Baseball is a hardware store of sorts.
The door isn’t quite closed on Edwin Encarnacion, but the Blue Jays’ window makes a reunion awfully difficult.
Speaking with any certainty about “windows of contention” is a fool’s game, of course. If you think you can project the Blue Jays’ roster in five years, take a look back five years and see how much can change. You’ll find a starting rotation led by Henderson Alvarez, Brandon Morrow, and one Ricky Romero.
Even so, it can’t be ignored. Especially when it comes to signing four and five-year deals like Edwin Encarnacion and Dexter Fowler are expected to land this off-season.
The first window that the Blue Jays must consider is their veterans — or, more accurately, their guaranteed contracts. Russell Martin‘s annual salary of $20 million will be off the books in three years while Josh Donaldson has just two years of team control remaining and little certainty beyond.
Troy Tulowitzki has four guaranteed years left — the next three at $20 million and the fourth at $14 million. In 2021, which would be a fifth year, Tulowitzki has a $15 million team option with a $4 million buyout.
Anything involving a fourth or fifth year for Fowler or Encarnacion leaves the 2020 core — at least financially — as a duo of big-money veterans entering their late-30s. That’s not ideal, and since the contracts would be locking them in, that’s one area of long-term projection that’s safe to envision.
Toronto’s young players are very talented. They’re also very cheap. That will change.
There’s a real possibility that Sanchez or Osuna are the American League’s top closer or starter in 2020 or 2021. If that hypothetical becomes reality, the Blue Jays would be far better served keeping them in the organization as they enter their prime years. If $35-$40 million is already being spread between Tulowitzki and another aging vet, that’s a little more difficult.
Frontloading and Backloading
One way around this is to spread the dollars of a contract out unevenly. When done correctly, and when all of the teeth in all of the gears fit together, this works very well. But boy, does that introduce a lot of variables.
If the Blue Jays were to frontload a contract to, say, Encarnacion, that paid him over $25 million in the early years of his deal but under $20 million in the final years, then the team becomes very restricted in what they can add right now, with all of this veteran talent already on the roster.
Flip that script. If the Blue Jays backload a deal, those 2020 and 2021 seasons become even scarier.
With how Toronto’s roster is currently set up, the perfect free agent is a star-calibre player on a two-year deal. Maybe three. That’s not commonly or easily found in free agency.
Though, a certain bat-flipper does come to mind.