What a bombshell superstar Jose Bautista dropped yesterday on the baseball world, only the opening day of spring training. While mentioning that he wasn't negotiating with the Jays front office over a future contract extension, he released the fact that he will not be taking a hometown discount.
Many fans' heads rolled in Blue Jays land. Countless advocated to "pay the man." After all, he's been one of the best hitters in baseball since breaking out in the back-half of the 2009 season. That breakout led the club, thanks to GM Alex Anthopoulos, to deliver Bautista a five-year $65 million dollar contract extension in 2011.
While Joey Bats certainly had a strong season in 2010, arguably deserving the MVP trophy, many fans thought the deal with the high average annual payout of $14 million was too much, too soon. Instead, it turned into one of the best deals in club history.
Opposite to what Mr. Bautista said yesterday to the media, it was not a hometown discount. It was a deal with mutual risk on both sides. A business deal, if you will.
If Bautista really thought he was worth more at the time, he could have simply signed a one-year contract, essentially betting on himself, and used his career best 8.1 WAR season in 2011 to land him what would likely have been a much larger deal than the one he inevitably signed.
From the Jays' perspective, they could have signed a short-term deal, not trusting his short track record of success, and explored a more fair deal after say two to three seasons. Many fans would have agreed with that route had Anthopoulos taken it.
Instead, the Jays took a chance on Bautista and, thanks to him, it paid off massively for the Jays. Bautista has saved the Jays massively over the last five seasons. If you were to look cumulatively at each individual year, the savings would add up to millions of dollars. But that's not how contracts work, making it completely unfair and irrational to say he signed a hometown discount. He didn't. He signed a fair deal that turned into a surplus for the Jays.
That said, it is interesting to look at how much money he could have made employing the help of metrics and comparable deals. If you wanted to look at WAR/$ as a metric using the market value of approximately $7 million per win, you'd come to realize that Bautista was worth $183.4 million between 2011 and 2015. Using that metric, the Jays will have saved over $100 million on his existing contract.
Comparatively, only five players have been more valuable by WAR over that time period. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Andrian Beltre and Joey Votto consummate that short list. Excluding Trout because of his premature status in the MLB, only Joey Votto has made less than Bautista over that time and at a younger age. Robinson Cano sits just below him in WAR, but it's a fair assumption that most would say he isn't worth the $24 million per season he's going to get from the Mariners until 2023.
Using the contract comparisons offer a more fruitful look at the situation as it's realistically impossible to build a monetary argument on a year-to-year situation using WAR/$. Bautista certainly wasn't the top paid hitter during his last contract but his deal wasn't completely ludicrous either. Votto made more than $5 million less than Bautista despite having 8.3 WAR more than Bautista prior to the 2011 season at a younger age.
Of course, that talent earned him a lucrative contract that will weigh the Reds down financially until Votto turns 40 years old, eight years from now. Maybe that offers a strong example to the dangers of paying for past performance in future contract talks.
In an argument of semantics, Jose Bautista did not ink himself to a hometown discount in 2011. He even said himself he doesn't believe in hometown discounts. You can't say that you don't believe in them and claim you've been in one for five years in the same sentence.
Instead, it was a five-year contract with mutual risk on both sides of the contract. Similarly to how Bautista's future with the Blue Jays, the stark reality of his former contract is that it's just business.