The first steps in the off-season evolution of the Toronto Blue Jays were taken on Monday afternoon when the club, as anticipated, tendered $17.2-million (all figures U.S.) qualifying offers to both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
It is highly unlikely that either player will accept the offer – the pair stand to make much more than that after hitting the open market as free agents, be it with the Blue Jays or another baseball organization.
The Blue Jays did not make qualifying offers to any of their other free agents, including Victoria, B.C.-native Michael Saunders, who made the all-star team this past season.
MLB teams are eligible to make qualifying offers to those free agents who spent the entire season playing for their clubs, and teams get draft picks as compensation if tendered players ultimately decide to sign elsewhere.
But if their untendered players such as Saunders sign with another team, the Blue Jays will not receive any compensation.
The one-year value of qualifying offers for the 2017 season was set at $17.2-million: It was determined by averaging the salaries of the top 125 players in the league.
Players who receive a qualifying offer have one week to decide whether to accept the offer or test the free-agent market.
Since the qualifying-offer system was adopted in 2012, only three players – Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus and Brett Anderson – have accepted their offers.
It was a lock that the Blue Jays would extend offers to established stars such as Bautista and Encarnacion, to ensure they at least get draft picks if the players opt to leave.
It's unclear if the Blue Jays want to spend as much as it would take to retain the offensive cornerstones of the franchise, who have helped lead Toronto to back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series.
Of the two, Encarnacion would seem the likeliest to be re-signed by the Jays. At 33, he is younger than Bautista by three years and is still at the peak of his power, stroking 42 home runs this past season – tying a career high – while matching Boston's David Ortiz with a league-best 127 runs batted in.
Also, Encarnacion is an underrated performer at first base, which could be a weak spot in the lineup next season for manager John Gibbons should Encarnacion decide to move on.
Bautista, meanwhile, suffered from poor timing – he had a sub-par season during his walk year. Still a feared hitter, he started to show some wear and tear and had a couple of stints on the disabled list in 2016.
His play in right field also slipped a bit.
While Bautista will command one more hefty contract, it likely won't be provided by the Blue Jays.
With Saunders, the issue is a little more complicated, even though he had a career year this past season – the outfielder clubbed 24 home runs to go with a .253 batting average.
But the vast majority of his production occurred in the first half of the season, when he hit .298 with a .372 on-base percentage, 16 home runs and 42 RBIs. Following the all-star break, however, he hit just .178 with eight home runs and had an on-base percentage of .282.
It is a no-brainer that Saunders, a left-handed bat, would have happily accepted a qualifying offer, which would have represented an enormous raise from the $2.9-million he earned this past season.
The Blue Jays might be rolling the dice here, hoping to convince the 29-year-old to return on a new deal that would give him a raise from what he was making this past season, but nowhere near $17.2-million.
Should Bautista sign with another team, Toronto would be left with Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera as the only seasoned outfielders.
Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey would likely get another shot to show he deserves to play at the major-league level. Having Saunders back with the team would provide the Blue Jays with just a bit more versatility.
Bautista is coming off a club-friendly five-year, $65-million deal that paid him $14-million this past season. Encarnacion just completed a three-year, $29-million pact that earned him $10-million in 2016.