TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' 2016 season came to a sudden, dramatic halt with a loss to the Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, but plans for next year are well underway and the first priority is figuring out what to do with Edwin Encarnacion and
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' 2016 season came to a sudden, dramatic halt with a loss to the Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, but plans for next year are well underway and the first priority is figuring out what to do with Edwin Encarnacion and José Bautista.
Toronto general manager Ross Atkins all but officially confirmed on Monday afternoon that the pair of sluggers will receive qualifying offers from the team. Neither is expected to accept, but the offers guarantee the club would receive a compensatory Draft pick for each player if they depart via free agency.
The value of qualifying offers is set by the collective bargaining agreement, and it is determined by the average annual salary of the top 125 Major League contracts. The figure for this offseason is $17.2 million, which is an 8.9 percent increase over last year.
"On those two players specifically, barring anything unforeseen, that's about as easy of a decision as we'll make," Atkins said about making qualifying offers to Encarnacion and Bautista.
Toronto's decision is far less certain with Michael Saunders, who also is set to hit free agency following the conclusion of the World Series. Atkins was asked about the Canadian outfielder, but he would only say that "we're still working through that one; it's not quite as clear as it is for Edwin and Jose."
Saunders seemed like a lock to receive a future qualifying offer when he was named to the American League All-Star team earlier this year. In the first half, Saunders broke out with a .298 average, 16 home runs and 42 RBIs, while posting a .923 OPS over 82 games. His production took a sharp dip in the second half with a .178 average and .638 OPS in 58 games.
The second-half struggles seem to indicate that Saunders will have to take his chances through free agency. It's a similar case for the rest of Toronto's free agents, which include Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit, R.A. Dickey, Dioner Navarro, Scott Feldman and Gavin Floyd. Veteran reliever Jason Grilli could fall into this category, but the Blue Jays intend to pick up his $3 million option for next season.
With so many pending free agents and the possibility of a large turnover, Atkins will have his work cut out for him this offseason. The biggest challenge is deciding exactly what to do with Bautista and Encarnacion, but the GM expects to have a better understanding of where those negotiations stand within the next couple of weeks.
Toronto has an exclusive negotiating window for its pending free agents, which lasts until five days after the completion of the World Series. Atkins said he expects to use all of that time to explore the possibility of new deals.
"I think that's plenty of time to potentially work something out if it's realistic on both ends," Atkins said.
But is it actually realistic to think that a team with more than $100 million committed to nine players next season can take a legitimate run at signing Bautista and Encarnacion to lucrative long-term deals?
"I'm not going to handicap it either, but I wouldn't call it low," Atkins said when asked about the skepticism surrounding the feasibility of bringing the pair back. "It's something that we need to work through, and I can't give you the odds on that. I really don't know them."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.