The Blue Jays are about to embark upon an interesting offseason in which three key offensive producers — first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, right fielder Jose Bautista, and left fielder Michael Saunders — will qualify for free agency. Their situations have been the subject of much analysis and debate, but we’ll soon begin to receive some clarity with qualifying offers due to be made (and either accepted or denied) shortly after the end of the World Series.
Here’s the latest on those positions out of Toronto:
- Despite indications that the Jays are still weighing the issuance of a QO to Saunders, a rival executive tells Jon Heyman of Fan Rag that there’s “no chance” that happens. We’ll learn soon enough what direction that situation is headed in, but Saunders’s marginal second half makes the one-year, $17.2MM offer seem like a rather lofty outlay.
- Toronto may now be more inclined to push to retain Encarnacion than Bautista, Heyman adds, noting that the preference for the younger slugger perhaps represents a change of position from the organization. Encarnacion certainly outproduced Bautista in 2016, though that also figures to elevate his market standing. Regardless, odds are that the Blue Jays will need to compete with the rest of the league to land either player, as both are expected to decline the QO.
- Ultimately, the Jays have several bat-first roster spots in flux — both corner outfield positions, first base, and the DH slot. The overriding mandate, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca writes, is “to get more athletic, flexible and balanced in the batting order.” There are certainly some pieces on hand to assist in that regard, including the left-handed-hitting Ezequiel Carrera and righty swingers Melvin Upton Jr. and Chris Colabello. Young switch-hitter Dalton Pompey could also factor in, though he has yet to put it all together in the upper minors. Clearly, though, there’s room for additions (or, perhaps, re-acquisitions).
- Toronto will be able to look to a reasonably robust market in filling these voids. According to Davidi, the club has interest in the switch-hitting Dexter Fowler, who could add a significant on-base threat to the top of the order while playing left field (and, perhaps, also stepping in from time to time for light-hitting center fielder Kevin Pillar). There’s certainly reason to believe the Jays would be well-served to add an everyday player to their lineup given the number of areas that will need to be addressed. Ian Desmond is another, quite different player who the team is expected to contact, per Davidi. Though he’s a greater home run threat than is Fowler, he’s also inconsistent in the on-base department. As Davidi notes, though, the converted shortstop could also provide some insurance against an injury to infielder Troy Tulowitzki.
- Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, the Jays could look at some players who are somewhat more limited and may require platoon partners. The club is said to have some interest in Josh Reddick, who hits from the left side and could be paired with Upton — though he figures to be fairly expensive for a player who ought to be limited mostly to facing right-handed pitching. Brandon Moss and even former Blue Jay Colby Rasmus could represent more budget-friendly, southpaw-swinging options, Davidi suggests. And there are a variety of other, presumably reasonably-priced players with solid offensive chops (but also plenty of limitations) who’ll be available.
- That’s all before getting to the trade market, of course, which could offer some interesting possibilities. Davidi indicates that the Jays are likely to “work on parallel fronts” to open possibilities with a variety of combinations of players. GM Ross Atkins recently suggested that the club will remain flexible as the offseason progresses. “I think it’s a matter of being transparent as you are considering your alternatives,” he said. “So it would be something as simple as letting others know that you’re weighing alternatives as you make these certain offers.”
- It’s worth bearing in mind the role that financial considerations will play in dictating the course for the Jays. The team has never reached the $140MM line in Opening Day salary, and is already approaching $120MM in 2017 commitments after accounting for a few arbitration cases and the option over reliever Jason Grilli. Those obligations fall off quite a bit in the years that follow, so backloading salary could be a possibility, but one truly significant expenditure (say, Encarnacion) or a few quality veteran additions would leave Toronto without much wiggle room to address other needs — barring, perhaps, a payroll increase.