The countdown is officially on; in just over two weeks, the self-imposed Opening Day deadline for Edwin Encarnacion will arrive. It doesn’t sound like talks are going very well and it looks as though two sides aren’t getting closer.
The Blue Jays also have this other little issue on the side, that being the status of Jose Bautista. He doesn’t have a cutoff deadline for contact negotiations, but the club hasn’t really gained any traction with Bautista either.
That may appear to paint a grim picture for the Blue Jays and their future, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
At this point, most would be surprised to see the Blue Jays work out a deal with either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista before Opening Day. Negotiations like these take weeks … sometimes even months, and with only days remaining, it’s hard to envision something getting done with Encarnacion by April 5th.
Not to mention, the recent health concerns with Edwin may have been a big stumbling block; he has yet to take an at bat in Spring Training, he had hernia surgery this offseason, he’s had back problems in the past, and Edwin played with an ailing finger for a good chunk of 2015.
So one can’t blame the Blue Jays for not wanting to rush into negotiations with Edwin Encarnacion.
In the case of Jose Bautista, this is a man who is clearly motivated. He sees 2016 as his year to get paid, whether it’s by the Toronto Blue Jays or somebody else. This will be Bautista’s last big contract, and he intends on making the most of this opportunity.
Both of these players are in contract years, and often times, players in this very scenario put forth some of the best seasons of their careers. Not only would that bode well for the Blue Jays and their World Series aspirations, but also for Jose and Edwin to post monster years as they enter free agency.
It feels like there’s been this great sense of urgency to get a deal done with either Bautista and Encarnacion. But now, I don’t know if the tone has changed around camp or the injury concerns have altered things, but that sense of urgency isn’t there from the front office.
I really do wonder how much Edwin Encarnacion’s oblique and litany of injuries have played into contract negotiations. Mere hours after learning of his injury, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reported contract talks had not been going well with Encarnacion and the Blue Jays.
There’s less of an injury concern with Jose Bautista, but at age 35 (two years senior of Edwin Encarnacion), he isn’t getting any younger either; hence the hesitation by the Blue Jays to extend both or even one of these players.
The best strategy for the Blue Jays might just be to let the season play out and try to rekindle contract talks with Jose or Edwin at season’s end. To me, the benefits strongly outweigh the drawbacks.
The greatest disadvantage of all would obviously be losing the services of Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, but trying to hammer out a contract now – under brand new management, which is still trying to get to know these players – might be too much too soon.
Say the Blue Jays were to wait until season’s end, they’d be given the first right of refusal anyway. If the Blue Jays wanted to make one last-ditch effort to bring back Jose or Edwin, they could … before both enter the open waters of free agency as two of the most coveted players on the market.
Sure, there’s a chance Jose and Edwin have mammoth seasons for the Blue Jays once again, which would only drive up their asking prices that much further. But if the Blue Jays are successful enough thanks in part to Bautista and Encarnacion, perhaps the organization realizes they would be willing to pay a premium for that talent.
The window of contention is wide open for the the Blue Jays this year. But if 2016 is supposed to be the year, I want Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion as motivated as possible. And save for the promise of a World Series ring, I can’t think of another way to motivate a player more than to dangle a big, fat contract extension in front of them.
Without question, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have outplayed their contracts. Not that they have anything left to prove, but why not have Bautista and Encarnacion treat 2016 as one last audition for one last contract?
If they nail, then they’re getting a big deal … regardless of whether it’s from the Blue Jays or someone else. But if they falter in 2016, then that’s where things get interesting for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and their future with the Blue Jays organization.
2016 can also be another year of intel and information gathering for the Toronto Blue Jays’ brand new high performance team. By watching Bautista and Encarnacion play a full season under their watchful eye, maybe they can better gauge which player will stand up better to the rigors of playing in their mid-to-late 30’s.
If there’s one thing you don’t want to see the Blue Jays do, it’s rush into a deal. With Edwin Encarnacion’s deadline looming, there may be this extra pressure to get something hammered out now, but how many times have deals made in haste proven to be wrong move?
I like Jose. I like Edwin. Similar to many a fan, I’d love to see them ride off into the sunset and retire as Blue Jays. It would be weird to see them in any uniform but a Blue Jays uniform next season, but I’m not reserved to the fact that 2016 could be their last as Blue Jays.
If that’s the case … they may as well go out with a bang.
Image via Toronto Star/Richard Lautens