The Toronto Blue Jays will be in somewhat of a tough position after the 2016 season as both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are due to hit free agency. Toronto president Mark Shapiro will likely attempt to re-sign both of them, and given the team’s win-now window, trading one of them over the next six months would simply would be insane. Still, for Blue Jays fans, the idea of either leaving is terrifying.
Jose Bautista’s agent Jay Alou made it sound like Bautista would like to end his career with the Blue Jays.
“If the Blue Jays want Jose back, he’d be very happy to end his career there but if they don’t want him, he will become a free agent,” Alou told The Canadian Baseball Network, essentially explaining how a baseball negotiation works. “He’d be very happy to stay in Toronto. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if Toronto wants to keep him. Jose is a hard worker. He works harder than anyone on the team.’’
New general manager Ross Atkins has also publicly stated that re-signing the duo is a top priority.
Why wouldn’t it be? Both were huge parts in catapulting the Blue Jays to their first playoff berth since 1993, falling to the Royals in six games in the ALCS. It was a dream season in Toronto, even though the team didn’t bring the World Series trophy back to Canada.
Bautista had a mostly healthy season and continued to cement himself as one of the greatest power hitters in Blue Jays history. In 153 games, he hit 40 home runs with 114 RBI, scored 108 runs, and hit .250 with a .377 OBP – while also performing the best bat flip in Major League history.
While he’s not the Blue Jays’ MVP anymore (that would be Josh Donaldson, the *league* MVP), Bautista is the face of the Blue Jays, a leader, and sparks the team each time he comes to the plate. He’s the most popular athlete in Canada in a hockey-obsessed market.
Encarnacion was also dynamite for a monstrous Blue Jays offense. He hit 39 home runs, drove in 111 runs, batting .277 with a .372 OBP. The slugger has hit at least 34 home runs in four straight seasons and is in a perfect situation hitting after Bautista and Donaldson. He gets lost in the shuffle when talking about Toronto given the talent in the lineup, but he’s just as important and impactful as Bautista.
Both players were on bargain contracts, as Bautista was signed to a five-year, $64 million deal in 2011 and Encarnacion was inked to a three-year, $27 million deal (on a $10 million option for 2016) in 2012. The Blue Jays got prime years of both of them by betting they’d continue their unlikely success – which was risky, but paid off. Toronto isn’t going to get a huge bargain on them a second time, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to break the bank in doing so.
The market on offensive players this offseason has been dry. The biggest contract given out to a non-pitcher was Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184 million with the Chicago Cubs. That contract isn’t the norm, as no other non-pitcher has hit more than $72 million with a deal. The biggest $100 million+ extensions handed out over the last couple seasons have been ones of massive term to younger players to buy out free agent years. The real money is for pitchers.
That’s not to say Bautista and Encarnacion won’t get paid.
Signing an extension now may hurt Bautista’s and Encarnacion’s value, so waiting until free agency to start a bidding war may be the best course of action.
Both should easily eclipse $15 million+ per season with their new deals, but the length of them shouldn’t be crippling to the franchise. Bautista and Encarnacion are 35 and 33 respectively, and will be soon coming out of their prime (if not already exiting). Both will still be effective players, but you can’t expect the eye-popping power numbers to continue into their late 30’s.
There will be other teams interested, but it seems everyone involved here wants a deal done, as long as it’s for fair market value. Signing them to a three or four-year deal worth $50-70 million seems reasonable for both parties – and that may be selling low on the pair.