So, the Toronto Blue Jays — the baseball team I follow — lost in the ALCS, and now head into the off-season with a number of free agents. The two most prominent ones are Edwin Encarnacion an Jose Bautista, who have been the subject of discussion for, oh, about the entire season. And the fans have been wondering why neither of them were extended before the season. I have some speculations about that, and the key piece of evidence for them is the signing of Justin Smoak at about mid-season.
At the start of the season, the Blue Jays knew that they’d have to deal with the two of them, and did at least discuss some things with them at various times. But there were two main issues that they had to deal with. The first was that Bautista wanted a pretty significant contract to extend and resign, and the Blue Jays aren’t as free spending as some other teams are. The second is that Encarnacion stated that he wouldn’t negotiate at all during the season.
So, the Blue Jays had to decide if they wanted one, both or neither of them back. There would be a possibility of signing both, but that would depend on what budget they could finagle out of Rogers and what the two players were demanding. With Bautista’s first demand, it was unlikely that they could keep both … but maybe his asking price would come down as the season wore on, depending on how he did. Additionally, it was clear that they didn’t want Encarnacion to be an everyday first baseman — or else he would have been in the mix when Collabello and Smoak were platooning it — and so they knew that he was going to be a DH who occasionally plays first base. This means that in order to have them both back, Bautista had to be a regular player in the field. But his age meant that if both he and Encarnacion got long term deals, at some point they’d have two players that they would be paying lots of money to that were effectively DHs. This, then, seemed to encourage them to only keep one of them. If they were only going to keep one of them, if Bautista could play in the outfield he’d be the more valuable to keep. Otherwise, the already proven DH of Encarnacion would be the more valuable, and possibly cheaper option.
So this meant that they really wanted to see how the two players played this year, at least for the first part of it, before deciding which of them to try to resign. But Encarnacion wouldn’t negotiate during the season, which made that problematic. So I speculate that they decided to wait and see, knowing that they were risking both of them leaving and having to restock in other ways.
And then … Bautista had a season where he struggled, on the field, in the batter’s box, and with injuries. Whether reasonable or not, this gave the impression that Bautista’s days as a regular outfielder were numbered, leaving them in the situation where they would have two DHs with massive salaries and not have a position player out of those combined salaries. This, to my mind, is the point where they signed Smoak. He was a proven platoon at first base, with strong defensive skills and some power, although he wasn’t a particularly good hitter. He’s the perfect player to complement Encarnacion, as he is a competent first baseman when you want Encarnacion DH’ing, and if you want to give Donaldson or someone a turn at DH you can put Encarnacion in at first and take Smoak out without actually losing much at the plate. On the other hand, Smoak doesn’t hit well enough to be a regular first baseman on a team that’s trying to compete, which is the role he would have to have if you kept Bautista as the DH. Thus, I think that at mid-season the Blue Jays focused on Encarnacion, and aren’t all that interested in bringing Bautista back.
The possibility of getting Joey Votto adds another interesting wrinkle. If the Blue Jays thought that they might be able to get him — I think that would require a trade, though — then he fits the Encarnacion mold as well, since his position is first as well.
If the Blue Jays get neither, then Smoak is an excellent throw-in in a trade for a team that wants a solid first baseman who’s under contract.
Anyway, that’s my speculation on the matter. We’ll see who the Blue Jays manage to land over the off-season.