Breaking down the split between Blue Jays, Encarnacion

Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi discusses Edwin Encarnacion agreeing to a contract with the Cleveland Indians.

TORONTO – Don’t be surprised that Edwin Encarnacion is gone. Sure, that Cleveland ended up his new home is certainly unexpected, and that he didn’t better the $80-million, four-year offer tabled to him by the Toronto Blue Jays last month is eyebrow-raising.

But the ultimate outcome – Encarnacion leaving the team on which he emerged as one of the game’s top mashers to sign with another club – was determined the moment Kendrys Morales agreed to a $33-million, three-year deal on Nov. 11.

That was the day any realistic hope of a reunion went out.

What is sure to really rile the unhappy masses is that the Blue Jays made Encarnacion the best offer, and yet this is still how it turned out.

The agreement with the defending American League champions, which is pending a physical, guarantees the three-time all-star $20 million in each of the next three years, with an option for the same amount in a fourth year or a $5 million buyout, according to an industry source.

So best case he matches what the Blue Jays offered up just as the general managers meetings were kicking off in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Nov. 7. But even if he gets paid the full amount, Encarnacion won’t be collecting the money in Toronto, which was his preference.

Particularly painful is that the divergent timeframes for a decision Encarnacion and the Blue Jays had masked the common ground between them.

The Blue Jays moved aggressively at the beginning of November, delivering their best offer just as free agency was about to open. Encarnacion had some time to explore the open market and get a sense of what other options he might have, but wasn’t ready to commit when the Blue Jays needed an answer.

That’s understandable, since this was the opportunity for him to max out his earnings and any player who enters free agency should be doing due diligence. No one likes leaving money on the table. At the same time, it’s also understandable that the Blue Jays would want to move quickly to try and sign Morales, their top alternative to Encarnacion, and a deal happened fast.

The guess here is that before the Blue Jays finalized that agreement, they would have made it clear to Encarnacion that they were about to move in a different direction, and their read was that the slugger was confident he could beat their offer.

Perhaps, if Encarnacion had another week to mull things over, and realize that the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers really weren’t going to bid in a meaningful way, things might have been different.

But the Blue Jays didn’t want to risk missing out on Morales if they weren’t certain to land Encarnacion, as they viewed the Cuban switch-hitter as a pivotal piece to their off-season. With Morales providing middle-of-lineup stability, they can play out a bountiful outfield market and see what shakes out.

The signing of Steve Pearce on the eve of the winter meetings earlier this month only cemented the inevitability of the parting, one that could have been avoided with better timing.

The question now for the Blue Jays is how to best reinforce a roster that must take on the bolstered Boston Red Sox in the AL East. That’s where the true judgment on this off-season lies, and whether they make the right moves to contend again in 2017.

Jose Bautista remains a free agent and he definitely fits a need, coming with the added bonus of holding a cache with the fanbase, but so far there is no momentum at all toward a deal. The Blue Jays could instead try to diversify their remaining spending by pursuing a handful of mid-tier players to fill gaps, the way they did last year by getting Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez with the money it would have taken to re-sign David Price.

Either way the type of bold strike that electrifies the paying public – like the one made by Cleveland in landing Encarnacion and bringing the parrot walks to Progressive Field – probably isn’t out there for the Blue Jays, especially after Dexter Fowler got a better offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That doesn’t preclude them from a third straight trip to the post-season, but they’re going to need some value plays to fall right.

Encarnacion returns to Rogers Centre on May 8-10 when Cleveland visits for three games and it’s sure to be an emotional time. In 999 games with the Blue Jays from 2009-2016, he hit 239 homers with 679 RBIs while accumulating a WAR of 24.4. And he delivered one of the most iconic moments in franchise history with his 11th-inning walkoff homer against the Baltimore Orioles in the wild-card game this year.

Hence, a split was always going to be gut-wrenching, especially with the gift of hindsight on how negotiations with the Blue Jays played out. Now, six weeks since the signing of Morales marked Encarnacion’s unofficial end in Toronto, both he and the Blue Jays have at long last definitively turned the page.

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