The Blue Jays and first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion met today to begin the process of exploring an extension, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. The Rep 1 Baseball client has gone on record recently to express his desire to remain with Toronto. The 33-year-old told the Toronto media last week that ideally, he would finish his career with the Blue Jays, as Davidi notes within his column.
Encarnacion is wrapping up a contract extension that guaranteed him $27MM from the 2013-15 seasons and included a $10MM club option for the upcoming 2016 campaign. That option “decision” was a no-brainer for the Blue Jays after Encarnacion batted .277/.372/.557 with 39 home runs in 146 games. That type of elite production has become par for the course for Encarnacion, who, like teammate Jose Bautista, experienced a late breakout in Toronto and has now blossomed into one of baseball’s premier power hitters. Dating back to the 2012 season, Encarnacion has batted .274/.371/.549, averaging 38 home runs and 28 doubles per season. And, unlike many prolific home run hitters, Encarnacion boasts one of the lowest strikeout rates in the league; across that four-year span, he’s punched out at just a 13.8 percent rate while walking in 12.5 percent of his plate appearances.
As such, despite his advanced age and limited defensive value, Encarnacion would be among the most in-demand free agents on next year’s open market were he to reach free agency. Defensively limited sluggers like Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez have secured significant four-year extensions beginning with their age-34 and age-36 seasons, respectively, and Encarnacion’s camp would have an easy case to surpass those $57MM (Cruz) and $68MM (Martinez) contracts with ease. He’ll be two years younger than was Martinez at the time of his signing (without a recent knee surgery under his belt), and he has a considerably more consistent track record than Cruz did upon entering the open market (without a recent PED suspension on his record).
Encarnacion would be a lock to receive and reject a qualifying offer in the event that an extension cannot be brokered, and if the Jays endure an unexpected collapse and find themselves well out of the race come late July, Encarnacion could fetch a considerable haul on the summer trade market. All of that is to say that Toronto isn’t in danger of losing Encarnacion for nothing, but with him and Bautista both eligible for free agency following the season, there’s likely a sense of urgency to get something completed. Recent extension talks with Bautista may have increased the Jays’ motivation to work something out with Encarnacion, as Bautista reportedly sought a deal spanning more than five years and exceeding $150MM in total value (though his reported target in terms of annual value was under $30MM per year). Bautista plainly stated that he wasn’t interested in negotiating beyond the point of naming his asking price, making a long-term deal between the two sides seem unlikely.
Knowing that one of the cornerstones of their offense could very well be embarking on his final season with the team, the Blue Jays could feel some pressure to lock in a new deal with their other franchise slugger. Any talks between the two sides will need to be wrapped up before the conclusion of Spring Training, as Encarnacion has said that he doesn’t want talks to linger into the regular season.