Campbell on Jays: Once bitten, twice shy

January 19, 2011, 9:46 PM

Last September, following a lengthy discussion with Jose Bautista, I was given a lesson.

The soon-to-be Major League home run champion had verbally detailed everything from better vision to shoulder rotation to timing in an attempt to explain his remarkable success. Despite my protestations, Bautista wasn’t convinced I understood his point about timing.

To the batting cage we went. He was the pitcher, I was the batter.

Bautista showed me how to shift to the back leg before rocking forward to meet a pitch. My instructions were to begin the movement at the moment he brought the ball over his pitching shoulder. If all worked according to plan, my bat would meet his baseball at the optimum time.

Though the exercise re-enforced something I already understood, it would have been foolish to turn down a batting lesson from a home run champ. Especially one that was complimentary.

That lesson may have been free, but Bautista’s services to the Toronto Blue Jays are not. Still, it seems he’s about to get a lesson of his own — one of fiscal responsibility.

Sure, through the arbitration process, he’ll get a hefty reward for hitting 54 home runs, playing impeccable defense, and taking the entire Latin-American end of the clubhouse under his wing in 2010. It might be $7-million, it might be $10-million, or they might avoid the nasty procedure altogether by coming to an agreement on something more substantial. And if the player and management finally get around to discussing a multi-year deal, Bautista will enter discussions knowing this: He will not get anything close to the paralyzing contract bestowed upon Vernon Wells three years ago because the organization, quite simply, has learned a lesson.

The Blue Jays entered the arena of fiscal accountability almost the moment Alex Anthopoulos was hired near the end of the 2009 season. The days of silly contracts ending up in the hands of over-the-hill veterans have ended. And though teams like Washington still feel it’s beneficial to hand out long-term, nine-figure contracts to players who can’t possibly meet the expectations, the Blue Jays do not.

Anyone associated with the organization would now freely admit the Wells’ contract was a mistake. The escalating yearly salary made him unmovable and it was a near-certainty he’d suffer from injury, prolonged slumps, and public vilification.

Long-term contracts are used as the mighty lure in attracting a high-caliber player, but the risk is obvious. How do you think the Yankees are feeling these days about the package given A.J. Burnett? And, earlier this week, Gil Meche quietly retired. Four years ago, the Kansas City Royals celebrated his signature on a long-term contract. They’re likely celebrating again, elated that they don’t have to hand over $12-million to a pitcher who, not surprisingly, never proved he was worth it.

The Blue Jays won’t make that kind of mistake again. Yes, the have an exciting, seat-filling slugger who can ride it out of the park at anytime. Jose Bautista is a selling-point; a cover-story.

But that won’t get him a mega-deal.

Where the Jays are concerned, call it a lesson learned.

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