The Blue Jays Keep—At Worst—A Pretty Good Player

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The Blue Jays’ signing of Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year, $29 million contract could be viewed as either a smart move to avert losing him to free agency or they just paid for a player having his career year.

Objectively, it’s very reasonable for both sides.

Encarnacion has always had this ability and although he’s never harnessed that talent to this degree, the Blue Jays can be reasonably certain to get 20 homer production from him even if he reverts to the player that has led every single manager he’s ever had to, at one time or another, want to strangle him.

Could Encarnacion had gotten more money than that on the open market? Probably. It doesn’t hurt that he’s versatile and can play a difficult-to-fill position of third base.

This is similar—though not on the same scale—to the preemptive, 5-year, $65 million contract extension the Blue Jays gave to Jose Bautista before the 2011 season. Following his shocking 54-homer season in 2010, there were questions about how a journeyman player who’d bounced around baseball for over a decade was suddenly able to generate that kind of power. This wasn’t a player who got an opportunity to play every day and hit 30 homers. Bautista hit 54 homers. Clearly there was the chance he was a one-year-wonder or he’d get caught using some kind of substance to boost his numbers.

So far, those questions have been answered as Bautista hit 43 homers last season, has 27 this season and has become one of the premier sluggers in baseball. He’s also passed every drug test he’s been given.

The Blue Jays were faced with a quandary before the 2011 season. Were they going to tell Bautista to wait for a new contract as he was entering his free agent season? Were they going to trade him with the Red Sox avidly pursuing him? Or would they sign him?

They chose to sign him and now it looks like a brilliant decision.

With Encarnacion there were some suggestions that they trade him now; that he’d already established himself as a player who was great at times, mediocre at times and just plain bad at times. In addition to that, there were the mental gaffes that pop up on and off the field.

There’s a logical basis for the idea that teams sell high on players they can’t trust to maintain performance; players who have had career histories such as Bautista and Encarnacion. Recently I read that a “talent evaluator” from an organization other than the Mets suggested that the club trade R.A. Dickey at his high value. Of course it’s easy to make such a statement anonymously while not responsible for the fan, team and media reaction in the present and the aftermath in the future. In theory, it wasn’t such a terrible idea. The gap between expressing an insulated business plan and having all the pieces in place to put it in motion is vast.

With Bautista it was as if the Red Sox mere interest in him served as validation that he was for real; that the young and callow GM Alex Anthopoulos should take solace in the Red Sox thinking Bautista had figured it out and therefore he could sign Bautista to a pricey deal and not be criticized for it. In reality, it was a risk and the risk worked out.

Will that be so with Encarnacion?

Hitting the lottery again as they did with Bautista is highly unlikely. I wouldn’t expect Encarnacion to maintain an OPS .142 above his career average. But he is an established and consistent player who happens to be having a great year. If he reverts back to what he was before 2012, that’s still pretty good.

It’s not a massive outlay for the Blue Jays. In fact, in comparison to other deals that are signed to pretty good players in which they’re compensated like great players (Jayson Werth for example), it’s a paltry sum for someone who has all the attributes listed above. Not even his negatives are enough to say this is a mistake, before or after the fact.