Having just been dismissed from the postseason, Jose Bautista wasn’t willing to discuss his future when asked by reporters. Facing the question of whether or not he’s had his last at-bat with the Blue Jays’ franchise, Bautista curbed the discussion:
“I just don’t feel like I’m in the right state of mind to be talking about that stuff. If you guys could ask me about today’s game, the series, and all that stuff. I don’t want to talk about the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Pending free agent designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion was in a similar situation as well. Along with Bautista, the two Blue Jays’ bats represent the two most premium slugging assets on the free agent market this winter. Encarnacion was a little less cryptic though, suggesting that a return to Toronto would be welcomed:
“Of course [returning to the Blue Jays is] my first choice. To be honest, my head’s not going to be into this until the World Series ends.”
Where Bautista seems to want to take the leveraged approach, Encarnacion doesn’t seem to mind showing his hand a little.
Three years Encarnacion’s senior, Bautista is facing the twilight of his career and seems to want one more kick at the free agent contract can. Prior to the season, it was rumored that Bautista was chasing an extension worth more than $150 million over six or more seasons. At 36-years-old, that is a huge commitment to make to a player. Especially one who may have begun to show his age already, coming off his worst season since 2010.
Encarnacion on the otherhand likely doesn’t have to worry as much about leverage. The designated hitter will be 34-years-old by the time the 2017 season rolls around, and he is a capable first baseman if needed. Since 2012, Encarnacion has been the seventh-best qualified hitter in all of baseball by wRC+. Alongside names like Paul Goldschmidt and Giancarlo Stanton, very few hitters have been as dominant and reliable—though Encarnacion’s production does seem to come in bunches.
Following the game, teammates around the locker room discussed the possibility of losing Bautista and Encarnacion to free agency. Kevin Pillar weighed in on the topic:
“You just hope its not their final at bat in a Blue Jays uniform. Obviously you are thinking about the moment, and you’re hoping that they could extend the moment for us. You know they’re going to have to do what they’re going to do with their free agency but these are guys we’d love to have back, the city of Toronto would love to have back. From talking to these guys, I know they want to be back. This has been their home for the last nine years and they’ve done amazing things.”
While Pillar isn’t necessarily an unbiased source, being around Bautista and Encarnacion in the clubhouse certainly grants you some perspective on which way they may be leaning.
Whichever way the offseason goes, Bautista and Encarnacion will go down as two of the most gifted hitters to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform. They rank second and third respectively in franchise home runs. Even further, Bautista ranks first in FanGraphs’ WAR among hitters, ahead of franchise greats Tony Fernandez and Carlos Delgado.
With such a scant class of free agents, there is little doubt that both Bautista and Encarnacion will have multiple suitors this offseason. Both may have to settle for an American League team though, as both of their futures are likely as designated hitters, which could cut down the amount of interested parties. In the coming weeks following the World Series, expect both sluggers to receive and reject qualifying offers from the Blue Jays.