As expected, the Blue Jays will issue $17.2MM qualifying offers to their top two impending free agents, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, by Monday’s deadline, according to FanRag’s Jon Heyman. Conversely, Toronto will not submit a QO to Michael Saunders, meaning he’ll hit free agency without draft pick compensation weighing down his value (Twitter links).
Of the three, Encarnacion is the one the Blue Jays want to retain the most, per Heyman. The soon-to-be 34-year-old first baseman/designated hitter is coming off his fifth straight season with at least 34 home runs, having swatted a career-high-tying 42 in 2016. Overall, Encarnacion slashed .263/.357/.529 in 709 plate appearances. Since 2012, his breakout season, the former Red has batted .272/.367/.544 with 193 homers and a .273 ISO in 3,133 PAs. Only the Orioles’ Chris Davis (197) has hit more long balls in that span than Encarnacion, whose ISO over the past half-decade ranks behind only Giancarlo Stanton and David Ortiz. Now, the power-hitting Encarnacion should encounter a robust market for his services in free agency as one of the two best position players available (Yoenis Cespedes is the other).
While Bautista won’t fare as well as Encarnacion on his next contract, the right fielder will still garner plenty of interest and rake in a sizable payday. Going back to his out-of-nowhere breakout in 2010, Bautista has recorded a phenomenal .264/.387/.542 line with 249 HRs to go with nearly identical strikeout and walk rates – 16.0 and 16.5 percent – and a .278 ISO. The 36-year-old is fresh off a less-than-ideal platform season, however, as he endured two stints on the disabled list and experienced a decline in his normally superb production. Bautista still hit an easily above-average .234/.366/.452 with 22 homers in 517 PAs and continued exhibiting mastery over the strike zone (87 unintentional walks, 103 strikeouts). But a dip in offense combined with Bautista’s age, not to mention a lack of defensive value, are among the factors that will keep him from netting a contract anywhere close to as rich as he reportedly wanted before the season.
At the midway point of the campaign, Saunders looked as though he was playing his way to a qualifying offer and a lucrative multiyear pact. In 344 PAs before the All-Star break, the outfielder batted a stellar .298/.372/.551 with 16 HRs and a .252 ISO. Saunders’ production cratered in the second half – .178/.282/.357 with eight HRs and a .178 ISO in 214 PAs – thereby putting a damper on his seemingly skyrocketing value. He also graded poorly as a left fielder, ranking toward the bottom of the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, and comes with an injury-prone label. Saunders (30 later this month) did play a career-high 140 games in 2016, though, and both that and not having a QO attached should help the ex-Mariner’s cause as a free agent.