Earlier today, Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com reported that impending free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion doesn't have his sights set on hitting the open market, but instead would rather work out an extension with the Blue Jays during spring training.
"Encarnacion is doing his best to remain optimistic that this will not be his final season with the Blue Jays and that instead he will be able to sign a long-term contract extension to remain with the organization.
Encarnacion spoke to the media on Friday morning for the first time this spring as the Blue Jays went through Day 1 of full-squad workouts. Toronto has yet to engage in serious contract talks with his agent, but Encarnacion is hopeful those discussions will take place 'this week or next.'"
This is now the second time this week that a Blue Jays player has expressed interest in signing an extension, although in the case of Encarnacion, he seems more willing to enter a negotiation process than Jose Bautista does.
There are several factors working in Encarnacion's favor that make him a safer bet than Bautista going forward. Heading into 2017, he'll be 34, whereas Bautista will be 36. While we don't know what Encarnacion will be asking for in terms of years or total dollar amount, it seems reasonable that his demands won't be as high as Bautista's, and at the very least, he would be willing to talk about other contract parameters. Encarnacion has also been nearly just as valuable as Bautista over the last four years, and given that he's younger, his decline is probably further off.
Encarnacion comes out 1.7 fWAR below Bautista, but in terms of offensive production, he's been the better player since 2012. The slight difference in fWAR would appear to come from Bautista's slightly better (or simply not as terrible) defensive contributions.
While it would be nice to have both players, with Bautista's reported contract demands, and the fact that he'll need to move to the DH position relatively soon (where he should already be), it's nearly impossible to imagine that scenario happening. The Blue Jays likely have to choose one over the other, and without question, they should extend a rose to Encarnacion instead of Bautista.
There is one issue however, that does need to be addressed; how to deal with Bautista. With both players publicly expressing a desire to sign extensions, it could be an awkward season if Encarnacion were to agree to terms in spring training, while Bautista was simply told that nothing could be agreed upon. The last thing the Blue Jays want to do is to create an environment that could lead to a season-long tension between two of their best hitters.
To ensure that a situation like that doesn't happen, Encarnacion and Toronto could have a "handshake agreement" on a contract extension that would be signed after the season, or at the outset of free agency. He did mention that if his agent and the Blue Jays' front office can't figure something out before the start of the season, Encarnacion would be open to "re-signing with the club next offseason".
There are more than a few ways for this to play out, and while the Blue Jays could ultimately decide that locking up Bautista is what they're more comfortable with, it's hard to see how extending Encarnacion wouldn't be the more prudent course of action. He's younger, had better offensive contributions since 2012, and will likely remain productive for longer than Bautista. This will certainly be a storyline to monitor throughout spring training, and if Toronto doesn't handle it the right way, the Blue Jays could be an interesting team to watch, for reasons other than their vaunted offense.