Jays expect qualifying offers for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion

TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays expect to make qualifying offers to potential free agents Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion but have yet to decide whether to make the same offer to outfielder Michael Saunders.

In a season-ending news conference Monday, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said the decision to extend qualifying offers to the sluggers is "about as easy a decision as we'll make."

The 33-year-old Encarnacion tied with David Ortiz for the AL lead with 127 RBIs while hitting 42 home runs and batting .263. The first baseman/designated hitter was an All-Star this year for the third time.

The 36-year-old Bautista hit 22 homers with 69 RBIs while batting .234 in an injury-slowed season. The outfielder homered twice in the AL playoffs.

Bautista (265) and Encarnacion (239) rank second and third behind Carlos Delgado (336) on Toronto's career home run list.

After Toronto ended a 22-year playoff drought with an AL East title last year, Bautista blasted the Blue Jays into the ALCS with a three-run homer to win Game 5 against Texas, punctuating his shot with a memorable bat flip.

This year it was Encarnacion's turn, with a three-run drive in the 11th inning to beat Baltimore in the wild-card game.

"Those guys have had very good careers, have always hit right-handed and left-handed pitchers, and have been a huge part of this organization's success, especially in the last couple of years," Atkins said.

Bautista, Encarnacion and Saunders are among nine potential free agents on Toronto's roster. The Blue Jays lost in five games to Cleveland in the ALCS, the second year in a row they have lost at that stage of the playoffs.

Atkins said Toronto will attempt to reach new contracts with Bautista and Encarnacion in the five days following the World Series, when teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents.

"They would definitely be priorities for us, and we'll look to do everything that we can to take advantage of that window," Atkins said. "That's plenty of time to potentially work something out if it's realistic on both ends."

Encarnacion signed a three-year, $29 million deal in in 2013 and is coming off a team option at $10 million.

Bautista signed a $65-million, five-year deal in 2011. Toronto picked up a $14 million option for 2016.

Atkins said the Blue Jays are still pondering what to do with Saunders, who hit a career-high 24 home runs this season and was an All-Star for the first time.

"We're still working through that one," Atkins said. "It's not quite as clear."

Saunders was hitting .298 when he won the All-Star final vote spot. HIs average slumped to .253 by the end of the season.

The price of a qualifying offer this year is $17.2 million. The offer can be made through the fifth day after the World Series, and a player has a week after that to accept.

If a team makes a qualifying offer to a player who signs a major league contract with another club before the June amateur draft, his former club receives a draft pick as compensation at the end of the first round.

None of the 34 qualifying offers was accepted in the first three years of baseball's current collective bargaining agreement, but Colby Rasmus (Houston), Matt Wieters (Baltimore) and Brett Anderson (Los Angeles Dodgers) accepted among the 20 players who received offers last winter.

Toronto's remaining free agents include right-hander Joaquin Benoit, left-hander Brett Cecil, right-hander R.A. Dickey, right-hander Scott Feldman, right-hander Gavin Floyd, and catcher Dioner Navarro.

Right-hander Jason Grilli has a $3 million club option for 2017. Atkins called Grilli's option "seemingly as near to a no-brainer to pick up as you can get."

Toronto still controls closer Roberto Osuna, AL ERA leader Aaron Sanchez and four other starters from the rotation that posted a league-low 3.64 ERA.

"We're fortunate that we have five starting pitchers returning that we feel good about because that area of the market seems to not quite as strong as some other areas," Atkins said. "The areas that we are going to be looking to fill, there seem to be some numbers there."

Atkins said discussions have begun on an extension for manager John Gibbons, who will be in the final season of a two-year contract in 2017.

All of Toronto's coaches will return in 2017 with the exception of assistant hitting coach Eric Owens. He had been with the Blue Jays since the beginning of the 2015 season.