Encarnacion available, but reunion with Blue Jays wouldn’t be so simple

edwin-encarnacion

New York Yankees' Edwin Encarnacion. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

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It’s a tempting idea, right? Edwin Encarnacion‘s now officially a free agent after the Yankees declined his $20-million club option for 2020. The Blue Jays, the team for which he has already played 999 career games, have a potential need at first base or DH now that Justin Smoak’s officially a free agent, too.

How better to reward the fan base than by re-signing a player whose 2016 departure left a bitter taste for many? Encarnacion has hit more home runs over the last decade than anyone but Nelson Cruz, averaging 34 homers per year with an .875 OPS. True to form, he hit exactly 34 homers with an .875 OPS in 2019.

Plus, assuming Cruz’s recent one-year, $14.3-million deal with the Twins represents a fair comparable, Encarnacion shouldn’t be too expensive (evidently the Yankees consider him a sub-$20 million player). For those reasons, you can make the case that the Blue Jays should re-sign him.

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Intriguing, to be sure, and there are scenarios (read: price points) where this makes sense. But at the risk of being a naysayer I think it’s more complicated than that for a few reasons.

The optics of a deal with Encarnacion would initially be fantastic. He’d add welcome offence to the middle of the order and give fans a jolt of nostalgia. But he turns 37 before the season starts. What happens if this is the year his production drops off? Do you keep running him out there over developing players? Is Charlie Montoyo prepared to tell Encarnacion he’s riding the bench? Unless you’re ready for some tough decisions and conversations, you can’t sign him.

Beyond that, there’s the question of roster flexibility. If Encarnacion’s on this team he’s taking regular DH at-bats, limiting Montoyo’s ability to rotate others through that position for partial rest days. As for defence, GM Ross Atkins said last month he’d ideally like a first baseman who can play other positions, too. That doesn’t sound like Encarnacion.

Plus, as the Blue Jays look ahead, they need players who can help them win for years. Even if Encarnacion sustains his remarkable production in 2020, he’s nearing the end of his career. Why not create an opportunity for someone trending upward — the kind of player who could help for many years, rather than one?

If anything, Encarnacion’s career path should serve as a reminder that seemingly ordinary players do become great every year. Tempting thought it may be to reunite with a franchise icon this winter, the Blue Jays would probably be better off allocating those at-bats to a promising player with the potential to join this team’s emerging core. In other words, find the next Encarnacion instead.

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