Where could Encarnacion land in free agency?

September 13th, 2016

The end of the regular season is less than three weeks away, but uncertainty persists about the upcoming free-agent market.

We don't know if the Major Leagues' near-record home run output will make general managers less apt to invest in veteran sluggers, since power is so ubiquitous -- and young talent so prevalent.

We don't know if will adhere to his recent public comments, suggesting he plans to exercise his opt-out clause and remain with the Mets.

We don't know how ongoing labor negotiations will impact decisions of teams and players.

But this much is certain: If your team wants a free agent with the best home run pedigree over the past five years, is that hitter.

Encarnacion, who turns 34 in January, has hit 190 home runs -- all with the Blue Jays -- since the start of the 2012 season. Only Baltimore's has produced more (196), and he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Orioles last January.

Encarnacion can credibly ask for the same average annual value ($23 million) as Davis, but contract terms will be the question. Davis was 30 at Opening Day this year, meaning his deal goes through age 36. For Encarnacion, a contract through age 36 would be a three-year deal. But because of market forces, Encarnacion could be in line for a four- or five-year deal in the neighborhood of $25 million per season.

The extent of the Blue Jays' interest in retaining Encarnacion is unclear. Encarnacion said in an interview over the weekend in Toronto that he didn't receive any extension offers from the team last offseason. At the end of Spring Training, Encarnacion made clear he didn't want to negotiate during the regular season.

The Blue Jays, who have the oldest active roster in the Majors, probably want to get younger and more left-handed; retaining Encarnacion would not help those pursuits.

"It's a tough moment," Encarnacion said over the weekend, when asked about his emotions during what could be his final months as a Blue Jay. "I have five years, almost six years, with the organization. I feel good. I like this team. I like the organization, my teammates. We've been great. It's tough when you don't know what's going to happen. Being in that position, you don't know where you're going to go. It's going to be tough. We're going to see what happens after the season."

Encarnacion said he's comfortable as a designated hitter and at first base, which should boost his value to suitors this offseason. Not every veteran hitter adjusts to being a DH. Encarnacion has done so spectacularly well, thanks in part to advice from years ago about establishing an in-game routine of exercise and video study.

"He gave me some tips, and it's worked," Encarnacion said. "You've got to follow people like that -- what he's done off the field with his foundation and on the field. He's a future Hall of Famer. You want to be next to him and learn from people like that."

Encarnacion has had a hybrid role in Toronto this year -- 82 starts at designated hitter, 59 at first base -- and he said he's open to being a full-time DH under the right circumstances, with a contending team.

"I'm OK with that, but I think I [can] still play more in the field," Encarnacion said. "I'm still young. I know I can play more on the defensive side. I've been playing both positions [first and DH]. I know how to do it."

For those reasons, the Astros would be an excellent fit for Encarnacion. They could upgrade at both first base and DH, and they will benefit from having a strong core of position players (, , and Yulieski Gurriel) locked in at manageable salaries. In Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., the Astros have the potential to become a major player in free agency during the near future.

As for Ortiz's comments earlier this season that Encarnacion would be a perfect fit as Big Papi's successor in Boston?

"I was surprised," Encarnacion said. "I didn't know he was going to say that. But it made me feel good to hear David talking about me that way. That means you impressed [him]. It made me feel good."

So will it happen?

Encarnacion smiled and shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. "We're going to wait until after the season."