A few weeks ago, it became publicly known that the Toronto Blue Jays and home run king Jose Bautista were almost $3 million apart in contract negotiations.

The Jays were reportedly offering the slugger $7.6 million to stay north of the border for another year, where Bautista was seeking a $10.5 million contract.

The massive gap between the two side’s arbitration figures didn’t bode well for their hopes of reaching a one-year agreement.

With the doubt in both side’s minds to reach an agreement before the arbitration date, it was rumored that the both sides were discussing the possibility of a long-term contract; however, it became publicly known a few days later that no contracts had been discussed, just the idea had been.

Nonetheless, the discussions that did take place raise a valid question: Do the Toronto Blue Jays have room for Bautista in the long term?

It’s no secret that Jose Bautista may have, historically, made the biggest jump in production statistically in all of sports.

Before the 2010 season (54 HR, 124 RBI), Bautista’s career high in home run and RBI totals were 16 and 63, respectively. Not to mention his slugging percentage going from a career high .420 to a ridiculous .617.

So then another question is raised: Why even consider not signing Bautista to a long term deal? Well, it’s not as simple as that, as basing the decision to lock him up to long-term contract on just one season is just ignorant (*cough* Vernon Wells *cough*).

However, even if No. 19 can put up respectable numbers this upcoming season, do the Jays have a long term spot for Bautista?

First, let me say this: If Bautista can come close to the 54 HR season he had a year ago, perhaps some along the lines of 30-35 homers, then the Jays will need to find a spot for the slugging utility player.

That type of power has been a rare sight in Toronto recently, and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Nonetheless, if Bautista settles down into the 25 HR range (much more likely), then it should be said as inevitable that he gets traded or let go somewhere down the line, only because of the potential we have already in our prospect system and his age.

Should the Jays want to keep Bautista long-term at third base, it would most likely stunt the development of Brett Lawrie, who the organization said would be transitioning into a third baseman starting this season.

Keeping Bautista at third would most likely force Lawrie into Bautista’s other strong position: corner outfield, another crowded spot in the Jays system. Also, Lawrie is noted as the Jays best hitting prospect, so it’s likely they’ll want to fast track him to the majors and get him in ASAP.

Then, if the Jays wanted to option Bautista back to right field, it would be a sticky situation too. Currently, Travis Snider has one of the two corner outfield spots locked, while Anthony Gose has the center spot locked two years down the road.

In the right spot, the Jays have not one, but two promising outfielders who have had success in the minors: Eric Thames and Moises Sierra.

Thames, projected to be closer to the majors than Sierra, completely destroyed New Hampshire AA this past season, belting 27 home runs, driving in 108, and nearly hitting .290. He also had a respectable fielding percentage as well in .968, showing his versatility on both sides of the ball.

Sierra, plagued by injuries last season, is known as more of a defensive, speedy fielder who has said to have the ability to lead-off the batting order. In his last full season, 2009, he hit only five homers and 56 RBI’s. His batting average though was quite respectable at .286 and had a respectable .361 on-base percentage.

Clearly, the Jays have a future in the outfield, offensively and defensively, and keeping Bautista may damage that. Also, when you factor in Bautista is turning 30 years old this year, compared to Thames and Sierra, who are turning 24 and 22, age also clearly becomes a deciding factor.

Of course, there is always the chance Bautista does develop into a solid 35 home run, 100 RBI man or both Sierra and Thames flop and then, like I said, it’s completely inevitable that the Jays keep him.

And realistically, the Jays will have to make their decision on Bautista at the end of next season, or shortly thereafter.

Simply because Bautista himself isn’t going to give the Jays all the time in the world to decide if they want to keep him or not.

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