How do you judge the future value of Jose Bautista? There are places where this is a meaningless question, because a 35-year-old man playing a child's game lacks intrinsic worth when set against the eternal problems of war, famine, poverty and despair.
But if baseball is a distraction from ultimate seriousness, the pleasures it offers are still real and the problems it presents remain potent. No other sport so successfully integrates emotional drama with rational calculation – and this is true even in spring training, where Mr. Bautista has made it clear he's expecting a huge pay rise from his employers at Rogers Communications.
Anyone who watched Mr. Bautista lead the Toronto Blue Jays through their wonderful 2015 season can recognize his greatness – as well as his charismatic, crowd-drawing brilliance, showcased in a defiant bat-flip for the ages after hitting a game-changing home run in the American League Division Series last October.
But that was then. Mr. Bautista has reached the final year of a long-term contract with the Blue Jays that turned out to be very much in the team's favour – simply because he outperformed all reasonable expectations as a late-blooming superstar who'd been tossed about from team to team without ever hinting at his potential greatness.
Now he's demanding a lengthy contract that would see him paid at baseball's top rate into his forties. He's publicly stated his refusal to negotiate terms, and dismissed the idea that his bond with Toronto and its fans might lead him to offer what's known in the loyalty-averse world of professional sports as a "hometown discount."
Sports franchises have a history of overpaying for past performance, for squandering future dollars on historic reputation. Living in the hopeful present, mere months after Mr.Bautista had yet another year for the ages, we may be reluctant to foresee his inevitable decline and fall. He has been an outlier so far – long may he continue to defy norms and defeat expectations.
But let's be rational and not emotional. As a long-term investment at maximum cost, he's a quantifiable bad risk. If you run a business, or a team, you know that capital diverted to Mr. Bautista in his golden years means less to invest in emerging stars of income and opportunity. Nothing personal, it's just the odds – and baseball is nothing if not a game of odds.