Blue Jays should be thankful these signings never happened

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals follows the flight of his grand slam home run in the 6th inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 10, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Dexter Fowler #25 of the St. Louis Cardinals follows the flight of his grand slam home run in the 6th inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 10, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

While the Blue Jays are busy trying to shed a few veteran contracts and speed up their rebuild, things could have been far worse in that regard.

When any team starts a rebuild, the focus and priority shifts to making sure that the young talent gets proper playing time and development opportunities. That’s exactly what’s happening in Toronto right now, and why we’re hearing rumours that Russell Martin is being shopped, which would open playing time for Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire.

It’s why the Blue Jays also traded away veterans last year like Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Curtis Granderson, and even John Axford. They wanted to get some sort of return for those players before they each hit the free agent market, but it was also about making sure that guys like Ryan Borucki, Billy McKinney, and many more had an opportunity in the second half of the season. The Blue Jays were able to provide that crucial experience, and begin evaluating some of their young assets.

It felt like an inevitability that we would eventually end up here as Blue Jays fans, even over the last couple of seasons when there was still some belief that the roster could compete. Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro notably wanted to start the rebuild a year earlier, but felt that doing that to a fan base that just lead the AL in attendance wasn’t a suitable reward for their support. Instead the front office didn’t make the “bold” moves they could have attempted, and we’re here now.

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However, I’d be willing to argue that the Blue Jays would be in a much worse spot if they had followed through with some of the signings they were looking at to extend their latest competitive window. Let’s have a look at some of the most rumoured candidates that were almost Blue Jays.

Dexter Fowler

Fowler was the apple of many Blue Jays’ fans eyes, and at the time it made a lot of sense. The team badly needed an upgrade at the top of the order, and Fowler had the potential to be a good table setter for the sluggers that were later in the lineup.

Thankfully the Blue Jays couldn’t get him signed, because his career has been a bit of a disaster since. He signed a five year deal to join the St. Louis Cardinals, and despite having three years and 49.5 million left on the deal, it sounds like the Cardinals might be fed up with him already. He’s slashed just .230/.328/.410 in 208 games over the last two seasons, struggling to stay healthy and to produce. He’s basically a sunk cost in St. Louis at this point unless he has a serious rebound in 2019, as he’s posted just 0.2 bWAR in those two campaigns. He could have been the Blue Jays’ problem if they had been able to ink him a couple years ago.

Edwin Encarnacion

Let me get something straight before you think I’m hating on any Blue Jays here. I love Edwin Encarnacion and I was very sad to see him go, especially to the Cleveland Indians. I would have been more than find with the Blue Jays trying to re-sign him when they did, but let’s have a look at where things are at now.

Encarnacion is reportedly on the trade block at the moment, and that’s mostly because of the 20 million dollar salary he’s set to earn next year, and the five million dollar buyout for 2020, assuming it’s not picked up. He still produced last year by slashing .246/.336/.474 with 32 home runs and 107 RBI, so he’s not the sunk cost that Fowler is by any means, but you also have to look at the big picture.

Does anyone believe Encarnacion would have been the difference for the Blue Jays over the last two seasons? If you said yes, you probably didn’t watch many games. He would have provided only a slight improvement, and the Blue Jays would probably be shopping his contract just as Cleveland is now. It was no fun at all, but they probably let him go at the right time.

Jose Bautista

I include this one, mostly because of the contract that he was seeking before the 2016 season when it was reported he might want up to six years and 150 million. That was never going to happen, but I really did think the two parties would find a middle ground and Bautista would end his career in Toronto.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jay legend things took a pretty hard turn downward in 2016-17 in Toronto, as he just wasn’t the same player he had been for the better part of a decade. He struggled with some injuries, but it was mostly Father Time that caught up with him, a battle that no player can win. He spent last season bouncing around between Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia, and hopes to extend his career into 2019 if he can find a suitor.

Imagine if the Blue Jays had re-upped with him back then, even on a five year deal worth bigger money. He’d still have at least three years to go at a premium salary, and at this point it’s looking doubtful he’ll have a place in the game next year. Just like Encarnacion, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the former Blue Jay, but I’m also glad that the Jays didn’t give in to his reported ask back then.

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I could talk about a few more like perhaps a Brett Cecil, or even an argument for David Price, but the three veterans above stand out as the strongest examples of restraint being a good thing. It’s never easy to let go of a competitive window, or franchise favourites like Bautista and Encarnacion, but in hindsight I think it really was the right thing to do. It’ll be interesting to see if we’re saying the same thing about Josh Donaldson in a few years as well.