We'd spent most of the Winter hoping and wishing and praying for the announcement of some sort of deal between the Jays and José Bautista that would buy out his arbitration and keep the newly-fashioned King of Swing in Toronto for the next few years.
But then, over a couple (or six) beers with The Score's Getting Blanked baseball-blogger-in-chief Dustin Parkes a week or so back, we came around to his way of thinking: That this wasn't urgent, that the Jays could wait this out, and that they were in a better bargaining position than people thought.
By taking the 2011 season to get a better sense of what JoBau has to offer over the next few years, the Jays would have avoided a situation in which Bautista turns into a pumpkin, and they end up on the hook for a biggish deal to a guy who is a 25/85/.815 guy for the next few years. (And while we have a lot of faith in the adjustments that Bautista made last season, we have some worry that the rest of the league will have spent the offseason figuring out how to pitch him and where the holes may be in his swing.)
The downside of waiting is that Bautista may follow up his otherworldly 2010 with another insane year of 50-plus bombs, find himself in the position to get real paid, and take off, leaving Toronto in the worst case with either draft picks or whatever they could get for him at the trade deadline.
The upside is if Bautista gets hurt or flames out, you're not left with several years left on a significant deal that cuts into your payroll flexibility just as the team is ready to emerge into a legitimate contender. (And need we remind you of the deal that the Jays unloaded in recent weeks, and how that may have impacted on their payroll?)
There are lots of reasons for us to be enthused by the delay that was granted on the arbitration hearing, and the potential a long term deal. Tangibly, Bautista had one of the most offensive seasons in the history of the franchise, and while his track record of that level of excellence is sparse, it's at least feasible to conceive of him putting up WARs above 4.0 for the next three years.
Intangibly speaking, there is Bautista's role as bridging figure between the Anglophones and the Hispanophones within the locker room, and his ability to be a "leader" without having to campaign for the role amongst the press corps, reiterating his willingness to take on that role long after he should have assumed it anyways.
(Yes, we're looking at you Aaron Hill. You can leave your copy of Vernon's "best shape of my life" talking notes in the locker room as well, because we don't need to hear those recycled by you either.)
If the Jays and Bautista come to an agreement for four years or less at an annual salary of $14 million or less, we could live with it, and not fret for how it might derail what has been a pretty sharp and astute track taken by Alex Anthopoulos towards building a long-term contender. Moreover, it would be fun to consider four productive years with JoBau in the middle of the Jays' success.
Just so long as he plays third base along the way.