Misreading market likely hurt Blue Jays' chances of re-signing Edwin Encarnacion
Edwin Encarnacion shows his frustration at the plate against the Orioles during MLB action in Toronto on July 31, 2016. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Files)
If you were listening throughout the summer and into the fall, Edwin Encarnacion was supposedly a ready-made replacement for fellow Dominican slugger David Ortiz in Boston.
It made sense.
The Red Sox are rich, Encarnacion was eyeing up free agency, and Ortiz’s retirement plan left an obvious void with an obvious candidate.
In the end, it didn’t come close to happening.
What also won’t happen, now that Encarnacion has been guaranteed $65 million from the heretofore cost-conscious Cleveland Indians, is the already-popular veteran becoming to Toronto what Ortiz was to New England for 14 seasons.
Minus the gold chains, bobblehead-like personality and the Curse of the Bambino, Encarnacion was trending in that direction in the same type of championship-starved city Boston once was — a lovable star that, if surrounded by the right pieces, would be a key cog in a championship machine.
Maybe Encarnacion would have ended up exiting without the team success so integral to Big Papi’s rags-to-riches story, or maybe he’ll succumb to the age-related decline Ortiz was amazingly able to avoid all the way through his final at-bat. But that doesn’t change the fact there was a chance to carve out the same kind of not-often-seen decade-plus stop in one city.
They took the same path to stardom, too, watching teams cut bait and fail to believe, before authoring brilliant careers almost as unbelievable as the scouting failures themselves.
In the same way Ortiz always maintained Boston was home, the imaginary parrot-toting power hitter kept insisting throughout this year that Toronto was where he wanted to be, where his heart lies.
Which is why no one can quite understand how Encarnacion is a member of the Tribe, seemingly taking a hometown discount to not come home, considering his new deal is less than the four years and $80 million guaranteed that Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins tabled back in November.
Ortiz never made more than $16 million per season throughout his time in Boston, finding common ground during contract squabbles on a couple of occasions to make things work in the end.
The Jays and Encarnacion weren’t able to do that, but the front office seemed to handcuff itself in a major way by quickly moving on to Kendrys Morales to fill their own DH void instead of letting the Encarnacion market play out, a market no one — including agent Paul Kinzer — seemed to have a pulse of until it was too late for Toronto, and just in time for Cleveland.
If that’s the sole reason Encarnacion is no longer here, it’s not going to sit well with fans.
Nor should it.
Especially if a Steve Pearce/Justin Smoak platoon is what’s stopping you from assessing the situation, pivoting, and re-charting the off-season course once the free-agent market winds changed and Encarnacion could be had for the same price — or maybe even less — than what you originally thought he was worth.
Emotions will continue to bubble throughout the rest of what could feel like a long baseball winter, but business goes on and, man, does Atkins have some serious business to attend to still.
Now that the Smoak/Pearce situation at first base seems like reality, the outfield will be the focus when it comes to replacing Encarnacion’s significant production, and a reunion with a right fielder who probably shouldn’t be a right fielder at this stage of his career in Jose Bautista might be in the offing.
Too bad it’s not the reunion everyone — including Atkins & Co. about six weeks ago — wanted.
That creak you hear is definitely the Blue Jays’ World Series window.
It hasn’t closed. Not yet.
A roster with a superstar in Josh Donaldson, a solid starting rotation, valuable parts such as Roberto Osuna and Devon Travis, along with aging-but-still-productive vets such as Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin, is a savvy move or four from contention. But it’s impossible to make the argument that the current version of the Blue Jays, as we sit here today, isn’t a team on its way down, one sloppy start in April and May away from a serious shift in direction.
If the Blue Jays had to scrape and claw to get to 89 wins last season, how many can be realistically expected without Encarnacion’s 42 homers, Bautista’s production still on the free-agent market, a thin bullpen in its current state, and very little room for improvement banked elsewhere on the roster?
There’s money now left over to fix some of the problems, but an 89-win wash might still be a stretch.
Five fewer wins would make them the New York Yankees, an 84-win team that was surprisingly in the race for a brief moment last season, but one that was undoubtedly rebuilding — and still is.
Eight fewer wins would make them the Kansas City Royals, an 81-win team stuck in neutral, but one that took advantage of a similar two-year window by winning a World Series before falling off.
On the other hand, the Indians just did what teams with a wide-open championship window should do — pounce.
The Jays’ front office doesn’t seem to think it has the same type of window, and it’s probably right, now that Encarnacion has flown the coop.
At best, 2017 is starting to feel like a transition year.
At worst, it could feel like 2005 all over again.