Jose Bautista's team-friendly contract has one BFF: the Toronto Blue Jays. But that will change.
In a market where every team is a player thanks to an extra $30-million (U.S.) per club in network television money and punitive luxury tax mechanisms that don't kick in until $189-million, there is ample opportunity for Major League Baseball teams to overpay for needs both real and imagined.
And perhaps it won't be until that happens, or until the process is well under way, that Bautista suddenly becomes worth more to somebody else than he is to the Blue Jays.
The question is: Does Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos have enough patience to wait it out?
The Blue Jays had teams kick the tires on Bautista last season – before he was hurt – so the only surprise about the first hastily-dismissed rumour this week linking Bautista to another team is it took two days of GM's meetings in Orlando for it to materialize.
Howard Eskin of Philadelphia's Fox 29 reported via Twitter the Philadelphia Phillies and Blue Jays were working on a deal that would have Bautista join the National League team in return for 26-year-old outfielder Domonic Brown, who finally had a breakout year offensively but remains a defensive liability.
As Toronto manager John Gibbons told SiriusXM radio on Wednesday, it is a deal that by itself makes no sense for the Blue Jays, since it addresses none of their personnel issues – "extra pitching," in his words – so it was no surprise Anthopoulos called it a total fabrication.
Indeed, even if the rumoured deal included minor prospects, the only tangible benefit for the Blue Jays would be greater payroll flexibility.
There is no indication the Jays are under the cosh financially – payroll is expected to be bumped up to $150-million – but Brown is a year away from salary arbitration, and theoretically moving Bautista could open the door for the addition of one or two large salaries.
It's early, but already there have been surprising names providing grist for the rumour mill: Mark Trumbo, Troy Tulowitzki, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters among them. The latter came as a bit of a shock, although Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette noted the organization has already tried and failed twice to get the Scott Boras client to sign.
More than ever, an industry source said, teams are making difficult calls on players two years away from free agency whom they aren't likely to re-sign; better to move now with the extra money in the system still not committed.
Bautista will earn $14-million in 2014 and 2015, with a club option for $14-million in 2016 or a $1-million buyout – and that pretty much sounds like the kind of player that helped Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington win a World Series and Sporting News executive of the year, no?
"Every GM likes a bargain," one MLB general manager said late in the 2013 season, when asked how concerns about Bautista's history of late-season injuries might outweigh the tidiness of the contract. "The only person who likes a bargain more than a GM is his owner."
The GM's assessment? "If Alex gets serious about moving him, he'll have teams ready to talk."
Later Wednesday, a bogus tweet claiming to be from Philadelphia all-sports radio station WIP reported the Blue Jays and Phillies were close to a deal on J.P. Arencibia.
It vanished into the Twitter ether, but with so much work to do and so many possible moving pieces Anthopoulos knows two things: It won't be the last time he has to scrape off the dirt somebody else has thrown up against the wall, and, at some point, the off-season merry-go-round will stop to let new kids on and Bautista will be more valuable to somebody else than he is to the Blue Jays.
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