Bautista’s deal could max out at $55 million over three years if all options are given the green light. That number still comes in well below Bautista’s reported number prior to the 2016 season, but given the flattened market for right-handed power bats, the 36-year-old has come out relatively well.
The 2018 mutual option represents the tipping point of the deal, and the weight of that mutual option will become even more clear when the details of the 2019 vesting option are reported. That remains the one key variable to this contract.
For veteran hitters, a measurement like plate appearances is commonly used as a vesting option. For pitchers, you’ll often see relief appearances or innings pitched. These benchmarks are by no means foolproof for the team given that don’t measure performance, but at minimum, they guarantee that the player has been staying on the field.
In Bautista’s case, if the vesting option appears to be achievable, then picking up his 2018 player option could essentially be saying ‘yes’ to two more years of Bautista (fulfilling the contract).
It also offers both sides a quick out, however, if 2017 does not go as planned. That doesn’t necessarily mean if the season goes poorly, either.
If Bautista rebounds fully, tops 40 home runs, and continues to be an on-base machine, it’s conceivable that he declines his side of the mutual option and seeks a slight raise (in Toronto or elsewhere). If he struggles, Toronto can choose to move on.
The Blue Jays’ overall team performance will weigh heavily on this, too. Should the Blue Jays miss the playoffs, they’ll be looking at a team entering the final year of Josh Donaldson in 2018. A complete rebuild is too exaggerated an approach given the young talent moving towards the upper minors, but a shift in MLB-level strategy could enter the conversation.
Bautista’s new contract is a game of variables. Perhaps next off-season features a similar narrative, but there’s fun to be had before that time comes.