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As the season ended in Toronto last week, Blue Jays fans weren’t simply saying au revoir to the team’s hopes of hoisting the trophy in 2016, they were also possibly seeing team pillars Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in Blue Jays uniforms for the last time.

Bautista and Encarnacion are, unfortunately for Toronto, hitting the free agent market at the same time, and doing so during an offseason in which the big-bat market is quite thin. The slugger supply does not meet the slugger demand, although it rarely does.

According to Cot’s Contracts, on Opening Day 2016 the Blue Jays' payroll was $136 million, one of the lowest payrolls among this year's playoff teams. As of right now the Blue Jays have a payroll of around $107 million in place for 2017, with five players eligible for arbitration, including Darwin Barney, Ezequiel Carrera, Chris Colabello, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Loup. Adding in those five players at, say, an extra $8 million would bring their payroll to around $115 million for 2017.

It seems almost guaranteed that the Blue Jays will not be able to bring back both Encarnacion and Bautista, leaving them in a power bat predicament. The farm system that they have in place is unlikely to factory produce young, fresh faces that will be able to even attempt to fill the enormous veteran shoes. You don’t churn out talents like Encarnacion and Bautista very often and, as their long careers have shown, it often takes considerable time and development for things to click.

Toronto will have to do the best it can with the resources it has. Their payroll is relatively low and is likely to be stretched only so far. What might the market for each slugger look like and which is more likely to come at a bargain–if you can even call it that–price?

Jose Bautista

There are at least a dozen free agent right fielders hitting open the market this offseason, and more if the Mariners and Mets were to decline their club options on Seth Smith and Jay Bruce. Of course, being a free agent right fielder and being a free agent right fielder capable of replacing a 13-year veteran like Bautista with a .255/.386/.493 career slash line are much different things.

When we chop the list down to free agent right fielders who're at least somewhat comparable to Bautista in one way or another, this is what we get:

Player

Slash Line

TAv

Mark Trumbo

.256/.316/.533

.276

Seth Smith

.249/.342/.415

.261

Josh Reddick

.281/.345/.405

.277

Carlos Beltran

.295/.337/.513

.279

Jay Bruce

.209/.309/.506

.285

Jose Bautista

.234/.366/.452

.270

Notice that, while Bautista has the highest on-base percentage in that crop, he has the third-lowest slugging percentage and the second-lowest True Average.

What’s truly plaguing Bautista’s chances at maximizing his leverage in the free agent market is that he had a down year at age 35, posting his worst slugging percentage since joining Toronto in 2008. Could the Blue Jays, assuming they have faith in Bautista remaining valuable into his late 30s, benefit from lowered production and re-sign their mainstay right fielder? Perhaps he would be the lesser of the two evils, which brings me to my next point.

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion has similar company from a numerical standpoint, in that there are a dozen-plus total free agent first basemen in 2017, but he stands out among the positional competition and is two years younger than Bautista. To re-sign Encarnacion is a much taller order, at least without exorbitantly overpaying him.

Take a look at the few first basemen hitting the market who are somewhat comparable to Encarnacion:

Player

Slash Line

TAv

Dae-Ho Lee

.253/.312/.428

.261

Logan Morrison

.238/.319/.414

.260

Brandon Moss

.225/.300/.484

.279

Carlos Santana

.259/.366/.498

.280

Sean Rodriguez

.270/.349/.510

.296

Mike Napoli

.239/.335/.465

.262

Edwin Encarnacion

.263/.357/.529

.291

Encarnacion is nearly top tier in all offensive categories, and has the best overall combined numbers offensively. Several of the above players are part-timers, whereas Encarnacion is a middle-of-the-order star.

Obviously the Blue Jays would like to retain the best possible player should they only be able to keep one, and that would be Encarnacion. But they’ll need to be realistic about the situation as well. There’s no terrible option here, and with the pieces that they already have in place, the idea of a total rebuild seems unnecessary. They’re just losing two key players on a roster that is still quite substantial with some good, young talent. They’re not being gutted.

The market and the Blue Jays' budget will dictate the path that they will be taking in 2017, but if they’re careful and calculated in their decision-making process, they don’t need to feel as if the walls are coming down in Toronto. There is the possibility for Toronto to get out of this situation gracefully and even ahead of the curve.

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AlexTheGreat
10/24
I don't think Stroman hits arb until 2018?
adrock
10/24
I think it's a mistake to characterize the Blue Jays as a small market team, or a team that's limited to a payroll of $140M or $150M. They had the highest attendance in the AL this year, and their TV ratings were the highest of any team in MLB. The team is a cash cow for Rogers, the owners, and if they reduce payroll next year, it will lead to a major PR hit, and potentially major declines in viewership and attendance. It's highly unlikely the Jays will bring back both players, but they absolutely have the capacity to do so, if management thinks it's the best use of $45-50+M per year.
ErikBFlom
10/24
How is their TV money tied to TV ratings? A team can have great TV ratings but be under a poor TV contract so that the two are out of proportion. Attendance is also not the same thing as the income from premium box seats. Baseball does not open its books, so it is hard to say how much of a cash cow it is. Also, expenses are not only major league salary. I suspect clubs have different expenses for coaching and scouting, especially in the minor leagues and with respect to juvenile free agents. For example, they were subject to penalties for international free agent signings. http://www.sportsnet.ca/baseball/mlb/blue-jays-sign-13-july-2-international-free-agents/
bhacking
10/24
TV income is tied to TV rating in this case because the owner of the baseball team is the owner of the networks. While the income is in CAD$ the ticket prices in Toronto are among the highest in baseball.
nberlove
10/25
There is no TV contract -- Rogers owns they Jays and the broadcaster (Sportsnet). They also own the radio broadcaster and the stadium. Rogers is a publicly traded company and there is enough public data to suggest the Jays are a cash cow for Rogers.
bhacking
10/24
Also I don't think the teams wants both players back, the club needs to get younger and more athletic on defense and on the base paths.