TORONTO – Debate continues to rage over Edwin Encarnacion’s messy departure from the Toronto Blue Jays, with emotional fans split between blaming the team for not getting a deal done, and the iconic slugger for aiming too high off the bat.
Setting off the visceral reaction is the agreement Encarnacion reached with Cleveland late Thursday night on a three-year deal that guarantees $60 million, a total that can swell up to $80 million if a fourth-year option is exercised. The contract guarantees less than the $80-million, four-year offer tabled by the Blue Jays in early November, a disparity fuelling much of the angst.
That Blue Jays offer also included the possibility of a fifth year option that if exercised would have pushed the contract’s value up to $100 million, two sources told Sportsnet on Friday.
Hence, the primary question many Blue Jays fans keep asking is why things played out this way when there was so much common ground. Based on conversations with a number of industry sources, here’s a rough reconstruction of the fruitless negotiations between the sides.
Spring training – Working under an opening day deadline imposed by Encarnacion, who didn’t want to be distracted by talks in-season, the Blue Jays tabled the idea of a two-year contract extension that included two additional option years and a reworking of the slugger’s 2016 salary of $10 million. Scenarios that included vesting options or buyout options that increased the guarantee are raised but there’s no traction. Talks end, the season begins, and negotiations are shelved until the season’s end.
Nov. 3 – The Blue Jays make their first offer to Encarnacion, $70 million over four years, and it doesn’t move the needle. There is no formal counter-offer but Encarnacion’s camp floats the number of $125 million over five years. The sense is that Encarnacion is seeking a guarantee of $100 million or so.
Nov. 6 – Seeking to bring negotiations to a quick resolution, the Blue Jays break from typical negotiating practices and counter against themselves, upping their offer to $80 million over four years. A performance-based vesting option for a fifth year at $20 million, or a straight team option for $20 million with a buyout factored into the $80 million guarantee is raised. There’s no counter-offer from the Encarnacion camp, which wasn’t prepared to make a deal with free agency so near. There’s also uncertainty about where the collective bargaining agreement talks were going, and what that meant for his market. The Blue Jays, however, make clear they want some clarity on whether their offer is going to be good enough to get a deal done. If it’s not, there was no sense for either side to waste their time.
Nov. 7 – The Blue Jays arrive at the general managers meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., and extend qualifying offers to Encarnacion and Jose Bautista ahead of a 5 p.m. ET deadline. During a meeting with Encarnacion’s camp, the Blue Jays are asked if they will disengage if their offer is rejected. The reply is they won’t, but that they would aggressively pursue alternatives that could close off an Encarnacion return. Such a deal isn’t imminent, but could come quickly, the Blue Jays warn. Encarnacion, feeling rushed just as he arrived at free agency, asks for time to sleep on the offer and the Blue Jays agree, but reiterate that they need some clarity on where things stand with the market about to open.
Edwin Encarnacion, left, and Jose Bautista. (Fred Thornhill/CP)
Nov. 8 – Free agency opens at 12:01 a.m. ET, and both sides begin speaking with others. The impression the Blue Jays have is that the Encarnacion camp is set on getting $100 million. There’s communication between the team and the player, underlining that the Blue Jays could move on if he doesn’t accept. They want a signal that they’re in the ballpark. Speaking to reporters at the GM meetings, Ross Atkins says cryptically that, "Offers often times come on and off tables." By day’s end there’s no movement and it’s here that both sides appear to make critical miscalculations. The Encarnacion camp, despite being told dialogue with other players was set to start, doesn’t feel a divorce is imminent. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, conclude from the lack of urgency on the other side of the table that there’s at least one other team willing to be in the $80-$100 million range. Both were wrong.
Nov. 9 – While Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro is working on the signing of Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Atkins opens talks with Adam Katz, the agent for Kendrys Morales. There is near instant traction between the sides. The Blue Jays believe the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are also pursuing Morales. With things at a standstill with Encarnacion, they want to lock down a middle-of-the-order bat so they aren’t left exposed and can be more patient in filling their other holes.
Nov. 10 – The Encarnacion camp and Blue Jays touch base as the GM meetings conclude but there are no substantive talks. Progress, meanwhile, continues in the negotiations with Morales.
Nov. 11 – The Blue Jays reach agreement on a $33-million, three-year deal with Morales. They didn’t circle back to Encarnacion before striking the deal, but still saw a scenario where he could return and share first base and DH duties with Morales. The deal caught the Encarnacion camp off-guard, with agent Paul Kinzer saying this week they didn’t anticipate the Blue Jays acting so quickly. They also didn’t understand the rush to sign Morales, especially if Encarnacion was the preferred option.
Nov. 12 – The sides speak again with the Blue Jays saying the door to an Encarnacion return isn’t closed, that Justin Smoak could potentially be traded, but the $80 million offer was off the table, and creativity would be needed. The notion is raised that $90 million over four years would have gotten a deal done. The sides agree to stay in touch.
Nov. 13-21 – The free-agent market is slow to develop, with Red Sox president David Dombrowski making the point that uncertainty over where the luxury tax is headed in collective bargaining agreement talks makes a big free-agent splurge unlikely. Other teams are reluctant to dive in to the free-agent market as well, eroding what observers expected to be a more robust market for Encarnacion. The Astros, Yankees and Red Sox all aggressively pursue Carlos Beltran. The Rangers don’t engage the way they were expected.
Nov. 22 – The sides speak again but the Blue Jays repeat that they can no longer do a deal for $80 million. Things remain deadlocked.
Nov. 29 – The New York Mets reach agreement with free-agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on a $110-million, four-year deal. Many wonder if the deal will act as a catalyst in the market. It doesn’t.
Yoenis Cespedes at a news conference in November. (Kevin Hagen/AP)
Nov. 30 – The Blue Jays and the Encarnacion camp discuss the possibility of a three-year deal for the first time but there’s no traction as the financial gap remains wide. The squeeze is on. Meanwhile, by night’s end, owners and players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, and news on the luxury tax threshold isn’t good for Encarnacion. In 2017, it will be set at $195 million, up only slightly from this year’s $189 million. It won’t be high enough to get the Red Sox and Yankees in the bidding.
Dec. 3 – As the winter meetings near, Beltran signs a $16-million, one-year deal with the Astros, removing another potential landing spot for Encarnacion from the mix.
Dec. 4 – The Blue Jays reach agreement with Steve Pearce on a $12.5-million, two-year deal on the eve of the winter meetings in National Harbor, Md., while the Yankees secure Matt Holliday for $13 million over one year. Once again the Encarnacion camp is blindsided, as a meeting with the Blue Jays is scheduled for the next day. Two more options are closed off as now the Blue Jays roster really is blocked off to Encarnacion.
Dec. 5-8 – The Blue Jays and Encarnacion’s camp remain in touch but there’s no common ground at this point. With Morales and Pearce already on the roster, the only realistic scenario for the Blue Jays is a one, maybe a two-year deal. The market for Encarnacion is stronger than that, however, as surprising suitors enter the fray. Cleveland emerges as a possibility for the first time, while Oakland starts sniffing around. Texas monitors the situation, as well, as do the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. But nothing is imminent.
Dec. 22 – Encarnacion’s free agency moves into the end game as Cleveland and Oakland make strong pushes to get a deal done. The Athletics are aggressive with an offer of $50 million for two years, a contract structure that would have allowed Encarnacion to re-enter the market ahead of his age 36 season and perhaps surpass the $80 million guarantee from the Blue Jays. But the allure of playing for an American League favourite in Cleveland is too strong, and agreement on a deal that guarantees Encarnacion $60 million over three years, with an option that could push the package up to $80 million over four, is reached. The resolution, even if not his first choice, is ultimately a good one for Encarnacion.
Dec. 23 – Faint hopes of a reunion with Encarnacion now off the table, the Blue Jays begin to more aggressively pursue their remaining needs on the roster.