After the 2016 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were in a bit of a tough position. The first full season with manager Ross Atkins and CEO/President Mark Shapiro at the helm produced a playoff appearance built by the previous front office, masterminded by Alex Anthopoulos and his ideology to trade prospects in exchange for veteran players in an “all in” scenario.
The moves were risky and on paper made sense but in the end, the Blue Jays could not make it past the ALCS in both 2015 and 2016 and the new regime of Shapiro and Atkins started the process of rebuilding the organization, looking at replenishing the farm system that was depleted the season prior. That meant many of the beloved veteran and fan favourite players were bound to leave, whether it be through free agency or trade.
After the 2016 season, players like R.A. Dickey and Brett Cecil would be the first to go with the likes of Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Kevin Pillar, Russell Martin, and a horde of others being given their walking papers shortly after, making way for the process of rebuilding and spending less at the Major League level.
One of the most popular players to leave in the 2016 offseason was slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who arrived in Toronto via trade during the 2009 season and blossomed into one of the Blue Jays most feared sluggers this side of the century, slashing .268/.355/.522 with 239 home runs, 679 RBI, and a .878 OPS through 999 games. He currently ranks third in home runs, sixth in RBI, 11th in hits (977), and 12th in games played amongst the Blue Jays greats and will go down in history for his walk-off home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the 2016 Wild Card series.
A free agent after the end of the 2016 season, Encarnacion was looking to cash in, and rightfully so given how well he had performed during his tenure with the Blue Jays. The club gave him a qualifying offer and he rejected it, meaning the Jays would receive draft pick compensation if he signed elsewhere.
The Toronto Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion during the 2016/2017 offseason via free agency but gained Nate Pearson in compensation for his departure.
Shi Davidi provides a great piece on the timeline of the Jays and the contract talks with Encarnacion, but it essentially comes down to Edwin’s price being very high and Ross Atkins fearing that they would walk away empty-handed.
After the sluggers camp offered no insight as to whether the club’s four-year, $80 million dollar offer was in his range of acceptance, the club went on to sign both Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, creating a logjam at first base that squeezed out EE. He would later go on to sign with the Cleveland Indians on a three-year deal worth $60 million with an option for a fourth year, eerily similar to what the Blue Jays offered him yet turned away due to the potential to earn more via free agency.
After leaving the Jays, Atkins and co. received compensation for the Dominican product signing elsewhere after rejecting the qualifying offer. This would amount to the 28th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft (under the recently ratified CBA) and they would select right-hander Nate Pearson out of the College of Central Florida.
Standing at 6’6″, Pearson used his high velocity and excellent off-speed to find himself within the first round and he quickly became one of the Blue Jays top prospects in the organization.
Since turning pro, his rode to the majors has not been easy, as the Odessa, Florida product has had his fair share of injuries along the way. A comebacker during his first start in 2018 broke his arm and sidelined him for pretty much the entire campaign while each following season saw him end up on the IL for one reason or another.
Ranking as one of the Blue Jays’ top prospects over the past two seasons, Pearson made his Major League debut last season and pitched to mixed results, sporting a 6.00 ERA through 18.0 innings with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts while missing roughly a month on the IL with an arm injury.
His 2021 season would get off to a rocky start as well, beginning the campaign on the IL before being called up in early May and struggling against the Houston Astros, lasting only 2.1 innings while issuing five walks with zero strikeouts, allowing three earned runs in the process. He would be returned to AAA where he would continue to struggle and would end up on the IL again, eventually being diagnosed with a sports hernia injury that was determined to be the main issue behind his injury troubles.
When the rosters expanded on September 1st, Pearson was once again called up to the big leagues but in a bullpen capacity, finding some success in the role that would see him finish the season with a 4.20 ERA through 12 appearances with 12 walks and 20 strikeouts.
It has yet to be determined whether the Blue Jays will give him a shot at the rotation next season given the health issues but Pearson still has the potential to be a solid option in the rotation, however, a bit overshadowed now with the recent emergence of fellow right-hander Alek Manoah this season.
Looking at the overall picture, Encarnacion was still a force for Cleveland at the plate but he struggled to get into the lineup on a regular basis as he became more of a designated hitter rather than a first baseman, which is not something a small-market club like Cleveland can afford to do.
He would eventually be traded in the 2018/2019 offseason to the Seattle Mariners and then to the New York Yankees before signing with the White Sox last year, slashing .157/.250/.377 through 159 at-bats during the pandemic shortened season. He did not sign with a club this season but has not formally retired as of right now, as he wants to reach the 500 home run mark before finally hanging them up, as he currently sits at 424 for his career.
While fans were a bit upset with his leaving and the situation that unfolded back in 2016, the Blue Jays at least got something for Encarnacion departing, and that “something” could turn out to be a great asset in the rotation if Pearson can figure out how to stay healthy and keep the walks in check.