Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said this weekend that he believes Jose Bautista’s chances of a five-year contract are diminishing and that (horrors) he isn’t as enticing a commodity as Edwin Encarnacion and (wait for it) Michael Saunders.
I don’t know about that necessarily, although Saunders has to be MLB’s comeback player of the year so far and Encarnacion is three years younger and no longer the soft-bodied player he was when he joined the Toronto Blue Jays from the Cincinnati Reds. But something that Pat Gillick told Kevin Barker and myself on Baseball Central this past week has me wondering about Bautista’s free agency.
Gillick, a senior advisor with the Philadelphia Phillies, acknowledged that the organization is planning its rebuild looking ahead to after the 2018 season when the greatest free-agent class of all time – Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw and Manny Machado – hits the market. It’s no secret that the New York Yankees plan to do the same – have a cost-effective base of arbitration-eligible homegrown players and then add – and other big market teams are expected to do likewise.
Now, it’s true: they will still declare World Series champions in the three seasons leading up to the start of the 2019 campaign, and there’s a chance that some of those free agents recommit to their existing teams. It’s also true the free-agent class after Bautista’s is only marginally better, with Lorenzo Cain and Jake Arrieta the best names, although there is some enticing second-tier pitching depth. But my guess is the number of teams willing to commit, say, $22 million to $25 million per year to Bautista for five years so that they’ll have a 41- or 42-year-old designated hitter on their hands has decreased along with his defensive range and batting average. History has shown us to never underestimate baseball owners – remember how Scott Boras and Chris Davis were pilloried this offseason for having overplayed their hand before he signed a seven-year, $161-million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, his first choice – but Bautista’s agent, Jay Alou, is no Boras. Funny, here we all thought that Encarnacion was the one with the most to lose this season heading into free agency. Turns out it might be Bautista.
Sometime soon somebody is going to ask the question: could head coach Jay Triano be one of the reasons that Canada’s men’s basketball team has had trouble getting NBAers to commit to this summer’s six-team, last-gasp Olympic qualifying tournament in Manila?
I know this: one point or not, few other Canadian teams would have put up with that shocking semifinal loss to Venezuela in the FIBA Americas tournament last season without at least having a deep conversation about the head coach. Yet that doesn’t appear to be the case with Triano, who has parlayed a nice touch with the media and a friendship with executive director Steve Nash into what seems to be a lifetime contract.
Predictably, Canada’s choke job in Mexico City has left Triano knowing he won’t have Andrew Wiggins, Jamal Murray and Andrew Nicholson for next month’s do or die tournament. Wiggins wants to stay close to home knowing he has a new head coach (Tom Thibodeau) to impress with the Minnesota Timberwolves in what could be a crossroads season for him; Murray will be a lottery draft pick and will be acclimating to a brand new reality; and Nicholson is a free agent and, rightfully, doesn’t want to risk injury. Meanwhile, Kelly Olynyk can’t play because of shoulder surgery and Nik Stauskas wants to spend the summer honing his game in preparation for another year of living dangerously with the NBA’s least stable franchise, the Philadelphia 76ers. Tristan Thompson’s availability is up in the air but after a lengthy post-season he’d be best-advised to pass on a long-shot bid, which is exactly what this six-team tournament is, in effect. No, you can’t blame any of them, to be honest. Coaching the Canadian team might be a charity, but playing for it isn’t. If you can’t win or get loyalty from the best players, I’m not sure what is left.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
- The wonderful Mike Wise of theundefeated.com on the hoops legacy the Golden State Warriors are leaving behind when they vacate Oakland and the Oracle Arena for San Francisco. Just terrific.
- There are two weeks left in MLB’s all-star voting, and folks in the commissioner’s office are quietly hoping baseball fans don’t succumb to the same silliness of hockey fans who voted in John Scott to this season’s NHL All-Star Game. That’s because Omar Infante sat in third place in recent fan balloting, which wouldn’t be an issue if not for the fact that he is currently without a team, having been designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals. K.C. fans have dominated online all-star voting in recent seasons and Infante actually led at second base last season before common sense prevailed and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros emerged as the deserving starter. Altuve has a 500,000-vote lead over Infante; baseball hopes nobody decides to make a point or have some fun with the system.
- Pot calling kettle black, Dept., or so I thought: Orioles colour analyst Jim Palmer and play-by-play guy Jim Hunter on Sunday decried how Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash are “out on the field after every play,” and ready to use video review. Intriguing, since Orioles manager Buck Showalter – among the least popular skippers among his peers, although they do credit him with inventing the game – seems to be out there every time too, right? Uh, nope. In fact going into Sunday Cash and Gibbons were tied for second among all 30 managers with 46 challenges, nine behind the Chicago Cubs‘ Joe Maddon. Ol’ Showalter? He was tied for 28th with 28 challenges. Motto of the story: feel free to despise Bucky Baseball, if you want, but never forget that Jim Palmer is always right and Steve Fellin (@SNstats) is one of the best around.
It’s to be hoped the NHL draft is never quite as big a deal in Canada next season as it is this season – some Canadian-based team needs to make the playoffs and be out of the lottery, right? – but with all eyes on Friday’s happenings in Buffalo I have some homework for you: read our Ryan Dixon’s excellent feature on first pick overall Auston Matthews. Among the gems in this piece? That one of the reasons NHL players are starting to come from more exotic U.S locales is that so many former players have retired to sunbelt states and stayed in hockey in a development capacity. Yet another reason why criticizing commissioner Gary Bettman out of hand for his sunbelt strategy is short-sighted.