Posted on October 25, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

Toronto Blue Jays Edwin Encarnacion

Image via cbc.ca

With an important offseason on the horizon for the Toronto Blue Jays and a great deal of turnover possible, GM Ross Atkins says he wants to keep the team that has gone to the ALCS in two straight years in tact as much as possible. At the top of his list of priorities this winter is making a qualifying offer to both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, as the Blue Jays are looking to do everything they can to re-sign both sluggers.

“Those guys have had very good careers, have always hit right-handed and left-handed pitchers, and have been a huge part of this organization’s success, especially in the last couple of years,” Atkins said Monday about Bautista and Encarnacion, adding that making each a qualifying offer of one-year and $17.2 million is “about as easy a decision as we’ll make.”

Of course, neither player is expected to accept a qualifying offer, as both players are likely to receive multi-year offers from other teams if they hit the open market. The Blue Jays will have a five-day window following the World Series to exclusively negotiate with both players before they hit the open market, and Atkins believes a deal can be reached with both players during that time period.

“They would definitely be priorities for us, and we’ll look to do everything that we can to take advantage of that window,” Atkins said. “That’s plenty of time to potentially work something out if it’s realistic on both ends.”

However, whether either Bautista or Encarnacion will be receptive to speaking exclusively with the Blue Jays remains to be seen. Both players declined to comment on their upcoming free agency following last week’s loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS, but it’s easy to see why each would be excited to explore free agency. Nevertheless, Atkins believes both players are motivated to remain in Toronto.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are still undecided on whether they will extend a qualifying offer to outfielder Michael Saunders. “We’re still working through that one,” Atkins said about the situation with Saunders. “It’s not quite as clear.”

Saunders is probably not worth $17.2 million for one year, so there’s a distinct chance he would accept it, especially after making just $2.9 million this year, and the Blue Jays would be left over paying him in 2017, at least slightly. Of course, Saunders would be a great insurance policy to help keep Toronto’s lineup somewhat intact if Bautista and Encarnacion both end up signing elsewhere. At the same time, Saunders would likely get a multi-year offer somewhere else with more than $17.2 million guaranteed, albeit with a lower annual salary, so making him a qualifying offer could be worth the risk.

If the Blue Jays making a qualifying offer to a player who ultimately signs with another team, Toronto will get an extra draft pick next year between the 1st and 2nd rounds. Those extra draft picks could help the Blue Jays rebuild a farm system that most would rank in the bottom half among major league clubs. Of course, the Blue Jays already have plenty of money committed to the players under contract for next season, and so being able to retain even one player out of Bautista, Encarnacion, and Saunders could be difficult financially.

Atkins also mentions the need for the Blue Jays to rebuild their bullpen, as several notable relief pitchers, including Brett Cecil, are hitting free agency. However, he mentions the team is content with what they have among starting pitchers. Between rebuilding the bullpen and dealing with their three free agent sluggers, it should be an interesting offseason for the Blue Jays, who have every intention of continuing to compete at a high level after back-to-back trips to the ALCS.

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