It’s Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins’ second winter at the helm of the this club, and they are tasked with the daunting assignment of trying to appease a fanbase that is thirsty for a winner after back-to-back ALCS appearances and exits. Getting the team back to the post-season will be harder in 2017 than it was in previous years though, because Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are free agents, officially rejecting their qualifying offers yesterday. There are going to be a lot of narratives that emerge when we look back at this Blue Jays’ off-season, and most of them will likely tie back to those two players; franchise cornerstones who will have their names on the Level of Excellence once they finish their respective careers in the next decade. But as Jenn Smith discussed ever so eloquently in this same space yesterday, there are other ways for the Blue Jays to go. This winter isn’t just about Jose Bautista and Encarnacion. The front office has already done their best to show us that in the opening few weeks.
Last year, when David Price was departing the Blue Jays, the same fan hysteria was taking place that is occupying social media now with Bautista and Encarnacion. At that time, Shapiro showed that he is able to separate business and emotion, and he let Price walk. However, before doing that, he secured back up plans. Instead of trying to replace Price, he took a page out of the Moneyball playbook and recreated him in the aggregate, spending money on bringing back Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to Toronto. Both of those moves occurred early on in the off-season, before December 1st. Shapiro showed a willingness not to wait around for any one player or one team to decide what the market would look like. He got his guys at a price he liked, and pounced.
This winter, Shapiro and Atkins have done the same thing. They made an offer to Edwin Encarnacion, but it had an expiry date. They made it clear that they weren’t going to wait around and then be in a position to miss out on all their other options because their number one target was taking too long to make a decision. So, when Encarnacion rejected the offer – which Shi Davidi reports was around the range of four years/$80 million – the Blue Jays moved on to Kendrys Morales. That deal materialized quickly, and by Friday, reports had surfaced that the club and Morales had agreed to a three year deal with an AAV of $11 million.
But Kendrys Morales isn’t going to replace Edwin Encarnacion. He isn’t good enough to do that. However, just like last year, when J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada were able to replace the production of David Price, Morales will be able to do the job if he is supplemented with additional talent around him. The Blue Jays have lots of holes to fill right now. First base is open. So is a corner outfield spot. The same can be said for the backup catcher position. Morales wasn’t brought in to be Encarnacion, he was brought in to build the base of the foundation that will fill the hole Encarnacion’s likely departure has left. Compliment him with any of the plethora of options on the free agent market (Dexter Fowler, Steve Pearce, Josh Reddick, and Matt Holliday are all solid options) and suddenly, losing Edwin and Bautista doesn’t hurt the club too much, if at all. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that it is only November 15th. How many times, in off-seasons of the past, has a team stayed silent at the start of free agency only to end up as one of the “winners” of the winter? How about the opposite, when a team makes a big splash right away but does nothing else until Spring Training arrives? The baseball season is 162 games, and we tell ourselves daily from April through October to take that into consideration before making conclusions about any one team’s play. So, shouldn’t we take the same approach to the off-season, a just-as-grueling part of the calendar that isn’t won on one or two days?
Yes, we should.
The winter meetings are still close to a month away. There, some big deals will happen. The Blue Jays may or may not be in on them. However, it doesn’t necessarily matter if they are or not. If Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are leaving, good for them. They deserve to get paid, but this team doesn’t need to be the team to do that. This team needs to be the team that makes smart business decisions that allow for the roster to be just as good or better than it was in 2016, and still make financial sense. That has started with Kendrys Morales, and it will continue, be it with a big power bat or a guy who can get on base and lead off.
Perspectives change. Right now, it may seem like the Blue Jays are replacing Edwin Encarnacion with Kendrys Morales. But that clearly is not the case. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are smart people. Give them a chance to work their magic. There are plenty of different ways to skin a cat. Not every one involves the two franchise icons that are going to require the big contracts.
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