. It may not be the ideal manner in which to operate a franchise, but neither will it change under the current Toronto ownership.
As a result, Bautista and Encarnacion have chosen to launch a frontal assault on the Blue Jays. Encarnacion lit the fuse in early–winter; Bautista — slyly — during the embryonic moments of spring training. Pay us what we’re worth on the open market and do it promptly. Never mind the “Rogers” way. If not, it’s sayonara after 2016. This, too, is effective strategy.
Encarnacion doesn’t say much — claiming to be language–challenged despite 11 baseball seasons in North America. It reminds me of former Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, a Czech native whose English somehow deteriorated with the passage of time. Edwin allows his reps to do the talking for him. Bautista, conversely, is a big, angry lug. Though he’s performed marvelously for the Blue Jays — almost single–handedly willing the club toward the World Series last Autumn — he has rarely been enamored of management or ownership. No player barked as loud when Anthopoulos prudently stood pat at the trade deadline two seasons ago, refusing to yield either of Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez for a futile quick–fix. And, no one has arrived at camp this year with a deeper frown or a more inflexible negotiating stance.
Without saying so, Jose leaves the impression he is miffed over the change in presidency and general management. Though Anthopoulos — to be frank — enjoyed one prolific week in an otherwise mediocre term as GM, that week resulted in an epiphany for an entire generation of baseball fans. Twenty–two years passed between playoff appearances and the Blue Jays came aboard with a wallop — erasing a 2–0 home–field deficit in a best–of–five series for the first time in Major League history before extending the eventual World Series–champion Kansas City Royals to six games in the American League final. Only the Blue Jays, it seems, would clean out their executive lair after such an awakening. But, this is now Shapiro’s team, with Atkins doing the grunt work. The Paul Beeston/Anthopoulos era is for the history books.
I suspect the Bautista/Encarnacion era will similarly fade after the current season.