Blue Jays hoping to swing deals with sluggers

Bautista, Encarnacion contracts are high priority for club

Blue Jays hoping to swing deals with sluggers

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have a lot of heavy lifting to do this spring and most of the action will be taking place away from the field, in contract negotiations with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Toronto president Mark Shapiro went on record Thursday night to confirm contract talks with two sluggers will take place during Spring Training. First things first, the Blue Jays need to settle Josh Donaldson's arbitration case but the focus will shift quickly after that.

Bautista, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the year, seems open to the idea as he told The Canadian Press that it would be an "honor" to finish his career in Toronto. He also said that, unlike Encarnacion, there will not be a deadline and talks could even take place during the regular season.

"Fans-wise, city-wise, having the country behind us and every other aspect of being a Toronto Blue Jays player is something that I love," Bautista told the wire service. "Now, hopefully, that matches up with the new front office desire to win now, kind of like myself."

The willingness to talk dollars and terms is good news for the Blue Jays, but reaching a deal with either player will not be easy. Bautista and Encarnacion have a lot of money coming their way if they stay healthy this season, and likely will be resistant to offering a major hometown discount in advance.

That's where payroll will become a concern. Troy Tulowitzki has $98 million guaranteed over the next five seasons, Russell Martin has $75 million owed over the next four. Add in Donaldson's rapidly escalating salary through arbitration and the Blue Jays will be hard pressed to sign both Bautista and Encarnacion while having enough money to spend elsewhere.

The Blue Jays still try, and at the very least, gauge which of the two players make the most sense over the long term. The one thing everybody knows for sure is that those talks are going to take place.

"I guess the best thing to say is that it's a no-brainer that we want to keep them here," president Mark Shapiro said. "The sentiment is there, we've expressed that to both guys. We're not going to get into the specific negotiations until we get down to Spring Training. On our list of priorities we have a list of arbitration cases we have to deal with right now, and we've had a busy offseason in a lot of ways, but those conversations will be had."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for 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.