The Toronto Blue Jays are facing one of the more interesting winters of any team in baseball, as two faces of their franchise for the past decade, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, are set to test free agency. They also happen to be the two best offensive players on the market, except for maybe Yoenis Cespedes. This leaves the Blue Jays with some tough decisions to make, since both players are going to command large annual salaries and the team should face plenty of competition for their services.
The Blue Jays need do everything they can to extend both Bautista and Encarnacion, which is easier said than done. The likelihood is that they will be forced to choose one or the other, with many of the opinion that both will leave Toronto. General Manager Ross Atkins and President of Baseball Operations Mark Shapiro cannot let that happen.
As good as the Blue Jays’ lineup is, losing two guys who have been right in the heart of the lineup for the better part of the past decade would be tough to overcome, not to mention the possibility of losing Michael Saunders as well, who is also a free agent. There aren’t any other free agents for Toronto to realistically go after that would be able to replace that production. Their window to win is right now, and letting both sluggers walk would create a gaping hole in the lineup.
Handing big contracts out to Encarnacion and Bautista is not without risk. Both players will be in their mid-thirties at the start of next season (Bautista will be 36 and Encarnacion, 34), and the Jays will need to pay other key players on their roster in the coming seasons. Josh Donaldson is set to hit free agency after the 2018 season, and Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are the team’s only two starting pitchers who will still be under team control by that time. That could create a necessity to spend more on starting pitching, either by resigning some of their current starters whose contracts are set to expire or acquiring other arms on the open market. Additionally, both Bautista or Encarnacion would likely require some time at DH given their respective ages. Despite the risks, Toronto still needs to take a chance on one of their franchise icons. The question then becomes, which would be better to sign?
It’s safe to say Jose Bautista is and has been the face of the Blue Jays. He is their most outspoken player and the leader of the team. Bautista has probably been a slightly better hitter than Edwin Encarnacion over his tenure in Toronto. However, he had a down year last season and was hampered by injuries. Encarnacion, in addition to being two years younger, has been able to stay on the field more and produce more consistently over the last five years.
For these reasons, it is likely that teams will be willing to give Encarnacion more years and maybe a higher annual salary. That makes it harder for Toronto to match other teams’ offers. By signing Bautista instead, they probably wouldn’t have to commit to as much money down the road.
Ideally, the Blue Jays and their fans would love to have both players back. That could be unrealistic, but since were given a qualifying offer yesterday, Toronto will net a draft pick in case either leaves. The team has a very difficult choice to make, but it’s imperative that they don’t let both of these players leave.
Whatever happens, it could be the end of an era in Toronto. Bautista and Encarnacion are second and third on the Blue Jays’ all-time home run list, respectively, and are both among the greatest players ever to wear a Blue Jays uniform. No matter what, both players will always be remembered fondly by fans as part of the core that brought Toronto back to relevance and ending a 22-year playoff drought.