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How much should the Blue Jays be willing to pay Edwin Encarnacion?

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Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we looked at what a fair value contract extension for Jose Bautista from the Blue Jays' perspective would look like in light of the news he made and the terms he allegedly wanted. Edwin Encarnacion is in the similar position as Bautista, under contract for 2016 and a free agent after the year, but 2016 represents just his age-33 season. Encarnacion has indicated a willingness to discuss an extension (with talks apparently ongoing), but wants it done before the season begins. So let's do the same for Encarnacion.

One difference in this exercise is that whereas Bautista's terms were reasonably well known, we don't really have a good idea with Encarnacion, beyond that he'd like to be a Blue Jay for life. Obviously, more years are better, but there's a tradeoff in terms of annual salary as well. So for Encarnacion, we'll look at two possible extensions, for three (ages 34 to 36) and five years (through age 38) beyond 2016.

At the outset, we can perform the same exercise that Dave Cameron performed with Bautista to come up with a quick estimate. Steamer projects Encarnacion for 2.6 WAR in 2016, and ZiPS 3.1 WAR (almost identical rate of offensive production). Splitting the difference, and using the same aging expectation, we get the following: 2.8 WAR (2016), 2.4 (2017), 1.8 (2018), 1.4 (2019), 0.8 (2020), 0.1 (2021). For the three year beyond 2016, Encarnacion would be expected to produce 5.5 WAR, and 6.2 WAR over five year. Applying a rough average of $9-million per WAR would would work out to a 3-year deal at $50-million, or a 5-year deal at $60-million. Intuitively, this feels light for an elite hitter on the FA market, and that's before any discount to reflect locking in the money now.

Over the last four years (age 29 to 32) following his mid-2011 breakout, Encarnacion has been the 7th best hitter in baseball, posting a 149 wRC+ with 151 home runs in 2,431 plate appearances. That 149 wRC+ is actually slight ahead of Bautista (146) over that timeframe and perhaps even more remarkable is the consistency, with each season between 146 and 151 wRC+. Going back a fifth year to his breakout year brings his wRC+ down to 143, but his second half 2011 wRC+ of 141 is much in line with the last four years, so it doesn't really make sense to include that.

Therefore, the screen for comparable players to Encarnacion is based on players with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances in their age 29 to 32 seasons, with a wRC+ within 15 points of Encarnacion on either side. There's 67 such players post-WWII, and for obvious reasons there's a lot of overlaps between the Encarnacion and Bautista comp sets.

As with Bautista's comp set, I removed a handful of players who were already clearly in decline by the end of their age 32 season. Further, because Encarnacion has already been made into a full 1B/DH, and his body limits him to the far end of the defensive spectrum going forward, I also removed about a dozen infielders and premium defensive outfielders (eg, Jim Edmonds). That left a group of 50 comparable players. As before, summary data is below in a table, and all the players are listed at the bottom:

Age 29 to 32 seasons Age 33 season Age 34 to 36 seasons Age 34 to 38 seasons
Player PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Encarnacion 2,431 151 149 16.3
Average 2,428 114 147 19.2 571 24 136 3.6 1,420 54 125 6.8 1,889 71 121 8.4
25th percentile 2,252 90 139 16.8 530 16 126 2.5 1,170 27 108 2.3 1,202 38 107 2.3
Median (50th) 2,493 109 146 18.9 617 25 139 3.9 1,598 51 125 6.5 2,079 60 123 6.4
75th percentile 2,619 134 156 20.6 669 29 150 4.9 1,772 81 140 10.0 2,522 108 132 13.0

Once again, on average the group is a very good comparison for Encarnacion, with almost identical playing time and very similar offensive production. They didn't have as much power, but had a little more overall value, which would mostly be defensive differences.

What's most notable is their age 33 seasons. On average, they were worth 3.6 WAR, which is well above Encarnacion's Steamer and ZiPS projection, and the median is a little higher. In terms of wRC+, the projections are bang on the group average wRC+ (136), with only slightly less playing time. So those WAR projections look light, if we substituted a 3.6 WAR for 2016 into the above model, we'd get 7.8 WAR on a three-year extension ($70-million) or 10.5 WAR on a five year extension ($95-million).

But looking at the three and five year group averages, that's too optimistic. The similar player group only averaged 6.8 WAR and a 125 wRC+  over the next three years, with a similar median. The five-year WAR average is 8.4 WAR, so 1.6 WAR higher, but the important note here is that the median is roughly the same as three years, so it's driven by a few players aging really well. These numbers would work out to a three year extension of $60-million, or five years around $75-million, though again before a potential discount for reducing risk.

It appears that the similar players to Encarnacion age really poorly in terms of WAR. However, their offensive production and playing time hold up reasonably well, so it may be about losing defensive value, and Encarnacion has already bottomed out there, with -65 "defensive" runs by FanGraphs over the past four years. The group of 50 averaged only -31, as it included a number of players who, despite limited positional value, were good defenders and not your prototypical slugger (for example, John Olerud and Keith Hernandez). So to see if there's a significant difference in aging, I divided the group of 50 into the best 25 defenders (average -11 runs) and worst 25 defenders (average -40 runs), the latter more representative of Encarnacion.

25 best defenders:

Age 29 to 32 seasons Age 33 season Age 34 to 36 seasons Age 34 to 38 seasons
Player PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Average 2,427 108 147 20.8 548 23 136 3.7 1,421 53 124 7.7 1,914 70 119 9.4
25th percentile 2,241 87 139 18.7 493 14 127 2.8 1,326 26 108 3.2 1,326 39 106 3.1
Median (50th) 2,414 107 145 19.7 608 22 135 3.9 1,604 52 125 8.9 2,056 71 123 9.4
75th percentile 2,624 122 153 21.9 668 29 146 4.9 1,746 80 139 10.1 2,559 105 129 13.4

25 worst defenders:

Age 29 to 32 seasons Age 33 season Age 34 to 36 seasons Age 34 to 38 seasons
Player PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Average 2,430 119 148 17.5 595 25 135 3.4 1,419 55 125 5.9 1,863 73 123 7.3
25th percentile 2,327 96 142 14.8 594 17 123 2.4 1,165 30 109 2.2 1,185 38 109 2.2
Median (50th) 2,524 122 147 18.2 618 25 139 3.3 1,594 49 124 5.7 2,101 57 123 6.1
75th percentile 2,615 141 156 19.4 677 28 150 4.8 1,781 81 140 9.7 2,475 108 134 11.5

Unsurprisingly, the better defenders had better WAR totals than the poorer defenders, but also less power. So the latter group is definitely better for Encarnacion, though the overall offensive production is almost identical. And the same is true for their age 33 seasons, though the poorer defenders actually averaged 50 more PA, perhaps they were mostly first basemen and designated hitter, which helps in avoiding injuries.

The most interesting takeaway to me is that while the poorer defenders had poorer WAR totals as they aged, their playing time was roughly the same as was their offensive production. They did not age worse, as is conventionally thought of hulking sluggers. Since Encarnacion's defensive value has already bottomed out (no aging), this is a major positive. Notice that the average WAR for the poor defenders is pretty close to the simple projection from the beginning.

So what's fair for an extension? It seems like 6 WAR over 2017-19 is a reasonable expectation, which would work out to about $54-million ($18 million per year). That feels light in terms of what power is valued at on the market, but it also doesn't reflect any discount. If Encarnacion were willing to settle for a shorter extension, this is probably about right.

If he wants more years, the issue is that there's not much expected production at age 37-38 to pay him for. The average of 7.3 WAR works out to about $65-million, which is just $13-million per year and might not be enough to get a deal done.

There might be a way to bridge the gap. After age 36, the majority of similar players were basically done, with a minority who remained quite productive. The solution could be a shorter extension at higher salary, with vesting options--something like a $16-million annual salary, three years guaranteed with two options that vest at 500 PA or a buyout of $5-million for each. Encarnacion would be guaranteed $58-million (16 x 3 + 5 x 2), up to $80-million if he ages well, and it should mean he's a Blue Jay for the rest of his productive career. From the Toronto's point of view, the guarantee is backweighted to give more flexibility the next couple years.

Appendix: 50 similar hitters, 1946-2010

25 best defenders

Age 29 to 32 seasons Age 33 season Age 34 to 36 seasons Age 34 to 38 seasons
Player PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Keith Hernandez 2,624 50 139 21.9 676 18 123 3.6 773 16 98 1.3 773 16 98 1.3
Carl Yastrzemski 2,559 107 139 20.8 652 19 139 5.4 1,903 50 125 9.9 3,157 95 124 17.3
John Olerud 2,750 76 137 22.1 668 22 144 4.5 1,326 26 105 3.2 1,326 26 105 3.2
George Brett 2,241 89 147 21.0 529 16 134 3.8 1,717 58 133 10.1 2,896 82 129 14.6
Rod Carew 2,649 42 153 26.4 493 3 127 2.2 1,645 8 125 10.0 2,559 13 123 13.2
Tony Oliva 2,412 87 140 18.5 30 0 117 -0.1 1,633 42 102 1.7 1,761 43 98 0.8
Al Kaline 2,204 89 153 20.7 389 10 146 3.2 1,574 52 130 8.9 2,235 72 127 12.0
Minnie Minoso 2,596 67 139 20.4 650 21 135 5.3 1,413 35 118 4.0 1,814 40 110 3.1
Hank Aaron 2,675 144 159 29.7 669 39 163 7.3 1,913 111 156 19.9 3,030 192 161 31.3
Reggie Smith 2,181 92 147 18.7 531 29 161 4.6 676 26 139 6.5 1,074 44 137 9.4
Sid Gordon 2,245 96 139 17.0 641 29 140 4.9 1,594 56 130 9.8 1,818 63 124 10.4
Alex Rodriguez 2,691 172 160 28.3 535 30 141 4.0 1,552 64 121 10.0 1,733 71 120 10.5
Bobby Bonds 2,389 110 135 16.6 631 25 125 3.4 460 11 82 0.0 460 11 82 0.0
George Foster 2,272 117 146 18.7 608 13 88 -0.3 1,746 73 108 5.0 2,056 87 106 5.1
Bob Allison 1,892 87 139 13.8 526 22 133 2.8 307 9 101 0.5 307 9 101 0.5
Sammy Sosa 2,850 243 160 28.1 666 49 157 5.1 1,552 89 110 3.7 2,006 110 107 4.0
Larry Walker 2,005 127 160 20.1 372 9 110 1.9 1,718 80 145 16.2 2,401 112 145 21.2
Jeff Bagwell 2,826 166 161 28.5 717 39 143 5.2 2,072 97 129 12.1 2,195 100 127 12.1
Cecil Cooper 2,487 93 143 19.4 710 30 133 3.5 1,898 39 96 2.1 2,168 45 93 1.3
Dwight Evans 2,513 108 145 19.7 744 29 128 4.0 1,942 81 141 12.9 3,094 114 135 16.7
Harmon Killebrew 2,216 125 157 19.5 709 49 173 7.1 1,821 95 144 12.8 2,493 113 130 13.4
John Kruk 2,388 52 139 16.9 301 5 118 1.5 188 2 116 0.4 188 2 116 0.4
Duke Snider 2,044 121 144 15.3 285 14 131 1.4 877 35 127 4.1 1,066 39 118 3.5
Reggie Jackson 2,414 122 146 19.1 537 29 150 3.9 1,604 95 149 9.2 2,646 134 124 7.7
Chipper Jones 2,562 121 143 19.2 432 21 153 4.9 1,611 77 164 17.9 2,588 105 146 22.8

25 worst defenders

Age 29 to 32 seasons Age 33 season Age 34 to 36 seasons Age 34 to 38 seasons
Player PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR PA HR wRC+ WAR
Joe Torre 2,620 69 138 18.9 611 11 118 3.2 794 12 101 2.0 794 12 101 2.0
Pedro Guerrero 1,697 75 156 14.8 665 17 147 3.1 1,185 22 93 0.3 1,185 22 93 0.3
Ted Kluszewski 2,052 137 143 14.8 331 4 98 0.3 735 24 97 1.4 735 24 97 1.4
Bernie Williams 2,524 107 146 19.5 699 19 146 4.9 1,718 49 101 -2.5 2,180 61 100 -3.7
Edgar Martinez 1,783 64 157 16.3 634 26 163 5.9 1,962 81 160 16.9 3,208 141 158 26.9
Lance Berkman 2,544 132 147 19.4 563 25 138 2.7 1,165 47 140 6.7 1,459 53 130 6.4
Derrek Lee 2,243 96 136 13.4 615 35 150 5.2 1,103 38 109 2.2 1,103 38 109 2.2
Billy Williams 2,833 121 135 18.8 677 28 139 4.4 1,783 73 138 10.1 2,798 107 128 11.5
Brian Giles 2,615 130 156 23.3 711 23 127 5.0 1,943 42 124 9.9 2,850 56 120 12.2
Willie Stargell 2,298 141 157 20.9 609 44 181 7.7 1,618 67 146 11.3 2,290 108 148 16.0
Vladimir Guerrero 2,599 131 145 17.9 600 27 129 1.9 1,640 57 108 0.9 1,640 57 108 0.9
Bob Watson 2,345 70 137 14.4 529 16 123 2.4 855 24 119 3.2 1,119 32 116 3.4
Todd Helton 2,661 100 148 19.6 682 17 133 4.2 1,479 30 110 2.8 2,253 51 109 5.1
Carlos Delgado 2,588 146 144 16.0 616 33 152 3.3 1,911 100 118 5.7 2,023 104 119 6.1
Ryan Klesko 2,327 106 136 13.2 480 9 130 1.7 937 24 107 2.5 937 24 107 2.5
Jim Thome 2,639 185 157 21.4 618 42 140 4.1 1,388 84 141 8.1 2,424 141 132 10.5
Ken Singleton 2,577 92 152 18.9 680 24 148 4.2 1,697 45 123 5.2 2,101 51 111 3.4
David Ortiz 2,557 159 155 18.6 627 28 100 0.3 1,594 84 150 9.2 2,796 149 147 14.8
Jack Clark 1,987 93 147 13.0 594 26 151 4.2 1,349 58 132 6.4 1,349 58 132 6.4
Dave Winfield 2,327 101 142 14.1 689 26 117 3.0 1,938 76 131 9.7 2,475 97 129 9.9
Frank Thomas 2,658 122 148 18.2 79 4 90 -0.1 1,601 88 138 8.1 2,284 139 138 10.9
Albert Belle 2,844 164 142 17.9 622 23 104 0.9 0 0 0.0 0 0 0.0
Manny Ramirez 2,480 154 162 19.6 650 45 152 2.9 1,781 92 152 10.0 2,532 120 150 13.6
Gary Sheffield 2,442 135 157 18.5 579 25 144 4.8 2,037 109 147 13.5 2,796 140 140 16.8
Frank Howard 2,499 146 156 16.8 706 44 160 5.0 1,252 48 125 3.9 1,252 48 125 3.9