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.

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American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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