Like the other seven major league teams currently in the postseason, the Blue Jays are trying to fight their way to a World Series title. But regardless of whether Toronto’s season ends with a championship, the club will have decisions to make on two franchise icons in the coming weeks. As soon-to-be free agents, designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and right fielder/DH Jose Bautista could depart Canada after the season. If the Blue Jays aren’t able to strike new deals with either, the team could receive a first-round pick as compensation for each if it tenders them one-year, $16.7MM qualifying offers (assuming the QO system remains in place).
Encarnacion is a shoo-in to land an offer, but Bautista’s case looks somewhat less certain than it did coming into the season. At that point, Bautista was fresh off six straight excellent campaigns dating back to his stunning breakout in 2010. Between then and 2015, Bautista combined to slash a superb .268/.390/.555 in 3,604 plate appearances. Along the way, he accounted for 32.5 fWAR – the majors’ fifth-highest total among position players – walked almost as much as he struck out (15.9 percent to 16.0 percent), hit 28 more home runs (227) than his nearest competitor, Miguel Cabrera, and posted a .287 ISO. That elite-level performance reportedly had Bautista in search of a massive contract last winter, but a decline in output has likely hurt his earning power since.
Bautista was on the disabled list twice during the regular season, and in the 116 games he did play, he wasn’t the all-world offensive threat he had been during the previous six years. By no means was Bautista’s production at the plate subpar, however, as he still batted a more-than-respectable .234/.366/.452 with 22 homers and a .217 ISO in 517 PAs. He also continued controlling the strike zone, albeit not as well as he did in prior seasons, with 87 walks against 103 strikeouts. With his below-average defense and baserunning factored in, Bautista was worth just 1.5 fWAR this year – his lowest total since 2008, when he was toiling in anonymity.
Bautista’s down season would be less alarming if he weren’t about to turn 36, which could scare off the Blue Jays or other teams when the time comes to hand him a lucrative multiyear contract. Not only that, but Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggested Sunday that Toronto might not issue Bautista a qualifying offer because of fear that he could accept it. In response, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk argued that, given Bautista’s track record, the Jays would welcome him back for 2017 at a $16.7MM price tag. He also pointed out that Bautista is in the midst of another quality playoff showing, having already smashed three homers this postseason for a club that could advance to its second straight ALCS tonight.
I’m in the same camp as Mark regarding Bautista, but what do you think?