The door to more talks between the sides isn’t believed to be closed, according to industry sources, but what happens next is unclear. The Blue Jays also started engaging with external players once free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. ET, so both ends of the long-time couple are seeing other people right now.
Speaking with reporters during a break in the general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa, GM Ross Atkins described Encarnacion as “a remarkable player, a remarkable human being,” and added that “we hope that we can make him a Blue Jay for an extended period.”
But when asked if the Blue Jays needed a quick resolution to where things were headed with Encarnacion to properly pursue other options, Atkins replied: “Any team would prefer that. In any negotiation, in any deal, the quicker you have clarity, the sooner you consider your alternatives one way or the other. We need to build the best team with Edwin, around him, if we have him here; with Jose [Bautista] if we have him here, around him; with Brett Cecil and around him. But the challenge becomes knowing whether those pieces are going to be here or not. Offers often times come on and off tables.”
While that comment suggested the possibility of an offer with a deadline, Atkins wouldn’t get into specifics of the negotiations when pressed.
At the same time, he noted that “we’re discussing a lot of potential alternatives for our team,” and the first base/DH market happens to be rife with options, although none is as productive as Encarnacion. Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to report that the Blue Jays have put out some early feelers to Kendrys Morales.
In the interim, Encarnacion’s camp began to engage with other clubs Tuesday, with market forces now set to determine whether he remains in Toronto as the Blue Jays’ effort during their exclusive negotiating window wasn’t enough.
Encarnacion is, of course, but one piece of the Blue Jays’ off-season, with the free agencies of Bautista, Cecil, Michael Saunders, Joaquin Benoit and Dioner Navarro leaving holes in the two corner outfield spots, two leverage roles in the bullpen and at backup catcher.
While Atkins began engaging free agents, he’s also been talking trade with various clubs.
Using some prospect capital to plug holes would be a departure for the new Blue Jays regime, which has been reluctant to part with any of its better minor-leaguers. There’s a gap at the upper levels of the farm system and further depleting that base is risky with an aging roster.
“We’re fortunate that we’ll be able to do either,” Atkins said of filling gaps through free agency or trades. “We feel like we’ve added to our system over the last 11 months, not only from adding prospects and having the draft, but on the international side, we’ve had a lot of interest in our international players that were recent additions. … We feel like our system is a bit more robust, it still needs to improve, so we can acquire players that way. And we have the resources to do it in free agency.”
Some other news and notes:
• The Blue Jays were shut out as the Gold Glove awards were handed out Tuesday night. Kevin Pillar was beaten out by Kevin Kiermaier in centre field for the second consecutive season, while R.A. Dickey finished behind Dallas Keuchel among pitchers. Winners are decided by a system in which voting by managers and coaches (who can’t pick their own players) account for 75 per cent, with the other 25 per cent based on defensive metrics.
Pillar recently had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his thumb that “went very well,” said Atkins. “The procedure was smooth, he’s optimistic, we’re excited. He should be not only ready for spring training, but ready for a very productive off-season.”
• Atkins said the Blue Jays are “still gathering information” on whether Devon Travis will need surgery on the knee he injured during the post-season, and it seems Russell Martin won’t need surgery to repair the knee injury he suffered during a July fall in the sauna.
“We feel good about where he is,” said Atkins. “He’s optimistic, we’re optimistic.”
• The Blue Jays added catcher A.J. Jimenez to their 40-man roster, preventing him from becoming a minor-league free agent. He spent last season at triple-A Buffalo, posting a .668 OPS in 67 games. Atkins described him as “a great option for us” at backup catcher while adding “if there’s a way to upgrade, then we’ll do it.”
• The Blue Jays explored a trade for catcher Carlos Ruiz, who was traded by the Dodgers to Seattle for lefty Vidal Nuno, but parting with a 40-man roster player for a backup earning $4.5 million was likely too prohibitive. A free-agent catcher the Blue Jays have had past interest in? Ryan Hanigan.
• Martin caught 1,069.1 innings during the regular season, sixth most in the majors, plus another 82 frames in the post-season, but Atkins says the Blue Jays won’t necessarily be looking to cut back on his work in 2017, when the catcher will be 34.
“It’s an interesting issue for us, it’s an opportunity, it’s something we’ll do with Russ, we’ve talked to him a lot about it,” said Atkins. “When you don’t have the situation we had where R.A. Dickey was pitching every five days and so you couldn’t control when Russ’ off-days were, that was not as ideal as we’d like. The workload is one aspect of it, but maybe as important is how you manage those days and when they are. I don’t think he’ll catch significantly less, I think we’ll control the off-days in a different way.”
• The free agencies of Cecil and Benoit leave Jason Grilli as the only set-up man assured a spot in the bullpen next season, since the Blue Jays are looking at stretching out Joe Biagini. Given that, how many relievers do they need to add?
“There’s not a concrete number we have to have,” said Atkins. “We’d like to add at least one, and we may add two, but it depends on what add means, so that’s a significant acquisition that may cost a premium prospect, or something significant in free agency.”