With veterans Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Canadian Michael Saunders set to be free agents, fans need to prepare for some tough decisions
All good things come to an end, and that might be the case for several Blue Jays veterans this offseason. For more than 8 years, the Blue Jays have had Jose Bautista and/or Edwin Encarnacion on their roster, and it’s possible neither will be back in 2017.
Brett Cecil has been part of the team since 2009, and joins the list which also includes Saunders, R.A. Dickey, Joaquin Benoit, Dioner Navarro, Scott Feldman, and others. While the Blue Jays are a close knit group, there’s little doubt that change is coming for 2017, and it could be the type of change that alters the face of the franchise.
Bautista has been a bargain for a long time after signing a five-year, $65 million extension in 2011. In 2016, the six time All-Star earned only 14 million. Encarnacion was among the MLB’s best bargains in 2016, when he only earned 10 million. Encarnacion finished the season with 42 home runs, 127 RBI (tied for 1st in AL), and finished with a +3.9 fWAR, despite being a primary DH. In 2016, one win above replacement was worth $7.8 million, so the loveable basher “should” have been paid around 29 million for his efforts.
Despite missing 46 games, Bautista still hit 22 home runs, had 69 RBI’s and provided an intimidating face in the lineup. No, he wasn’t as good as he was in 2015 or earlier, but he was still worth 1.4 fWAR. He battled several injuries throughout the year which hurt his defence, but he still projects as a positive force going forward. From 2013-2015, the Dominican slugger averaged 5.1 WAR per season, which would be worth just shy of $40 million per season. He isn’t expected to produce at that level going forward, but it’s hard to see him settling for anything but a raise.
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The problem goes beyond salary for the Blue Jays though, as neither player provides plus defence anymore, and both would be best served as a DH. Couple that with the fact that each will likely earn what both did combined in 2016, and it’s highly unlikely both players return. The front office has hinted at a need for left-handed hitters, more speed, and more flexibility, and neither free-agent to be fits that profile.
I do believe the Blue Jays will make a serious offer to Encarnacion, and it’s entirely possible they’ll do the same with Bautista. I also believe that one will be tied to the other in the market, both with the Blue Jays and several other clubs.
The hardest part for Blue Jays fans in 2017 may be watching one or both of their beloved veterans playing for another club. What makes it worse is the likelihood they’ll end up in the AL, or even worse, the AL East.
If we profile both sluggers as majority/part-time DH’s, that eliminates the 15 NL teams who could make a competitive offer. Assuming there aren’t any major trades, we can also assume the Mariners are out (Nelson Cruz), Angels (Albert Pujols), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Astros (Evan Gattis), and the Indians (Carlos Santana). The Twins have used Miguel Sano as the DH, as will probably keep that position flexible enough to use him there as needed. Anything can happen, but the Rays, A’s, and Royals seem like unlikely bets to spend the money necessary to sign either player.
That leaves the White Sox, Rangers, and AL East rivals the Orioles, Red Sox, and Yankees. The White Sox used Justin Morneau as their primary DH this season, but he is unlikely to return. The Rangers used Prince Fielder (retired) and Carlos Beltran (free agent), and could be suitors. The Orioles used Pedro Alvarez and Mark Trumbo, who are both free agents as well.
The scariest proposition for Blue Jays fans may be the most likely scenario, as both the Red Sox and Yankees have a need at DH. David Ortiz has retired, leaving the Red Sox with a void that they’re unlikely to let Pablo Sandoval fill. They may choice to spend money elsewhere or continue to get younger, but they could be serious contenders. Both Bautista and Encarnacion have hit exceptionally well at Fenway Park throughout their careers, making the case more tempting.
The Yankees have spent the last several seasons trying to get younger and cheaper, and GM Brian Cashman may not want to bring in an expensive veteran to DH. They are finally rid of Alex Rodriguez (if not his contract), and could find room for either of the Blue Jays’ free agents, should they choose to make an offer.
Of course, this entire theory could be blown up if an NL team still believes in either player defensively, or an unlikely spender opens their wallet.
Regardless of how it all plays out, Blue Jays fans need to be thankful for Bautista and Encarnacion’s contributions over the years. It’ll be hard to blame either guy for chasing the best offer, especially in what may be their last MLB contracts. Even if they end up signing with a bitter rival, I hope they’ll get a standing ovation when they step into the batter’s box at Rogers Centre next season.