Jose Bautista, impending free agent, has spoken, and you have to admire his candidness about a possible contract extension with the Toronto Blue Jays: "I did not go to them. They asked me a question, 'What would it take to get it done?' and I gave them an answer. ... I felt like for this process to go down smoothly there didn't need to be any time wasted and efforts wasted for either party. If this is going to happen, they should know what it takes, and I told them the number because they asked me."
What is that number? We don't know. What is that potential number? We can guess. Bautista is 35 so his next contract will begin with his age-36 season; a five-year deal takes him through age 40. He can still hit -- sixth in the American League in OPS+ in 2015 -- although obviously if he doesn't sign an extension with the Blue Jays a new contract will be heavily contingent on how he performs in 2016.
How will he age? Earlier on Monday, Tony Blengino wrote on ESPN Insider that "Bautista has a better current K/BB foundation than any of his comps did at age 34, enhancing his chances to remain productive. Once an average-ish right fielder whose arm strength was his best defensive asset, Bautista is now a DH-in-waiting, with a very limited shelf life as a serviceable outfielder." While similar players flamed out pretty quickly, two were David Ortiz and Dave Winfield, who remained productive up to age 40. I believe Bautista would get offered at least a four-year deal, maybe five, at around $18 million to $20 million per season, assuming his 2016 production approximates 2015.
As a comparison, Robinson Cano will make $24 million per season from ages 36 to 40; Albert Pujols will make $25 million at 36 and escalate up to $30 million at age 41; Miguel Cabrera will make $30 million to $32 million; Joey Votto will make $25 million from 36 to 39 with a $20 million option at age 40. So maybe $18 million is a little low, but those contracts were signed before this past offseason, when pitchers got the better deals than hitters, and began at earlier ages.
Bottom line: An extension for Bautista may have to come in from $80 million to $100 million.
Too rich for the Blue Jays? Or maybe Bautista is intent on testing the market after not doing so before signing his previous contract. "I think I signed a very lucrative deal that I was compensated very fairly at the time for my production," he told ESPN's Britt McHenry on Monday. "I just happened to have outplayed it severely."
If re-signing Bautista makes the Toronto front office nervous, maybe there's another alternative to boosting the offense, or at least keeping it intact. A trade for Toronto native Votto. Hey, the Blue Jays are already reportedly talking about a deal with the Cincinnati Reds involving outfielder Jay Bruce. But the Jays should instead go after Votto.
Realistic? For starters, the Jays would take a $20 million hit on the payroll in 2016 with Votto. Maybe that sounds extreme but Baseball-Reference.com estimates the current Toronto payroll at about $140 million -- or a mere $3 million higher than it was in 2014 and not much higher than last year's $135 million year-end rank. Considering last year's playoff run and this year's expected increase in attendance and resulting benefits, well, it would seem a larger payroll is feasible.
Plus, the payroll bump would be for only one year, as moving forward Votto's contract essentially replaces some of the team's expiring contracts: Bautista ($14 million in 2016), R.A. Dickey ($12 million), Edwin Encarnacion ($10 million), Drew Storen ($8.3 million) and Justin Smoak ($3.9 million), for starters.
On top of that, Votto gives the Jays a super awesome lineup for 2016, adding a much-needed left-handed bat and displacing the questionable Chris Colabello/Smoak platoon at first base. Yes, Colabello was terrific in a part-time role in 2015, but his track record suggests he's unlikely to repeat those numbers. The Jays can plug him into left field if they're desperate to keep his bat in the lineup. Dream on this lineup:
RF Jose Bautista
1B Joey Votto
DH Edwin Encarnacion
2B Ryan Goins
CF Kevin Pillar
Of course, a trade is a two-way street. Why would the the Reds trade Votto? They're rebuilding, that's why, and the Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman trades returned only low-floor talent. While Keith Law ranked the Reds' system 12th in the majors, trading Votto could add even more depth. From the Reds' perspective, they're unlikely contenders in at least the next couple of seasons, maybe three depending on how the rebuilding goes. Votto is entering his age-32 season; by the time the Reds are serious fighters for the postseason he may be 35 and starting to decline -- and for a small payroll team like the Reds, that means a very expensive player in decline (although likely still very productive).
So why won't this happen? The Jays depleted much of their high-end talent last year with the David Price and Tulowitzki trades, although outfielders Anthony Alford and Dalton Pompey and pitchers Jon Harris and Conner Greene are still around. Also, according to reports, new team president Mark Shapiro admonished former GM Alex Anthopoulos for trading away so many prospects. Shapiro ran a small payroll in Cleveland, where he had to value prospects; he may have been hired in part to run a more cost-conscious ship than Anthopoulos. The Reds may also fear public backlash.
(Update: As Joe Sheehan pointed out to me, Votto said in December that he has no interest in waiving his no-trade clause. "I absolutely love playing here," Votto said during Redsfest. "When all this trade stuff gets going, it's natural for a player to have that thought process and what would you consider? I just absolutely love playing here. I really like where I live. I like my team and my job. I like the location of the ballpark and the fans and the clubhouse and the uniform and the number on my back -- all the littlest things that people take for granted are very comfortable to me and something I look forward to. I don't think of myself as anything other than a Cincinnati Red. It's one of the really cool things about having a no-trade clause. I'm one of the rare players who has that. I get to stay a Cincinnati Red." So, umm, that sounds pretty definitive.)
Hey, just food for thought. The Jays may land Bruce, a player making $12.5 million in 2016 who was worth 0.8 WAR in 2015. A lot of money for a minimal addition.
They should be thinking bigger.