With the 2015 off season starting to settle down and most big free agents have signed their deals it got me thinking about next off season for the Jays when they will be faced with the difficulty of trying to decide what to do with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Both will be free agents next off season and be looking for a big pay day.
In an ideal world the Jays could resign both. But, with Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson it's hard to see a scenario where that's possible. Bautista is set to make $14 million in 2016 while Edwin is due $10 million. Both guys are making far below market value because of Anthopolous' ability to sign both to deals before they truly broke out. The Jays payroll is already considered to be pretty tight so the odds of the Jays resigning both seems pretty slim at best. So the question becomes, "if the Jays can only resign one, who do they choose?"
The starting point when trying to decide who to resign begins with what kind of contract they will be commanding. Gregor Chisholm did a pretty good job at finding comparison's for the two. Bautista could probably look towards the deal Victor Martinez signed last offseason. Martinez got a 4 year, $68 million contract at the age of 36. Bautista will turn 36 next October so the age matches pretty well. Bautista has the benefit of being able to play the field still. But, his days as a strong defensive player are gone and a move to 1B or DH probably isn't too far away.
Encarnacion could look to Nelson Cruz who signed a 4-year deal for $57 million last offseason at the age of 34. Encarnacion just turned 33, so he'll be about the same age next off season when he looks for his deal. Encarnacion has never been linked to PED's like Cruz was but Encarnacion also doesn't have the ability to effectively play the field anymore so it even's out.
Both have the ability to surpass these numbers as both are probably in slightly better positions than those guys where but these are good starting points when you talk about what kind of contracts these guys could be looking at.
As mentioned above both guys enter free agency at a less than ideal time. Bautista will be 36 and Encarnacion will be 34. Neither is a very encouraging number when you talk about signing a guy to a 4 year deal or longer. The ages become even more concerning when you consider their past histories with injuries.
Bautista has averaged 129.5 games played over the last 4 years. He has played in 150+ games each of the last two seasons but even last year he played a portion of the season with a shoulder bothering him which limited his ability to utilize his strong arm in the outfield. Bautista has been known to accumulate nagging injuries such as his wrist in 2012, a hip issue in 2013, and has had various minor injuries over the last two seasons. While he's been able to play through these over the last two seasons it's hard to believe that Bautista won't need to accept a move to 1B or DH to limit him as he approaches 40.
Encarnacion will be 34 heading into the 2017 season. Encarnacion moved to 1B/ DH in 2011 to limit his flaws defensively. Since then he has played roughly 368 games in the field, 252 being at first base. Encarnacion has averaged 141.75 games played per season over the last four years with most of that time being spent at DH. Encarnacion has played in less games than Bautista in each of the last two years and has dealt with his share of injuries. He missed a large portion of 2014 and hasn't played in more than 150 games since 2012. The concern with Edwin is that he seems to be dealing with more and more injuries every year while seeing most of his time at DH.
This is obviously where these two provide all of their value. Bautista and Encarnacion have been two of the most feared hitters in recent memory. In fact, over the 5 seasons they rank number 1 and 2 in home runs over that time period. They are actually fairly comparable hitters. Over the last 5 seasons Bautista boasts a .270/.393/.540 slash line while Encarnacion is an equally impressive .274/.364/.531. The OBP is the big difference between the two as Bautista is one of the best in the game at drawing walks. But, given Encarnacion's lower K/9 rate they seem to be pretty comparable. It's hard to really make a strong case for one or the other as both provide prolific power with an average AVG. Neither is known for their speed as they've combined for just 68 stolen bases over the last five years. Although, Bautista is generally considered a good base runner. Something which no one has ever accused Encarnacion of.
Once again these guys are pretty similar but, this time it's for all the wrong reasons. Encarnacion started his career at 3B. After being traded to the Blue Jays Encarnacion played third for most of 2010 with less than stellar results. Eventually they tried him at first base and by 2012 Edwin had pretty much given up on third base. As a 1B Encarnacion has been relatively average. The knock on Edwin at this stage is the fact that he rarely plays the field. The Jays have decided that this defense was too much of a liability and Edwin has been mostly a DH for the last few seasons.
Bautista would seem to have a small leg up due to the fact that he still plays in the field. But, anyone who has watched the Jays will tell you that he's never been a great right fielder and his instincts are poor. He's been known to take bad routes to balls and has been in the decline for the last few years. Bautista has a strong arm which has been able to cover up some mistakes but a sore shoulder limited him last year and at age 35 it's hard to imagine that we don't see regression in the arm strength. Ultimately, Bautista will probably need to move to 1B or DH, especially if he's given a contract more than 2 years. The Jays have a wealth of outfield talent making their rise through the minors so Bautista's move out of right is the most logical move.
Both guys should be looked at as 1B/DH candidates (even if Bautista won't admit it). It's a situation that will work well as the Jays have plenty of outfielder. With both Smoak and Collabello in town for the next few years there would appear to only be one opening for an aging slugger looking to fit the DH role.
This is the hardest category to look at because by definition there's not much in the way of numbers or figures. But, nevertheless, I still feel it's an important category. Professional sports have a reputation of being cold and non-loyal but I believe that there is something to be said about "franchise" players. Derek Jeter is a perfect example of someone who made it by the last few years on team loyalty and being a fan favorite.
Bautista was a write off for most teams and was a part of 5 different organizations before he got to Toronto in 2008. The Jays had been missing a franchise player with the recent departure of Roy Halladay and hadn't had a true slugger since Carlos Delgado. 2008 and 2009 were rather uneventful seasons for Bautista. But, in 2010 Bautista broke out to set a franchise record with 54 homeruns, and make his first all star game. Even though the Jays didn't factor into the playoff hunt that season it gave Jays fans something to cheer for and made baseball relevant again to us. He led the league in homeruns the following season as well by hitting 43. Bautista has made 6 straight all star games and has become a fan favorite. Even though Donaldson won MVP many would still consider this Bautista's team. This was personified by the famous bat flip which might be the second greatest postseason moment in Jays' history. Bautista has been outspoken through the years but has nonetheless been a team leader for the Jays. For many of us, the idea of Joey Bats not in a Toronto uniform is a little heartbreaking.
Encarnacion has a similar story as he was once a top prospect in the Reds organization. Encarnacion showed some pop but never really developed into the star the Reds thought he would be. He was traded to the Jays for Scott Rolen in 2009. 2010 and 2011 would provide more of the same for Edwin. He experienced his awakening in 2012 by hitting 42 homeruns and driving in 110 RBIs. Since that time he has quietly been one of the best DHs in baseball. He's made two all star games, finished top 15 in MVP voting 3 out of the last 4 years, and has been fine being a team player and letting other guys like Bautista and Donaldson get the spotlight. Edwin is generally well liked and would fit into any team culture well. While the franchise might be looking to Donaldson and Tulowitzki to be the new faces of the franchise Edwin seems fine letting that happen and playing his part.
Who to choose:
I've gone back and forth on this so many times that I can't count. On one hand you have Edwin who is two years younger. He's been more consistent over the last few years. He's never drawn unneeded attention to himself and would seem to be a great player to have as Donaldson and Tulowitzki take over the team.
On the other hand you have Joey Bats who has meant so much to the franchise and has been the team's leader for the last 5+ years. He's been our fan favorite as we've broken All Star game voting records for him in 2012, we have marveled at the moon shots he's hit and provided us with one of the best sports moments in recent memory.
In the end I fall slightly towards Joey Bats. Obviously, this is not a clear cut call and can be debated for hours. 2015 will play a large role in how the Jays negotiate with these two moving forward as the team will be very vigilant for any signs of regression from either. But either way the Jays will most likely be able to see one of the franchise greats finish out his days in Toronto while we have to wave goodbye to the other.
UPDATED: January, 21
Due to requests in comment section a third option has been added to resign neither (trade or let walk).