Blue Jays, Encarnacion yet to talk extension

Blue Jays, Encarnacion yet to talk extension

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blue Jays have yet to engage in serious contract negotiations with designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion but remain open to the idea of signing him to a long-term extension.

Encarnacion is entering the final year of a $39 million deal he signed in 2012. He is set to become a free agent at the end of the '16, and according to a report from Boston sports radio station WEEI, Encarnacion has set a deadline of Opening Day for contract negotiations.

The report indicated that if Encarnacion does not sign a long-term deal before April 3 he will take his chances with free agency. That was news to Toronto assistant general manager Tony LaCava, but he said the organization would honor those wishes if that's what Encarnacion would prefer.

Hot Stove Tracker: Free agents and trades

"We haven't heard anything from Edwin about that but that being said, obviously we would respect that," LaCava said on Day 1 of the annual Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. "He's a great player that we would like to keep with us, but obviously with free agency looming after next year, he has his options."

Encarnacion isn't the only prominent player the Blue Jays have to worry about over the next 12 months. Right fielder Jose Bautista also will hit free agency next year and it remains to be seen whether the organization can fit both players into their payroll for the foreseeable future.

Winter Meetings interview with John Gibbons

Each slugger is currently working on below-market contracts that were originally signed by former GM Alex Anthopoulos. Encarnacion is set to earn $10 million in 2016 while Bautista will make $14 million, but both should be in line for significant raises with salaries on the open market once again rising this offseason.

The challenge is that both players are performing at an All-Star level, but they are also entering the final stages of their career. Bautista will be 36 years old when he would become a free agent, while Encarnacion will be 33, and the advanced age does come with an element of risk. The Blue Jays will have to balance how many years and dollars to allocate. Unless something changes, it seems unlikely that both players will still be around in 2017.

According to most reports and speculation within the organization, Encarnacion likely would be the easier of the two to sign before free agency, but it certainly won't be as affordable as it was back in 2012.

"You look at his production the last few years, it's really a bargain," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Encarnacion's current deal. "When they first signed that, I wasn't around, but it was a leap of faith in the organization for them to sign it, with what he accomplished at that point in the organization and what they thought he was going to do. This organization made out all right, that's for sure.

"There's a lot more money for Eddie to make before it's all said and done. As far as whether he tests the waters, who knows? We need him to be good again this year. I saw a different Eddie in the second half after we made those moves. It kind of rejuvenated Eddie, and he really took off."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.