When it comes to Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Toronto Blue Jays’ front office has proven to be better judges of offseason market
It’s winter, alright. Spring seems so far away as we hunker down for some cold, snow and ice. What seems even further away was last spring when the Toronto Blue Jays were in a position to negotiate contract extensions for their Dynamic Duo, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. At the time, the talk of contracts overshadowed Spring Training, ending in nothing but a lot of hot air. No deals were struck and we entered the 2016 season trying not to accept that it could be the last for these two in Toronto.
In the case of Jose Bautista, much was made of the type of contract he would sign. He made it very clear that he would not be offering any kind of “hometown discount” to Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays organization. After all, in his eyes, he’d already given 5 years of a hometown discount. He was in a position to demand quite a bit for his next (potentially last) multi-year deal. He’d just come off a post-season where he bat flipped his way into Legend status in Toronto lore. He was riding a high.
For an organization known to not spend top dollar on adding pieces, this kind of approach obviously did not sit right. They certainly were not going to meet his rumored demands of 5yrs/$150M. They chose to ride out his season and see what they could work out in the fall. And, it worked out in their favor. The right fielder played in just 116 games after dealing with turf toe and holding back on his arm due to a shoulder issue. He certainly was not healthy. He ended up putting up un-Bautista like numbers: 22 HR, 69 RBI, .234 avg, 1.4 WAR, while playing questionable defense.
If you’re the Blue Jays and you’re considering bringing him back, you look at this season and stick to your guns in contract talks. In fact, you do exactly what Atkins and co. did – you let the player test the market to see if he can really get the kind of deal he’s after. The result is that Bautista is finding himself having to drop his expectations dramatically. If he really was looking for 5yrs/$150M at age 36, he definitely has changed his mind.
We’d heard that the Red Sox offered him just two years before they moved on to Mitch Moreland. Perhaps holding out for more cost Bautista a job in Boston. Blue Jays fans will certainly be OK with that. But, it does highlight the way things are going for Jose. I mean, the Red Sox moved on to Mitch Moreland. This turn of events has led to the Blue Jays and Bautista’s camp circling back to having dialogue about his return. IF the club is indeed interested in retaining his services (something that is questionable since they would lose the draft pick compensation attached to him should he sign elsewhere – something they very well may covet), it would appear that his expected cost has fallen just enough to fit into what they would feel comfortable paying.
We know that Blue Jays management will not shell out untold riches to land the big fish, but in this case, it would appear that the big fish very well may fall back into their laps. They took a calculated risk back in the spring and it appears to be paying off for them. They very well could get Bautista for something around the Qualifying Offer mark of $17M, which would fit with what they had planned, but certainly be nowhere near what was originally on the table.
This same approach worked out for them when attempting to negotiate with Edwin Encarnacion this spring. In reading between the lines, one got the sense that the club may have put more effort into signing Edwin than Jose. And, it would make sense. The club knows that aging players tend to come with more risk. Edwin is younger. But, nothing could be worked out in the spring. It was rumored that he could accept something in the neighborhood of 3yrs/$60M (with an option). But, things didn’t work out and a deal could not be ironed out. So, both parties entered the 2016 season watching how things would play out.
For his part, Encarnacion went on to have something of a monster season, thus increasing his value. His 42 HR, 127 RBI, 3.9 WAR season put his 2016 value at $30.8M (after putting up a value of $36M the year before). When the season ended, one would have thought the Blue Jays misjudged things and were kicking themselves for not getting something done in the spring so as to avoid the potential mega contract the slugger looked to be in line for.
But, here we are in December and the market for Encarnacion has been unkind to him. He is watching teams fill their 1B and/or DH needs one by one. He’s watching potential suitors drop out of the race. In short, his market is shrinking. While some might feel that his representatives have dropped the ball and done him a disservice, the same can’t be said for the Blue Jays. Again, they’re looking pretty good at this point. They’ve gone out and got themselves their own DH for 3yrs/$33M and a utility player who can play 1B (and OF, Jose) for 2yrs/ $12.5M. The team has filled some of their needs and hasn’t waited around for Edwin to come back to them.
As things stand right now, Edwin would have done well to take their 4yrs/$80M offer at the beginning of the offseason. But, he wasn’t ready to sign yet. And, who can blame him? He is testing the free agent market for the first time and has to leave himself open to as many offers for as much as he can. He’s earned the right. But, the club certainly wasn’t going to get hauled into a bidding war. So, they moved on. Sort of. We keep hearing that there is a non-zero chance he returns, though it would be rather interesting how that would look given the recent additions.
So, here we are. The Toronto Blue Jays took a chance back in the spring. They did not work out deals with their Dynamic Duo, opting to wait until the fall. Ultimately, they let the players test their respective markets. While they did that, they went about building their 2017 squad in their usual manner. With things shaping up the way they have, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion very well may have overplayed their hands and priced themselves back into the wheelhouse of Ross Atkins. While a return for either of these two sluggers remains highly unlikely, their handling of the market makes it more possible than a month ago. In the game of chicken that is contract negotiations, it would appear that the Blue Jays have guessed right.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.