The Toronto Blue Jays have opened up contract discussions with designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who is a free agent at the end of the 2016 season, per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi.

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Encarnacion Prefers to Remain with Team

Wednesday, March 2

Davidi reported that Encarnacion will cease negotiations once the regular season starts if the two parties are unable to come to an agreement.

Over the last four years, Encarnacion has been one of the Blue Jays’ most consistent power hitters. Between 2012 and 2015, he averaged a little more than 37 home runs and 105 RBI per season.

The veteran corner infielder played a large role in last year’s trip to the American League Championship Series. According to FanGraphs, his 4.5 WAR was tied for second on the team among offensive players. He also batted .275 and slugged .400 with one home run and five RBI in Toronto’s 11 playoff games.

Last month, Encarnacion discussed how he wants to stay in Toronto beyond this year:

Re-signing Encarnacion won’t be a straightforward process for the Blue Jays, though. They also may want to re-sign outfielder Jose Bautista and relief pitcher Brett Cecil, both of whom also have only one year remaining on their current deals. The cost of bringing all three players back will be steep.

In addition, if the records of team president Mark Shapiro and to a lesser extent general manager Ross Atkins are any indicator, the team may be reticent to commit big money to a slugger who will turn 34 in 2017.

Shapiro and Atkins came from the Cleveland Indians, who traded their top stars more often than they re-signed them.

The Blue Jays have generally had a higher payroll than the Indians in recent years, so money won’t be as much of a concern for Shapiro and Atkins as it was in Cleveland. Still, it may be telling that Toronto’s trades for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, which depleted the team’s farm system, were reportedly a point of contention between Shapiro and former GM Alex Anthopoulos, per TSN’s Rick Westhead.

If Toronto is planning to tighten the budget in the future, letting Encarnacion walk in free agency will likely be part of the strategy.

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