TORONTO -- Free agency is upon us, and the future of two of the best players in Blue Jays history now hangs in the balance.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are allowed to begin negotiating with other teams as of Tuesday morning. Where they'll end up is anybody's guess. But even with a qualifying offer, there will be no shortage of suitors.
Biggest potential FA loss: Bautista would have been first on this list earlier in the year, but he has since been supplanted by Encarnacion. When it comes to power hitters, Encarnacion is about as consistent as it gets from one year to the next. He's hit at least 34 home runs with 98 RBIs during each of the last five seasons and only had one year in which he appeared in fewer than 142 games during that span. Add in the fact that Encarnacion is a couple of years younger than Bautista, and he becomes the biggest potential free-agent loss.
Potential FA targets: With nine free agents, the Blue Jays have a pretty long shopping list this offseason. They need a pair of corner outfielders, a first baseman, a designated hitter and several new arms in the bullpen. Some of these needs can be filled through trades. But with Toronto also wanting to preserve its Minor League depth, there will have to be a priority on identifying solid value on the open market.
General manager Ross Atkins recently expressed a desire to see his team become more athletic, and there's a clear need for some additional left-handed bats. Dexter Fowler is one option in the outfield, but his price tag might be too high. Most reports have Ian Desmond sticking with the Rangers, while Yoenis Cespedes doesn't seem to fit. Some of the other free-agent outfielders include Colby Rasmus, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Carlos Gomez.
Wild Card scenario: The Blue Jays don't really have the prospects necessary at the upper levels of the Minors to make a big splash through trade. But one outside-the-box approach would be trading a starting pitcher. Toronto currently has its starting core of Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Liriano in place for next season, with Joe Biagini transitioning to that role, as well.
While Sanchez isn't going anywhere, Toronto could, in theory, look to move one of its other four to fill a big hole in the everyday lineup. That doesn't seem likely because, outside of Biagini, there aren't any viable internal alternatives to start and the free-agent market is pretty weak for starters. Even so, if the right deal presents itself, such a move cannot be ruled out.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. 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.