The Blue Jays may be faced with a dilemma, if forced to choose between extending Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion.
Among the many decisions the Blue Jays face this offseason are the questions of extensions. Should they be trying to tie up Josh Donaldson long term, or would they be buying high based on his 2015 MVP year? Is Brett Cecil worthy of a Darren O’Day level contract? How much would it cost to lock in Marcus Stroman?
Could the Jays sign both?
Both Jose and Edwin have been strong contributors to the Jays’ success and good teammates. They complement each other, making one of the most feared 3-4 combinations in baseball. So the first question should logically be – why not re-sign both?
There are two issues with that idea. The first is positional. There are questions about whether Jose can remain in right field much longer, and it is not certain (based on admittedly small sample sizes) that he can provide acceptable defense in left field or first base. So it is very possible that he would end up at DH, at least at the end of his contract. Edwin is already moving toward a full-time DH role, with potentially some games at first when in National League parks. So having two players who really should be DH-ing could pose a problem.
The second issue is financial. Writers have projected Edwin’s next contract in the 4/$75m range, and Jose’s as something like 4/$80m or even 4/$100m. By 2017, the Jays will be paying over $50m to Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin. So signing both Edwin and Jose would mean that the Jays would have ~$100 million tied up in only five players. Likely not feasible for a team with a ~$150 million total payroll.
So what if the jays had to pick one of the two, and let the other go to free agency? Which would they pick?
Both can hit
Over the last three years, Jose and Edwin have had very similar hitting statistics. Jose leads in plate appearances with 1,867 to Edwin’s 1,787, but Edwin’s wRC+ of 149 is one point higher than Jose’s 148. Jose has a higher OBP (.381 to .366) but Edwin has a higher SLG (.546 to .521). Over these three years Jose has a higher WAR, largely due to playing outfield instead of 1B/DH, but that advantage might not continue in the future.
So they are both elite hitters, and neither one has been overwhelmingly better than the other offensively in recent years.
The case for Jose
Jose plays a more demanding fielding position, and he plays it well. In 2014, Jose’s UZR/150 of +5.7 was fifth best among right fielders (he was 6th best in 2013). In 2015, his performance suffered when an injury largely robbed him of his best tool, a power throwing arm. But it is not crazy to hope that he could stay in right, or at least move to left, for the majority of a 4 year contract. Failing that, he might be an acceptable first baseman. Either option would significantly increase his value. Of course, at 35 years old there is a strong possibility that Jose’s defensive performance could decline. But even below-average defense could be acceptable if Jose’s offensive contribution continued.
Jose has the further advantage that much of his value comes from plate discipline. His .377 OBP in 2015 was 11th best in baseball. A good batting eye is said to age better than raw power, so even if Jose did experience a decline in home runs he could still be an elite hitter.
And finally, there is the emotional factor. Jose’s bat-flipping braggadocio has endeared him to the Toronto fans, and his departure would hurt.
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The case for Edwin
One major factor in Edwin’s favour is his age. At 32, he is just over 2 years younger than Jose, and so is arguably not as far along the aging decline curve. Jose might well be seeking a four or even five year contract, which would take him into his late 30s. There are many examples of players signed past 35 who have disappointed.
As good as he is, Edwin is also projected to be cheaper, as Jose’s positional upside will come at a price. Also, Edwin’s “walking the parrot” home run trot would also be highly missed.
The real decision factor?
It is easy to debate which of Jose and Edwin the team should choose, but choosing goes both ways. Jose has made it clear that he intends to test free agency after 2016, barring a crazy-good offer. But Edwin has announced that he is prepared to discuss an extension up to Spring Training 2016. Now, this might only be posturing on the part of Edwin’s agent. Perhaps, like David Price‘s agent, he wants to have a hard offer from the Jays in hand before he starts speaking to other teams. Perhaps he hopes to get the Jays emotionally invested in a re-sign by having them put an offer on the table. But maybe Edwin is sincere in being willing to sign an extension before 2016.
If so, the Jays are faced with a “bird in the hand” dilemma. Sign Edwin now, and you (likely) lose the chance to re-sign Jose. But if you don’t sign Edwin now, and wait until the 2016 offseason, you might very easily lose them both.
The bottom line?
Even at the higher price, I would likely prefer to re-sign Jose. But if I were the Jays, I would be concerned about losing both Edwin and Jose after 2016. So if Edwin were prepared to re-sign at a reasonable price pre-2016, I would take the bird in the hand and take my chances of being unable to sign Jose. Though I might hedge my bets by explaining the situation to Jose and giving him the chance to talk extension before I tie my hands.