After the 2011 season the Red Sox management were scrambling. They were in the midst of the Chicken’n’Beer scandal. After a horrendous final month that saw them blow their lead in the AL East and eventually miss the playoffs many people saw change coming at every level. But worst of all (and trust me it was bad) David Ortiz was going to free agency. Ortiz had hit .309 with a .398 OBP and 29 HR. Even with those numbers he was going to turn 36 and many speculated that Boston would move on from their aging superstar even though Ortiz’s remarkable clutch hits still sat at the forefront of the psyche for Red Sox nation. Finally on Dec 7th 2011 the Red Sox and Ortiz worked out a deal and in this year 2016 we will watch him take one final lap around the MLB as a member of the Boston Red Sox; the way it should be.
This is not an ode to Big Papi (though that may come). This is about Jose Bautista. Even more importantly this is about Toronto Blue Jays fans desire to hold on to a player till the end (just once, please! ffs!). Over the past 25 years a handful of great baseball players graced the Skydome with their presence; Robbie Alomar came early in his career but bolted for the booming free agent market of the 90’s the first chance he got. Then came Delgado followed by Halladay, two immense (borderline HOF) talents that were both destined to depart in their early 30’s due to a consistently mediocre Jays organization from 2000-09. Now with Jose Bautista on the brink of free agency, Blue Jays fans are once again faced with the proposition of losing the face of their franchise – before he retires, again.
Many parallels can be drawn from what took place in 2011 in Boston (though the Blue Jays aren’t in as much turmoil, even with the fumbled departure of AA and Beeston). In both situations you have new GM’s negotiating a contract with an aging star and fan favorite for years 36 and beyond. In both cases the teams have talented and balanced line ups, so as much as fans would mourn the prospect, it is not unfeasible for management to decide not to invest in an aging star. Finally both players have contributed not just at a sustained star level over several years but gotten some of the most clutch and iconic hits in franchise history.
In the end Ortiz ended up back with the Red Sox not because Boston gave him more money than anyone else would, but because he wanted to. The team and Ortiz – in a rather unorthodox way – agreed to arbitration on a one year deal while still trying to work out a multi-year deal. Thus ensuring both sides, no matter what Big Papi was commuting to Fenway in 2012. Since then Ortiz has played 4 years in Beantown, and resigned two more times and has earned only 3.5 million more a season (before incentives) than his 12.5 million he made in 2011, before his brief stint as a free agent.
Now we pray that both the Blue Jays new General Presidentanager Shapiro and more importantly Joey Bats (who is very friendly of Ortiz by the way) can look back on what took place in 2011 and try to make the same thing happen here. Both team and player agreed to a compromise and ensured a crowd pleasing legacy. Basically a win-win for both sides (something Toronto fans aren’t used to). Keep in mind Ortiz did get paid. He may have only received a small raise in base salary (12.5-16 million 2011-2015), but the contracts he signed since age 36 have been filled with incentives, bonuses and rewards for hitting milestones, making his earnings far greater than whats reported. This incentive laden approach into the late late years of a players career is exactly what the Blue Jays front office should looking at when signing Bautista – once again the same as Ortiz – a late bloomer whose power and production seem to be aging well.
This could provide the team with a little bit more room and flexibility, especially if Bautista has injury problems or sharply declines. It provides Bautista with not just a modest raise but a chance to earn more than Tulo and Martin if he stays healthy and produces at a high level. Looking at the free agent market and remembering everything we just learned. Would it be feasible for Jose and the Blue Jays to agree to a 2 year 36 million dollar incentive filled deal – maybe with a 3rd year vesting option? Many would say that’s nuts and even at 36 Bautista will definitely get much much more guaranteed money but this is the exact kind of deal Boston and Ortiz have put together – twice!
Don’t get me wrong, Jose Bautista is going to get paid a lot of money and I don’t care how much they pay him, as long as he is a Blue Jay.
Ever since Jose Bautista smashed 54 HR’s in 2010, his presence filled the hole left in the hearts of Blue Jays fans by Roy Halladay, and with one swing of the bat against Texas, branded himself deeply into the psyche of a new generation of Canadian baseball fans. To us Blue Jay fans that have been here before, we look forward with caution. Warning the next generation that although we have witnessed the stars – Ripken Jr., Jeter, Rivera, and now Ortiz – take one last lap with their rightful teams, that kinda thing doesn’t happen in Toronto. We are trained to see our sports stars shipped away for prospects or leaving us to finish their careers where they have a shot at winning (don’t get me started on Sundin!). But now with a solid team and the chance to continue to succeed fans should be screaming just once can we watch someone till the end? Can we stand and applaud them as they leave the field as a player one last time in Blue and White, not Red, not Orange (god forbid Pin Stripes!)? The only real question here is whether BOTH sides are committed to ensuring Bautista’s storybook career ends where it took off? If they are then it will happen, no matter how many variables. David Ortiz and the Red Sox proved it.