Dissecting the Bautista and Encarnacion Dilemma
By signing Kendrys Morales, the Toronto Blue Jays made an unofficial declaration. Adding Morales meant that Toronto was prepared to move on from slugger Edwin Encarnacion, a key reason for the Jays’ success in the recent years. Though the Blue Jays were never expected to bring back Encarnacion, signing Morales did bring about some disappointment for those who follow the franchise- and for good reason.
Encarnacion, 33 years old, is still a hot commodity. The first baseman/designated hitter has been one of the five best hitters in the American League over the last five seasons. Encarnacion is a former Cincinnati Red who turned the corner in Toronto. In 2012, Encarnacion’s breakout season, the slugger batted .280/.384/.557 with 42 home runs and 110 RBI’s. All of these marks were career highs. Prior to 2012, Encarnacion had not hit more than 26 home runs in a season.
Encarnacion continued to flourish in Toronto, smacking 36 home runs in 2013, 34 in 2014, 39 in 2015, and 42 in 2016. Encarnacion has proven himself as a bona fide star who is capable of being the star player on a World Series caliber team. In short, Encarnacion in a superstar. But the Blue Jays are incapable (or unwilling) to meet his payment demands, hence the signing of Morales.
For what it’s worth, Morales is a fine player. He has performed admirably for the Kansas City Royals in the last two years, hitting 52 home runs and batting .277. He is a great choice for Toronto to fill the void of Encarnacion, but make no mistake, he is not on the same level of Encarnacion.
The concern for Encarnacion himself comes from the fact that he is still on the market. He is clearly a proven veteran worthy of big time dollars, but something is prohibiting teams from making an offer Encarnacion’s camp deems worthy. Still, there is a sense around the league that Encarnacion will be alright. Encarnacion is still reportedly fielding offers from teams worth about 3-4 years, and should be able to land with a club like the Cleveland Indians or Oakland Athletics.
There is more reason to worry about Jose Bautista, another important piece in Toronto’s back to back ALCS appearances. Bautista infamously declined the Blue Jays’ 1 year, $17.2 million qualifying offer, hoping to land a longer and more lucrative deal elsewhere. Bautista’s free agency stock has floundered.
Bautista’s career arc is similar to Encarnacion’s, a mid-level guy who found success once he landed in Toronto. Bautista took off in 2010 when he blasted 54 home runs and 124 RBI’s. These numbers, along with his 100 walks and .260 batting average, were all career highs. Bautista went on to hit 43 home runs in 2011, 27 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 27 in 2014, 29 in 2015, and 24 in 2016. Bautista’s 232 home runs in the last seven seasons are the most in Major League Baseball.
But 2017 will be Bautista’s age 36 season, and teams seem reluctant to give a massive contract to an aging slugger who is clearly on the decline. Additionally, Bautista’s shaky defense essentially eliminates him from playing for a National League team. Bautista is best suited to play a limited designated hitter role moving forward.
Perhaps Bautista would be wise to attempt a return to Toronto. After all, Baltimore Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette recently stated that he could not sign Bautista to his club because the brash outfielder is hated by the Baltimore fan base.
Recent reports have been unclear about whether or not the Blue Jays are even willing to bring Bautista back. Some reports have claimed that the Jays are negotiating with Bautista around the 1 year, $17.2 qualifying offer. Others close to the situation have stated that the Blue Jays do not want to re-sign Bautista and would prefer the first round draft pick they would receive if he signed elsewhere.
For Bautista, this offseason has been humiliating. He boldly declared in the beginning of the 2016 season that he would not give Toronto a hometown discount and that he was seeking a multi-year deal that would make him one of the highest paid players in baseball. That clearly has not happened.
For Toronto, the identity of this offseason is still to be determined. Signing Morales comes close to compensating for the loss of Encarnacion, and their strong stance with Bautista has given them leverage. Yet it’s unclear whether or not this team will be prepared to compete on the same level as the last two seasons.
Behind Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays possess one of the most talented rotations in the American League. But the Blue Jays must address the Bautista situation and determine if he gives them the best chance to take advantage of their winning window. Like Bautista himself, their reputation is on the line.