Win or lose, the Toronto Blue Jays are still just weeks away from two of the biggest decisions in recent franchise history.
As you might have heard, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will both entering free agency following Toronto’s playoff run, and after a quiet few months on both fronts, Jon Heyman reported on Wednesday that the Blue Jays intend to make a serious run at one of them.
“The Jays plan to make a play long-term for star first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion,” Heyman writes, “and will give give both him and longtime right field star Jose Bautista a qualifying offer (assuming the new CBA still has a provision for qualifying offers).”
These things always tend to come with a “but”, and this is no exception.
“Encarnacion’s big year is expected to spur the Jays to be willing to do something more competitive,” Heyman continues, “though no one expects them to blow him away and no one will be surprised if he leaves for greener pastures.”
For his part, Encarnacion has done everything in his power to maximize his free agent value. Alongside an injury-riddled and underwhelming regular season from Bautista, Encarnacion has had the perfect walk year.
The 33-year-old Dominican slugger tied his career best of 42 home runs and set a new high with 127 RBI en route to an .886 OPS. Just as importantly, Encarnacion appeared in 160 games and has looked very strong in the field, especially over the past month. That addresses two of his (incorrectly) perceived weaknesses entering the open market.
Rumoured interest in the middle of a playoff run means little, but at this point, any sign of life on the Encarnacion front is welcome news to the Blue Jays faithful. Especially following his heroic Wild Card blast and in the middle of a 6-for-16 playoffs with three home runs and seven RBI.
At no point in his dominant eight years with the Blue Jays has Encarnacion been held up as high as he is at this moment.
Unfortunately for Toronto, Encarnacion’s statistics are accessible via the World Wide Web and these playoff games are being broadcast in the United States of America. There are 29 other teams watching, many of whom are in need of a big, consistent power threat at the heart of their lineup. Even if Encarnacion does prefer to re-sign in Toronto where he’s grown comfortable, there will be no shortage of interest in free agency.
A four-year contract for Encarnacion continues to be the logical starting point. Toronto would surely hope to get that number down to three, locking him up from ages 34 to 36 instead of 37, but on the other side of the conversation, what is stopping a particularly aggressive team from offering up a fifth year with a creative financial breakdown to woo Encarnacion away? That’s exactly how Russell Martin landed with the Blue Jays.
Bautista’s situation will be far more fluid, but as with Encarnacion, his departure could be softened by the Blue Jays securing a first round draft pick should a qualifying offer be declined. With a draft pick attached to his name, though, Bautista’s free agent market could become even more difficult.