Edwin: “They Don’t Have It In Their Plans For Me To Stay Here”

Edwin Encarnacion
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Elliott continues to try to get to the bottom of the Edwin Encarnacion situation, doubling down in his piece today for the Toronto Sun on the suggestion of his “Encarnacion loyalist” from earlier in the week that the Jays have only offered Edwin a two-year extension. He’s also now spoken with the slugger, who says that he’s “really disappointed that nothing has happened, but it’s not my decision,” adding that “they don’t have it in their plans for me to stay here.”

Already one can see the potential for this to become yet another tricky PR situation for the Blue Jays. “It’s an insult!” they’ll say. “Where’s the respect???” But the thing — and the thing that someone like Jose Bautista would exactly tell you — is that it’s all about business.

Negotiation, too.

Edwin Encarnacion is obviously an incredible hitter, and has been a terrific and hugely important Blue Jay — the sorts of things Elliott grimly hits on as he paints dark clouds hanging over the clubhouse — but honestly, how many teams would be willing to offer him a four- or five-year contract right now, with a full season still to go before that contract begins?

It’s hardly the be-all end-all, but the list at Baseball Reference of most similar players to Edwin through age 32 is comprised of a pretty eye-opening group of guys who didn’t exactly have long, productive careers beyond that point: Jermaine Dye, Danny Tartabull, Roger Maris, Pat Burrell, Tim Salmon, Eric Chavez, Frank Howard, Joe Carter, Darryl Strawberry. Four were finished at age 35 or younger, none played beyond age 38 — for whatever that’s worth.

Edwin’s last four years have been a stone bargain for the Blue Jays. He’s averaged 4.1 WAR over that span while making just $8- to $10-million per season. But, unfortunately for him, he’s already been paid for that production, and while his track record of excellence will inform the next contract that he signs, so will things like his age, his injury history, and his comparables.

And so too, for the Blue Jays, will their future flexibility.

Here’s where every fan understandably rolls their eyes. The Blue Jays, owned by Rogers and owning a territory of 35-million people to themselves (nearly the same population as the state California, which boasts five teams), shouldn’t have to be so concerned about flexibility — at least not when retaining a franchise icon is concerned. But they do. Whatever the complexities and frustrating stupidities of the relationship between club and ownership may be, we at least know full well by now that the Jays will be bound by a fairly rigid budget each year going forward. A budget that will limit them from doing every single thing they could possibly want to do. It’s just reality.

Also reality: the frightening lack of flexibility that a badly aging Blue Jays club will face in a year like 2019, for example, especially if they re-sign Encarnacion or Bautista (or both).

Already we know that they’ll have Russell Martin at age 36 making $20-million. Troy Tulowitzki making that same amount at age 34. Josh Donaldson making upwards of $25-million at age 33. Add another $50-million or more for Bautista (by then 38) and Encarnacion (36). Then consider that Marcus Stroman will make his third trip through arbitration heading into that season, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez their second, and that they’ll probably have to spend some significant free agent dollars on a starting pitcher at some point along the way, too.

I’m a huge fan of those players, and so I want to believe in those players and in the idea that they could still make up the hugely dangerous core of a contending team at that point, and for years beyond. I also think that even if they are deep into decline by then, if the trade-off is keeping the group together in 2017 and 2018 after the incredible ride that was 2015 and whatever big things are in store for this year, I can live with that.

But what if something here in 2016 changes that outlook?

It might not, and certainly nobody wants to believe that it will, but locking in Edwin or Jose right now for longer than two or three years beyond this one? You’re doing it with an absolutely crucial year of information not available.

One way to mitigate the risk of this coming year rendering an extension with Bautista or Encarnacion problematic before the contract even takes effect is to simply wait.

Waiting gets the Blue Jays that extra year of performance and health information, and and it allows them to see how the club’s season goes, both on the field and in terms of revenue, and decide then whether they can justify all those big, long-term contracts for their aging stars.

If the season goes as well as we think it will, the Jays then would still have the advantage of being a winning club in a city these players love, with teammates they love, and with a position wide open for them to return to. They could absolutely re-sign at that point, depending on what else the Jays will need to do with their freed budget dollars.

And if the season doesn’t go well? Maybe in that case they’re better off for not having signed players for market rates a year sooner than they had to.

That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t work out a deal right now that made sense for both sides, but if I’m the Jays, the other way to mitigate against the risks of the coming year is to fish for a potential bargain by offer something shorter term — not necessarily short on dollars, but something that makes the other side really have to think hard about what their market will actually be, and precisely what having to make a bet on the player’s health and performance — the one they’re asking clubs to make — feels like. After all, there’s not much Edwin can do over the next year to justify a longer contract than he’s currently asking for, but he could certainly end up costing himself.

That indeed seems to be what they’re thinking here. And while two years unquestionably seems light for Encarnacion, is it as a starting point? If it provokes Edwin’s camp into acquiescing to a deal of three years beyond this one, maybe the two sides can work something out before the season starts. And if they don’t, and if he stays mostly healthy and puts in another Edwin-like year, maybe the club will be willing to go that high or higher next fall. Or maybe the market won’t quite be where Edwin had hoped, and he still wants to stay, and they don’t even have to.

For the club, it’s a gamble, but it seems to me like the obvious smart play. It’s not unfair or insulting, and it doesn’t mean that he can’t be in their plans. It’s just business.

  • Canard

    Not to be that guy, but I don’t think Anthopoulos takes this approach.

    Based on all the public contract talk, it seems like Shapiro is just going to keep the core together this year for the sake of keeping them together (or to appease the fans), and then let Bautista and Edwin go at the end of the season and build a team using prospects. (aka blowing the team up)

    This confirms all the fears we had during the offseason. This is why we were mad at Rogers firing Anthopoulos in the first place. Because the new guy wasn’t going to keep Anthopoulos’ team together, because he wasn’t going to get any credit if they won. Plus Shapiro’s MO, based on his comments and his work with Cleveland, was to build with prospects. An entirely valid tack, but one that was at odds with the team we had on the field. To turn this team around and focus on prospects means another five years in the wilderness, at least.

    And sure, a team built around Donaldson and Stroman always has a chance at making the playoffs, but one superstar batter and one great pitcher gets you the Seattle Mariners, not a title contender.

    Hopefully contract year Bautista and contract year Edwin give us one last hurrah before Shapiro dumps them.

  • OakvilleJays

    I am happy that Elliott was able to get an interview with EE. Some fans questioned who the EE loyalists that he was talking to last week. Shapiro said on Blair’s show on Friday that the best way to get a deal done is to not talk about it in the media. Hopefully, Shapiro & Atkins stick to that strategy. It doesn’t help them to say how much they want to keep both players & have the players say the opposite.

  • lil eddie

    best case scenario is the jays go to the world series and both guys show some slight decline through the season, where demands come down and our revs are sky high. if 3/60 for ee and 4/80, (both with a couple of club options) for jb doesn’t get it done though, i’m happy to get the extra picks and spend the money elsewhere. eddie in particular is playing with fire here. if he only plays 120 games or so and shows decline to say a 2.5-3 WAR with a comp pick around his neck, he may only get a 2 year offer.

  • DAKINS

    Of course we don’t know what was said behind closed doors, but the FO has only said publicly that they plan to do everything they can to keep him.

    I don’t see how Edwin making the statement that they “don’t have it in their plans to keep me here” is going to help his cause in nudging the Jays towards re-signing him. I absolutely feel that his best chance at getting PAID is re-signing before he hits FA. Of course the Jays will low-ball him early in the process, that’s business, but they can work something out that is beneficial to both sides. I don’t think his market is as strong as he thinks it will be with is injury history and age. Teams aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to pay top dollar for 5 years of a 34 year old DH that might not age very well.

    He might get a shock at what offers he gets from teams who don’t know his medicals as well as the Jays do, but perhaps that’s what he’s banking on? I guess that works both ways. My guess is the offers might be lower than he expects them to be, and he might end up kicking himself for not negotiating during the season. Him floating this out into the public makes me think the Jays are going to let him walk into FA with the hope that he comes back to them anyway.

  • Pete_Mc

    Just finished reading Dealing by Terry Pluto. It offers interesting insight into Shapiro’s run with the Indians in the mid 2000s. It’s a good look into his process and professionalism but it doesn’t leave me at all optimistic that we will get deals done with EE/Jose/Any marquee-free-agent in the near future. It’s just not Shapiro’s style.

    Shapiro and Rogers have both been burned by big money deals in the past and so I understand the reluctance to offer nine figures to a pair of assets that will likely depreciate fairly rapidly. The trade off for collecting an extra year of information is that you risk losing some of the goodwill you may have developed with a player and his camp. Negotiating a year early is a tangible advantage for the incumbent team in FA negotiations.

    With that said, and as unlikely as it is, I would like to see Rogers take a big market approach and offer both guys the money and term they presently deserve. I truly believe that the Angels/Dodgers/Rangers/Yankees of the world will still be open to trade for EE or Jose in a few years (even if their production wanes a little bit).

    • King Dong

      If either Bautista or Encarnacion can be productive in a few years, of course those teams would be happy to trade for them! I’m fine with letting the two walk at the end of this year, to be honest. There is no reason to believe at least one of the two can buck the trend of falling production. Even if Bautista can be productive for two more years, paying for years three, four, and five just won’t be worth watching that.