Blue Jays: More than one reunion option at first base for 2020

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 22: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Edwin Encarnacion #10 after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles on April 22, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 22: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Edwin Encarnacion #10 after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Baltimore Orioles on April 22, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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If the Blue Jays decide to bring back a veteran to help at first base/DH next season, there are a couple of reunion scenarios that could make sense.

Josh Donaldson was back in the Rogers Centre for the first time this season last night, and naturally the feelings of nostalgia were in full force for the Blue Jays’ fan base.

Other than the World Series championships teams in 1992 and 1993, the 2015-2016 seasons are the most successful years in franchise history (they also won the division in 1985, ’89, and ’91), and that recent success brought back a lot of interest in baseball that had been dormant across the country. As a result, guys like Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, and others will be revered for years to come.

Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end, and the rationale for that line of thinking has been easy to see in Toronto lately, especially since the All-Star break. The keys to the franchise have been turned over to the next generation, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and their talented young teammates, and it’s looking like the decision was the correct one, even at this early stage. That said, maybe there’s a way that the two eras can co-exist, and potentially blow the minds of a few fans.

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If you look ahead to the 2020 season, the glaring roster need will be on the pitching staff, where the front office will likely need to invest in both their starting rotation and their bullpen. However, when it comes to the position players, there’s really only one glaring need, and that’s if the Blue Jays decide they need to address it. That would be the loss of Justin Smoak, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

If Rowdy Tellez had established himself a little more firmly this season, then I think the Blue Jays would likely move on from Smoak and turn the first base job over to Tellez. However, I don’t know that they’re ready to do that just yet, and I fully expect that Ross Atkins and company will bring in some kind of veteran to push Tellez, and potentially provide some guidance and leadership for the young roster. The most obvious choice would be to re-sign Smoak on a one or even two-year deal, and he and Tellez could share time at first and DH. It would likely have to come with the understanding of fewer at-bats for Smoak, but the market hasn’t been kind to players of his profile lately anyway, so he could be interested.

To me that seems like the obvious solution, but there are a couple of fun scenarios to think about as well, and they fall in the theme of a reunion in the same way that bringing back Smoak would, who was also around for those playoff seasons in 2015-16.

The first would be to sign Donaldson, who will hit the market as a free agent again this winter after signing just a one-year deal with the Braves last winter for 23 million. He could potentially slide over to first base and hit in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup for a couple of seasons, and there’s definitely room on the payroll. That said, this isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons, and we basically went through these arguments over the last couple of summers debating if he should be extended before he was eventually traded. I don’t think he’d entertain a return anyway, especially now that he’s playing for a World Series contender in Atlanta.

A more feasible option could be with another old friend in Edwin Encarnacion. “EE” is currently on the IL as a member of the New York Yankees after breaking a bone in his hand when he was hit by a pitch earlier this summer. He was having a strong season between Seattle and New York, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 76 in just 101 games, and there’s good reason to believe he can be a productive hitter for at least another season or two, even in his mid-late thirties.

As I mentioned earlier when talking about Smoak, that free agent market hasn’t been kind to first base/DH types in recent years, and Encarnacion will be available again this winter unless the Yankees pick up his 20 million dollar option. It’s more likely that they’ll buy him out for five million, and I’m not sure if they’ll look to bring him back with all of the talent they already have on the roster going forward.

In that case the Blue Jays could offer Encarnacion something like a one year deal for 10-15 million that includes an option, and he wouldn’t be a bad depth partner for Tellez either. He’s best-used as a DH these days, but he can handle first base enough to contribute on defence in addition to what he brings to the plate. He might be more interested in chasing a ring at this stage of his career, if he doesn’t get one with the Yankees this year, but we’ll see what opportunities await him in free agency.

Where the current roster stands in the long term plans. dark. Next

As much fun as it is to think about bringing back Encarnacion or even Donaldson, a return for Justin Smoak makes by far the most sense, assuming they want to add veteran depth to that part of their roster. With Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney both having some experience at first base as well, it’s not a given that the Blue Jays will sign someone, but they certainly have the payroll space, and probably the need. Hopefully the connection to those playoff teams in 2015-16 will continue one way or another.

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