SAN DIEGO – This time in 2016, Edwin Encarnacion was the focal point of the Toronto Blue Jays’ off-season and a marquee free agent coveted league-wide.
Three years later, Encarnacion’s 37th birthday is approaching and the Blue Jays are now focused on pitching, but Encarnacion is at least on the radar again as general manager Ross Atkins contemplates his options at first base. The Blue Jays have been in touch with Encarnacion and his agent, Paul Kinzer, since the off-season began and while that’s not noteworthy in itself for a front office that checks on everyone, some industry observers believe he’s a real possibility for the Blue Jays.
Of course, others are on the radar of the Toronto front office, too. The Blue Jays have also maintained contact with Justin Smoak, who’s nearly four years younger than Encarnacion and a superior defensive player.
There’s also Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the Japanese slugger who hit 29 home runs with an .899 OPS for the Yokohama Bay Stars this year. While there’s been some speculation that the Blue Jays have the inside track for the 28-year-old, one person described that characterization as inaccurate. While the Blue Jays are intrigued by Tsutsugo, they don’t appear to be frontrunners for his services.
Big-league executives consider Tsutsugo an intriguing bat whose plate discipline will play in the majors, but there are questions about how his power numbers will translate against big-league velocity. Regardless, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive for Tsutsugo if the three-year, $16-million deal once signed by Eric Thames offers much indication.
Major-league clubs have until 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 19 to negotiate with Tsutsugo, who was posted by the Bay Stars last month. Until then, the Blue Jays have Rowdy Tellez at first base looking to build on a rookie season in which he hit 21 home runs with a .742 OPS. Whether or not the Blue Jays add an experienced first baseman, the Blue Jays expect to find plate appearances for Tellez.
"I’m pulling for Rowdy," manager Charlie Montoyo said Monday. "I love the kid, and I see potential there. I know if he gets a chance, he’s going to be really good. He’s a young kid, so we also have to be patient. I don’t want to put so much pressure on Rowdy.
"Of course, if we find another older guy to take the spot and take the pressure off Rowdy, that would be great," Montoyo continued. "If we don’t, I’m okay with Rowdy playing."
When describing his ideal first baseman immediately after the season, Atkins suggested multi-position versatility would be appealing since it would create more options for Montoyo on a day-to-day basis. On Monday, Atkins added that he’d prefer a left-handed bat all else being equal.
Realistically, though, the Blue Jays may wait before adding at first base. Pitching remains the priority, with offers extended to Kyle Gibson and others. If and when some of those offers are accepted, Atkins will have a better sense of how much he can spend on position players.