TORONTO -- Jose Bautista took the baseball world by storm in 2010 when he seemingly came out of nowhere to break the Blue Jays' franchise record for home runs.
The 30-year-old slugger is now in a position to reap the rewards of that season, but just how much of a raise he will earn remains to be seen.
Bautista and the Blue Jays were unable to come to terms prior to Tuesday's deadline to exchange salary figures in advance of next month's arbitration hearings. Bautista, who made $2.4 million in 2010, is seeking $10.5 million, while the club has countered with an offer for $7.6 million.
The nearly $3 million difference in salary represents the second-largest gap in the Major Leagues. Only outfielder Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers are further apart in their arbitration negotiations, with a difference of $3.3 million.
At first glance, those numbers indicate talks have not gone well between Bautista and the club, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos insists that's not the case.
2011 Salary Arbitration Figures
Below are the salary arbitration figures submitted by eligible players and their clubs. Thirty-four of 119 eligible players exchanged figures this year. Hearings are scheduled for Feb. 1-21, but the two sides may continue to negotiate up until a scheduled hearing.
"Our dialogue with their camp has been outstanding," Anthopoulos said. "Philosophically, we don't see eye-to-eye right now, and that's OK. That's why we have the process in place, and I think we both realize that there's no one who is right or wrong. Both sides make a compelling case, and that's why we need a third party to make a determination of what the right value for the player is."
Bautista's salary arbitration hearing will be a complicated one to settle. A three-person panel of arbitrators will be tasked with deciding which salary number is appropriate. Their decision must produce a clear winner and loser, because the panel is not permitted to cut the salary difference in half as a way of appeasing both sides.
The most difficult part for the arbitrators will be deciding where Bautista's true value lies. Last season, he led the Major Leagues with 54 home runs and 91 extra-base hits. He also ranked third in the American League in RBIs (124), slugging percentage (.633) and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage, .995).
It was a historic year, but it also came from a player who had never hit more than 16 home runs in a season prior to the 2010 campaign. During Bautista's first five seasons in the Major Leagues, he averaged just a .238 average with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs.
"It's very gray when it comes to salary arbitration," Anthopoulos said. "There's a lot of ways to skin a cat. Everyone can look at what someone should be paid, but at the end of the day, players are going to get a raise either way. It's clear that they're going to be a part of this organization, they're going to be a part of the Toronto Blue Jays. They understand that and it's just part of the process."
Finding an appropriate comparison for Bautista will be a daunting task for the panel. The Dominican native's 2010 season puts him in the class of other players such as Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder ($15.5 million in 2011) and New York's Mark Teixeira ($12.5 million in 2008) when they entered their final year of arbitration. But both of those players achieved prolonged success in the Major Leagues before reaching that type of salary.
Bautista's career .244 average, .342 on-base percentage and .453 slugging percentage compare more favorably to the numbers infielder Jorge Cantu (.278/.323/.456) recorded before entering his final season of arbitration in 2010. That year, Cantu received a contract worth $6 million, but he never achieved the type of single-season success that Bautista did.
Arbitration hearings can sometimes turn ugly. Teams must present their case of why the player should earn less money, and along the way, feelings sometimes get hurt, egos get bruised. For his part, though, Anthopoulos says he is not worried about there being any ill feelings between the two sides.
"I think good will is created [by] the way the organization conducts itself from top to bottom," Anthopoulos said. "The way we treat the players, the lines of communication, always letting them know where we stand."
One way to avoid the hearing entirely would be to find common ground on a lucrative multiyear contract. Anthopoulos personally handled the Bautista negotiations prior to Tuesday's deadline much like he did with outfielder Rajai Davis, who signed a two-year contract.
Whatever his strategy is, Anthopoulos doesn't plan on tipping his hand to the public any time soon.
"I would never say on any player whether we would look to do a multiyear deal," Anthopoulos said. "There's no benefit to the club. I think all it does is complicate things. I think if a club comes out and says they will not extend a player, you're left with a lot of questions as to why you won't. If you say you will, you're left with questions about what it should be. Then, if it doesn't get done, is it greed on the player's part or is it the club being unreasonable?
"Negotiations are hard enough as is, and with us being under the microscope so much -- both players and the club -- the less confusion and the less involvement from outside factors, the easier it is to get things done."