NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Take emotion from the equation for a moment, and consider that the word most applicable to this off-season for the Toronto Blue Jays is reallocation.
Really, that’s what the decisions to sign Kendrys Morales and new addition Steve Pearce after Edwin Encarnacion turned down an $80-million, four-year offer amount to, with about $4 million to spare that can now be diverted to other needs.
So to objectively, and perhaps fairly, render final judgment, the roster will need to be assessed holistically, once the remaining payroll they still have, perhaps around $25 million, is spent.
Will it be better to have the one star player, or to more evenly distribute the wealth?
"We feel similarly (about the two approaches)," general manager Ross Atkins said Monday at the winter meetings, after locking down Pearce with a $12.5-million, two-year deal. "Our first initiative was to make an offer to Edwin. The alternative to that in our off-season plan was the one we’re now on, which leaves us with other opportunities.
"One opportunity was a superstar player that we were excited about being here. When we felt as though that strategy wasn’t going to come to fruition, we considered one that is a similar cost and multiple players that could potentially be three players at a similar cost. Really, we would have felt great about adding Edwin … but as stands right now, alternatively we feel like we’re building a team that has just as good of a chance to win with several pieces instead of one."
Maybe, and the Blue Jays can point to what they did last off-season in passing on David Price and re-allocating his money to J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Jesse Chavez as reason to believe they’ve chosen the right path.
Still, Encarnacion is different, and while Price was immensely popular, he was only with the Blue Jays for 2½ months. Encarnacion is among the franchise greats – third in homers at 239, sixth in RBIs at 679, fifth in Baseball Reference offensive WAR at 27.1. Blue Jays fans are understandably going to have a hard time with this even though the die was cast the moment Morales signed a $33-million, three-year deal in early November.
After all, fandom isn’t built around rational objectivity, but emotional subjectivity.
Morales and Pearce and whoever else the Blue Jays add – Dexter Fowler still remains a target but there appears to be a bridge to gap with the free-agent outfielder – won’t easily replace Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, whose market is picking up, according to industry sources.
The only way fans accept the reallocation is if it works.
"I do think a lot about the fans’ perspective, a great deal, as a matter of fact, and lose sleep over it when decisions like these have to be made, so it’s something that’s extremely important to me," said Atkins. "Ultimately what I feel is the best thing when it comes to building a team is to think about winning. We felt like we could have done that with Edwin at the forefront of our off-season. We are just as confident now with our second strategy. So it really is nothing more (than) how do we build the best winning team."
A fair question is why the Blue Jays didn’t give Encarnacion more time to decide instead of pouncing on Morales mere days after their offer was rejected. The $80-million, four-year offer was actually the second extended to Encarnacion, with one believed to be more in the $68-million, four-year range coming shortly after the Blue Jays were eliminated from the post-season.
A hard deadline was attached to the second which would have meant foregoing the open market, and when Encarnacion didn’t immediately accept, Atkins noted during the GM meetings in Scottsdale that "offers often times come on and off tables."
Why not wait?
"We could have," said Atkins, "but we had opportunities in front of us that could’ve gone away and we didn’t want to see them go away."
And so reallocation.
Atkins said the Pearce contract is split evenly over the next two seasons, so that leaves the Blue Jays with $129.6 million in contract guarantees and arbitration projections for 15 players. After factoring in $5 million for 0-3 service time players, that would leave about $25 million to patch holes in the outfield corners, the bullpen and at backup catcher.
Pearce’s positional flexibility could enable the Blue Jays to spend big on one outfield corner – Fowler isn’t going to come cheap – and then patchwork the other. Or they could spend big on a reliever, or maybe add a more substantial backup catcher who might fill multiple roles.
There’s still more reallocation to come.