Early-career extensions are always fun, but tend not to come with the same drama of talks with pending free agents. Sometimes deals get done late in camp, locking in an important player for years to come and keeping them from the open market; last season, for instance, the Red Sox locked in righty Rick Porcello just after the season began. Of course, Porcello himself was acquired in part because the team did not retain Jon Lester after failing to agree upon an extension despite extensive negotiations in the prior offseason.
As the Lester situation shows, the stakes are often ratcheted up in cases of players with a close identity to their clubs. That’s probably all the more true when (again, as in the case of Boston and its lost lefty) there’s widespread public acknowledgement of mutual interest and close attention from fans.
The Blue Jays face a particularly interesting set of extension questions as camp nears. One of those has already been answered, as the club reached a two-year arrangement with star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who will still have one year of arbitration remaining at the end of that contract.
Much more interesting, time-sensitive, and PR-fraught talks still remain to be had, however, with a pair of star sluggers who are key faces in the organization. Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion bloomed late in their careers, upon coming to Toronto. In each case, the team (under then-GM Alex Anthopoulos) bet on the players with extensions that turned into bargains for the organization. With those contracts set to expire after this season, they’re on the clock.
The case for a pair of big new extensions is pretty simple. There’s no question that both players are still producing at a high level at the plate, as they each landed in the top ten in the game by measure of wRC+, and they’ve each expressed interest in contract talks. Many fans are hopeful of pacts, with emotions running after a great run in 2015 was followed by a bad breakup with Anthopoulos. And the Blue Jays’ new front office tandem of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins has publicly suggested that there will be an attempt at reaching new deals with the pair.
But that’s not all Shapiro and Atkins are considering here, of course. Bautista (35) and Encarnacion (33) are getting on in years. While the former is still capable of manning right field, it isn’t hard to imagine a time in the not-so-distant future where both players are limited to first base and/or DH roles.
Ultimately, as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently wrote in discussing Bautista as an extension candidate, it’s an open question whether it makes sense for the organization to try to lock up both players. And it isn’t entirely clear whether the front office will be willing to enter anything approaching market-rate deals with the pair.
That will all begin to be resolved as contract talks begin in earnest. For now, though, it’s a good time for a poll: do you think that the Jays will get deals done with either or both?