Encarnacion’s agent sets bar
Free-agent first baseman looking for five years, $125M
Let the games begin. When Edwin Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, spoke to TSN’s Rick Westhead and revealed that his client would be looking for a five-year contract worth $125 million in free agency — and that up to 11 teams might be interested — it simply marked the expected launch of yet another free-spending free-agent season in Major League Baseball.
Using media to reveal to the public the hoped-for maximum contract and length of deal, then throwing out the number of teams interested, rather than naming names, is an easy promotional exercise for agents, perfected by Scott Boras.
The Encarnacion reveal, not coincidentally, coincides with the major-league deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to their free agents. The Jays made the required one-year, $17.2-million offer to Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, which was totally expected. Players have a week to accept or reject the offer, but if they reject it, the former team can still negotiate. If Encarnacion or Bautista signs elsewhere, the Jays receive a compensatory draft pick after the first round in June.
There was never any chance the Jays would make a qualifying offer to outfielder Michael Saunders or any of their other free agents. The obvious risk in that decision is that no other team would make any offer close to the qualifying number, so that instead of getting a draft pick, you suddenly end up with your player and paying far too much. Saun- ders, after missing most of 2015, ended up 2016 being platooned and removed for defensive purposes. He needs to re-establish his career in 2017 before anyone will offer a multi-year deal, thus the Jays still have a chance.
There is no doubt, however, that Encarnacion made the best decision in his pro baseball life when, at the winter meetings in Nashville last December, Kinzer notified the Blue Jays that once opening day arrived, don’t even bother talking. It would be all baseball.
Often teams will try to negotiate during the season for a pending free agent and sometimes will arrive at a great contract for the team.
With no contract negotiations during the 2016 season, Encarnacion went ahead and had a career year, hitting .263 with 42 homers, 127 RBIs and an OPS of .886. Now maybe he played differently in a free-agent season, putting up big power numbers to impress suitors. It was his lowest batting average since 2009 and the 138 strikeouts were 36 more than any other season. The bottom line is he played 160 games and is a student of both conditioning and hitting. Good for Encarnacion. He was the anti-Bautista. Cha-ching.
Formerly a designated hitter first and a first baseman second, Encarnacion transformed himself into a viable option at first base this season. His move toward more time in the field was aided by circumstances, like Justin Smoak’s second half slump and the fact that Jose Bautista needed a little DH time due to injuries. But that brings any National League team that had doubts about Encarnacion on board.
The bottom line in terms of freeagent contract numbers is that Encarnacion’s request now seems like a bargain compared to the numbers Bautista reportedly demanded at spring training — five years and $150 million, beginning in 2017. Unless Bautista accepts Monday’s qualifying offer, he will not be a Jay next year.
But what of Encarnacion’s future? He will sign for less than what his agent quoted. That’s just the dream, the max. The Jays could use his returning offence. The Jays could use his continued presence to convince Josh Donaldson to sign a long-term deal before he reaches free agency, after the 2018 season. If the Jays choose not to compete in 2017 by losing Encarnacion, Bautista, Saunders and their other free agents, Donaldson and others will notice.
Jays ownership can afford Encarnacion, but only if they agree to bump team payroll from the current $140 million to about $160 million. And if Encarnacion chooses to go somewhere else, the Jays can’t afford to put the saved money in their pocket.
Manager John Gibbons loved the relentless nature of his lineup in 2016, but and hated the right-handed nature of it. If Bautista and Encarnacion don’t return, the Jays will need to spend that money for two left-handed hitting replacements to keep the Jay train rolling. Possibilities include free agents Kendrys Morales, Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Dexter Fowler. Or how about following up on a trade for first baseman Joey Votto, a deal they pursued two years ago under GM Alex Anthopoulos.
In any case, Encarnacion’s contract demand shows he has risen in status. And the fact that the Jays did not take advantage of their exclusive negotiating window for Encarnacion simply means they did not want to set the bar for Kinzer to show other teams the minimum for striking a new deal.
Edwin Encarnacion could be at the top of the Jays’ shopping list, if they have permission to raise the team’s payroll.