Jose Bautista puts Blue Jays in very tough spot with Monday deadline for long-term deal

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Albert Pujols’ self-imposed deadline for long-term contract talks with the Cardinals is understandably grabbing all the headlines, but Jose Bautista setting a similar timetable on potential talks with the Blue Jays has flown somewhat under the radar.

Bautista, who like Pujols will be eligible for free agency following this season, told Ken Fidlin of the Toronto Sun that he won’t negotiate with the Blue Jays once Monday’s scheduled arbitration hearing has come and gone.

Here’s more from the reigning AL home run king:

I won’t be open to it after the hearing. After the hearing, I believe we will notify the team that [a long-term deal] is not going to be a possibility, unless it’s in that window they have from the end of the season until the free agency period begins. My desire is to play in Toronto long term but, after the hearing, or during the season, I have come to the conclusion that it’s probably not the best thing for me to be negotiating any type of deal. I want to focus on the game and trying to win ball games. If I’m in that type of negotiation, it’s going to shift my focus from what I need to worry about and that’s baseball. I don’t want my mind to be elsewhere when I come to the ballpark to help my team win.

All of which forces the Blue Jays into making a very tough decision. If they believe Bautista’s monster 2010 season is representative of the type of player he’ll be in future years they should be doing whatever they can to sign him before Monday’s deadline, because a) coming anywhere close to repeating his 2010 performance will only raise his asking price, and b) once he hits the open market as a free agent there’s seemingly very little chance of the Blue Jays out-bidding 29 other teams to re-sign him.

Of course, if the Blue Jays are like most people and view Bautista’s breakout skeptically then it makes sense that they wouldn’t commit to him long term before seeing him repeat that level of production. It’s a catch-22, because if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal and actually repeats his 2010 numbers he’s probably a goner anyway. And sure enough Bautista told Fidlin that “as far as I know” the Blue Jays “haven’t even started” any negotiations with his agent, so clearly they have no plans to work out a long-term deal by Monday.

As for the actual arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday, he submitted a $10.5 million figure while the Blue Jays countered at $7.6 million. So even avoiding the hearing by working out a compromise is no sure thing.

Justin Verlander named ALCS MVP

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Following the Astros’ decisive 4-0 shutout over the Yankees on Saturday night, Justin Verlander was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series. Hall of Fame outfielder and former MLB manager Frank Robinson handed the award to Verlander, who was beaming as he thanked his teammates and members of the Astros’ organization.

“I’ve got to say, it came down to the wire, and one thing kept going off in my head was Dallas,” Verlander told the crowd gathered at Minute Maid Park. “When he called me, he said that I won’t regret my decision to join the Houston Astros. And here we are right now, it’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve got four more wins to win a World Series, and I do not regret my decision to come here. This is the best feeling a player can have. So, thank you.”

Among a cast that boasted the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, among others, Verlander was spectacular. He locked down a complete game win in Game 2, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits and a walk and striking out a postseason-high 13 batters. In Game 6, he saved the Astros from elimination with seven scoreless innings, helping propel the club to their eventual 7-1 finish that set up their series-clinching finale on Saturday.

The 34-year-old righty also took his place among some postseason greats. Thanks to an eight-strikeout outing on Friday night, his collective 136 postseason strikeouts are good for sixth-most in MLB playoff history, just a smidgen shy of Tom Glavine (143), Mike Mussina (145), Roger Clemens (173), Andy Pettitte (183) and John Smoltz (199). He also joined Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Sandy Koufax as one of just four hurlers to strike out 20+ Yankees in a postseason series.