DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
With the MLB playoff finally over with the Chicago Cubs being crowned champions, the MLB offseason starting for real, and the Jays have some real decisions to make when considering pending free agent Edwin Encarnacion. The player who will be manning first base next season remains a mystery but the Jays have a few options. Do they resign Encarnacion at any cost? Sign another free agent? Trade for someone? Use Justin Smoak? Call up Rowdy Tellez? The decision Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro make will play a major role in the teams success so this is an incredibly important decision to consider.
The teams first and best option remains to resign Encarnacion. A franchise legend, Encarnacion had one of his best seasons last year, where he hit .263 with 42 home runs and a career high 127 RBI. The 33 year old is incredibly important to the club and the Jays should seriously consider bringing him back at any cost. A possible contract for Encarnacion could be 4 to 5 years and around 110 million but in the short term, he could be worth the price even if he declines somewhat.
Another option remains to trade for an Encarnacion replacement. Rumors say Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto are both available in trades, but could cost the Jays a lot of value and both players are on the wrong side of thirty. Aside from this talented duo above., other trade options are limited, but the Jays could target a few players including C.J Cron, and Lucas Duda. Cabrera and Votto are expensive MVP's who have put up some crazy good seasons. Cabrera has a career batting average of .321 and at least 25 home runs every season since 2003 with only one exception (2015). Votto has also put up impressive numbers, as he has recorded a career .425 OBP and career 157 OPS+. The downside to acquiring these players is the large cost, as either option will cost the Jays some serious prospects including (but not limited to) Anthony Alford, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Sean Reid-Foley. Another downside is there massive contracts, as Cabrera and Votto have 272 and 192 million dollars (including contract options) remaining left on their respective contracts. That leaves us with smaller and more inexpensive options for replacements. One option is to acquire C.J. Cron from the rebuilding Angles, a team with the best baseball player in the world, but few talented players around him and an incredibly weak farm system. Because of this, the Angels should be willing to move Cron if it means improving there farm system. The 26 year old has spent parts of three season in the big leagues, and has put up 112, 105, and 115 WRC+ in these seasons respectively. In addition, he put up 1.7 WAR last season and his production seems sustainable thanks to a career .298 BABIP and 16 home runs in each of the two season despite playing in the spacious AL West. My final trade option is Lucas Duda, and there are a few reasons to acquire him. The first, he is a left-handed hitter which could provide some importance in the Jays lineup. More importantly, he hit 30 and 27 home runs in 2014 and 2015 respectively, despite playing in the massive stadium that is Citi Field. Unfortunately, he struggled wit injuries last season and played in only 47 games. Another downside is that the Mets are contenders, so they might be unwilling to trade a contributor unless he is replaced with major league talent.
In terms of free agents, the Jays options are even more limited, where the only serious options include Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland. The 35 year old Napoli had a career high 101 RBI's last season while playing on the AL champion Cleveland Indians. Despite some obvious deficiencies such as a career 26.9 K% and absolutely no base running skills, Napoli does have serious value. He's hit at least 17 home runs in every season since 2007 and has played in no less than 108 games since 2008. Having split time between 1B and DH last season, he could be a solid alternative to not resigning Encarnacion. Mitch Moreland also has some solid traits which could help the Jays next season such as a left-handed bat and at least 15 home runs every season since 2011. Unfortunately, he has only hit above .260 twice in his career and also has massive career splits between pitchers of opposite handedness, as he has a career WRC+ of 78 against left-handed pitchers.
If the Jays fail to resign Encarnacion or acquire another 1B, then the most clear option is Justin Smoak. This is a problem, Justin Smoak sucks, in case you need a reminder, Smoak hit .217 with 14 home runs a 32.8 K%. Still he played in 126 games thanks to a reputation for playing strong 1B defense (which I still don't think is a thing) but last season managed -5 DRS and a UZR/150 of -3.1. His defense wasn't even good, so as a punishment, the front office gave him a 2 year contract extension. For a team with hopes of contending, this terrifies me, so if the Jays don't find a first baseman, they should take a chance on the man below.
The most intriguing and highest risk option is prospect Rowdy Tellez. His upside could be tremendous or he could be overmatched, but his case is interesting. The big left handed 1B hit .297 and 23 home runs in AA while also drawing 63 BB in 124 games. Tellez is ranked as the Jays 9th best prospect per mlb.com, and has had proven success at every level in the minors so far. The question becomes whether or not Tellez is ready tor the big leagues. The answer; probably not, but he is an intriguing option if the Jays don't resign Encarnacion or acquire another 1B.
In the end, I hope all my work investigating all these players not named Edwin Encarncaion is wasted by resigning the man who ended the Orioles season with a walk off home run. If the Jays can't, than we have to accept the pros and cons (or in the case of Justin Smoak, just the cons) of whichever player the Jays decide to replace him with. Either way, I thank EE for everything he has done as a Blue Jays and hope he does well wherever the goes, and wherever the Jays go.