With no clear focus in their off-season plans, it might make sense for the Toronto Blue Jays to revisit what already works: Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion
I’m just going to throw it out there: Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will both be back with the Toronto Blue Jays next season. I don’t really have a firm basis for this belief other than gut feeling and my own interpretation of the team’s inability to land Dexter Fowler.
In playing the waiting game on Fowler, and apparently placing him at the centre of their off-season plans, the Blue Jays’ now find themselves without a clear linchpin in their transition from home run-heavy team to all-around-balanced team. The switch-hitting Fowler would have given the Blue Jays speed at the top of their lineup, and he would have filled one of the corner gaps in the outfield. There are still some comparable (of varying degree) players available through free agency or trade, including Ben Revere and Charlie Blackmon, but none of these players is an ideal substitute for Fowler and, in the case of Blackmon, the supposed cost is simply too high: Marcus Stroman.
This leaves the Blue Jays with an incomplete and somewhat messy off-season picture on their hands. Recent addition Steve Pearce is capable of playing at first base or in the outfield, but there’s some redundancy built into his acquisition with Justin Smoak, Melvin Upton Jr., and Ezequiel Carrera laying claim to the same positions. The only certainty, from a defensive perspective, is that Kevin Pillar will continue to occupy centre field on an everyday basis.
Given the Blue Jays’ desire to increase the number of left-handed bats in their lineup, this suggests that Carrera and Smoak will see greater playing time at the expense of Upton and Pearce, who will likely split time in right field based on how things currently stand. This, I can’t say, is an enviable position for the Blue Jays in either a defensive or offensive sense: there isn’t a single, established everyday player among the four.
That’s why, with the Fowler money now set aside without a clear purpose, I think the Blue Jays will circle back to Bautista and Encarnacion. Notwithstanding questions about his declining skill sets, Bautista is a better option in right field on a regular basis than either Upton or Pearce. He won’t be able to play every day, of course, which is where that outfield depth comes into play: Bautista could be given regular rest, with Upton or Pearce playing two or three times a week, to help keep him healthy. A similar situation could unfold in left field where Carrera would see the bulk of action, but Upton or Peace would see enough action to ease his workload. (I would rather see Revere return to left field for what it’s worth.)
Admittedly, there are two major problems with this line of reasoning: 1) the Blue Jays could still add another player to the mix; and 2) they’re unlikely to keep both Upton and Pearce under this scenario. I can’t address the first challenge, but the odd man out, I believe, would be Upton. His contract is team-friendly, and the Pearce acquisition is more recent, suggesting the Blue Jays would place a higher premium on keeping him in the lineup over Upton.
The situation at first base, in contrast, is more straightforward: Encarnacion would see the bulk of action, with Smoak available off the bench to mix things up on occasion. The right-handed hitting Kendrys Morales would also be available off the bench, providing further roster flexibility but at the expense of defence.
I wouldn’t characterize this as an ideal situation for a team trying to recalibrate itself on the fly, but if viewed as fallback options, Bautista and Encarnacion could help salvage what has quickly become an unclear, unfocused, and unsatisfying off-season for the Blue Jays. There’s an element of familiarity here, and the team would remain competitive for the immediate future.
To me, it’s almost like, in trying to paint a different picture of the team, the Blue Jays have actually painted themselves into a corner where the past and future awkwardly intersect. For now, it might be best to run with what they know already works. What other options do they have, anyway?
What are your thoughts? Do the Blue Jays have a clear off-season plan? Is there another potential solution to their current predicament? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III CC BY-SA 2.0
THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! FOR EVERYTHING TORONTO BLUE JAYS, CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND INSTAGRAM. LIKE US ON FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE JAYS NEST PODCAST!