This off-season has been tough for the Blue Jays. They began the winter with no fewer than nine free agents. Chief among them were Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Unlike last season, when the Jays did not make a serious effort to re-sign David Price, the front office actually did pursue Encarnacion. They reportedly offered the slugger a four-year/$80M contract. Over a month later, Encarnacion has signed a $65M deal with Cleveland. Both the Jays and Encarnacion ventured down a messy path to get to this point.
Mutual Interest, Poor Timing
While not all of the details are clear, we do have a general sense of how the negotiations between the Jays and Encarnacion unfolded. The Jays had an exclusive five-day negotiating period to try to hammer out a deal. They made one offer, somewhere in the $63M range. When that was rejected, they came back with an $80M offer over four years. Encarnacion did not immediately accept. The Jays then went out and acquired Kendrys Morales on November 11th. That seemed to close the door on Encarnacion. However, the two sides continued to express a mutual interest. It was not until December 4th that Ken Rosenthal reported that the $80M offer had been revoked. The Jays signed Steve Pearce a day later.
That is the timeline as best as we know it. The Jays offered Encarnacion a deal, he didn’t accept, so they signed Morales. While the offer may have changed over the course of November, nobody reported that it was revoked until December 4th. Then, the Jays moved on to Pearce almost immediately. There was never a report in November that suggested that the $80M offer had been revoked.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories. I think that the Jays legitimately wanted Encarnacion back. If they didn’t, then they wouldn’t have offered him that money. It wouldn’t make sense to risk that sort of investment if you are not actually interested. Based on Rosenthal’s report and the timing of the Pearce deal, it does look like they finally decided to move on at the Winter Meetings.
This all comes down to timing. Paul Kinzer, Encarnacion’s agent, thought that he had a better sense of the market than he actually did. While the Jays gave Encarnacion the best offer this winter, he still thought that he could get more elsewhere. That mistake is on him. For their part, the Jays’ front office was too quick to move to Morales. I’m not convinced that he would have been picked up by any other team within the first two weeks of November. There was time to allow Encarnacion to investigate the market a little more thoroughly. Of course, Kinzer should have already had a better sense of his client’t market. Even so, the Jays were quick to apply pressure via Morales.
The Jays were ready for Encarnacion when Encarnacion wasn’t ready for the Jays. When he turned away, they signed a possible replacement, while also leaving the door open for a return. A month later, with little progress made, the Jays finally moved on. As a result, the Jays have lost out on their top free agent target, and one of the best hitters in franchise history. Meanwhile, Encarnacion has missed out on a guaranteed fourth year and $15M. There were mistakes on both sides, and nobody has come out of this on top.
Life Without Edwin
The Jays’ front office has plenty pressure on them now. The team is thought to have $25M left to spend this off-season. That’s a fair amount of money. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be the right players to spend it on. Brett Cecil, Brad Ziegler, Dexter Fowler, and Encarnacion are all off of the board. That leaves Bautista and… Michael Saunders, Angel Pagan, and Brandon Moss.
Although the Jays have an increased payroll over last year, that does not guarantee that the quality of player will improve. With Encarnacion and Fowler unavailable, they will almost surely decline. The front office is faced with a real challenge now. With Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and the American League’s best rotation still under contract, they have a legitimate shot at contending next year. But the team needs work. Where they will find the pieces necessary to bring them back to the playoffs remains to be seen. If Jays fans were skeptical of the front office before, then the Encarnacion debacle has only increased their scrutiny.