Few Blue Jays have been less popular this season than Edwin Encarnacion and Juan Rivera. They have certainly struggled at times and fans have been clamoring to ship them out of town, whether it be in a trade for a bucket of balls or an outright release.
Both players have managed to contribute at times and seem to be turning the corner, but both have been hard to watch other times. There are pros and cons to to retaining each player, which are outlined here to better prepare you for this inevitable question:
If you could release one of them today and HAD to hold on to the other, which one would you send packing and why?
With Encarnacion – also known as E5, E3, EE, and whatever else people are calling him these days – he was signed this offseason at a bargain price of $2.5 million to be the Jays’ primary DH. Out of the 58 games that he has appeared in so far this season, he has started at DH in just 20 of them. Interestingly enough, the longest stretch of consecutive games that Encarnacion has been the DH this season is only four, and it would be interesting to see how he would do with more regular playing time at DH.
In Spring Training, skipper John Farrell pointed out that Edwin’s problem in the past has been games where not only does he have to worry about hitting, but he has to worry about playing a position in the field as well. It’s pretty easy to understand why, too, because with the boos from a home crowd for his defense on top of making errors, Encarnacion’s brain is likely too focused on worrying about his fielding rather than on what he’s going to do at the plate when he steps in the box.
The numbers back it up as well. In the 20 games Encarnacion has been the DH, he’s gone 26-for-76 (.342) with seven doubles, two home runs, and six RBIs. In his five games as a first baseman, he went 5-for-21 (.238) with one extra-base hit, and as a third baseman, he has gone 18-for-90 (.200) with 14 strikeouts and nine doubles.
Speaking of doubles, Encarnacion actually leads the entire Jays team with 17, even though he has bounced around positions and had inconsistent playing time. If the Jays actually played Encarnacion as a full-time DH for a decent stretch of games – the spot they signed him to play – it would allow him to solely focus on hitting.
As much as people probably don’t want to hear, Encarnacion has heated up lately, hitting .280/.345/.500 in 15 June games compared to .247/.270/.349 that he hit in 39 games between April and May.
Encarnacion’s .290 on-base percentage is certainly a concern, and it’s noticeable given how much he has been swinging this year.He has drawn only nine walks in 196 plate appearances this season, and his 4.3 BB% is currently the lowest of his career. His 14.3 K% is also the lowest of his career though too.
Fielding has easily been the ugliest aspect of Encarnacion’s game this season. He’s committed a total of 11 errors in 35 games this season, including eight at third base and three at first. One of his worst moments of the season was when he played first base against the Rays on May 18, committing two errors and had the chance of being charged with one or two more if the scorekeeping had gone a different way.
It’s no secret that Encarnacion is far less effective on the field that he could be in the batter’s box, so the simple decision would be to put his glove in a display case permanently and start him exclusively as a DH for a while, no?
Aside from Jose Bautista and his league leading 65 walks, Yunel Escobar is second on the team with 34, followed by Rivera with 22. He has shown the ability to be patient at the plate, drawing clutch walks at times as well, and his 8.5% walk rate is currently the highest of his career, though the same can be said of his 16.2% strikeout rate, and his overall on-base percentage is far from impressive.
Rivera was a beast when the Jays played a four game series in Texas back in April, and he has shown on multiple occasions that he is a very streaky hitter. Those four games in Texas were nestled in the middle of a nice nine game hitting streak to close out April, more than doubling his average from .103 to .233. Prior to his 0-for-5 showing May 30 against Cleveland, Rivera had managed an 11-game hit streak from May 19-29, where he hit seven doubles, two home runs, and .386/.426/.682 over that span. Coincidentally, Rivera started at first base for all of those 11 games.
Rivera’s obvious lack of hustle at the beginning of the season irked many Jays fans, myself included, and the biggest downfall with him is plainly the position he plays. The Jays have far more exciting players that can play in the outfield over Rivera – thankfully one of them, Eric Thames, has already returned to the Jays – and the Jays already have enough right-handed hitters in the lineup to choose from as well.
Anthopoulos is likely only trying to keep giving Rivera at-bats up until the trade deadline to be able to at least move him for some kind of return, and I would highly doubt Rivera continues to steal at-bats from other Jays players after July 31.
Now, comparing Encarnacion and Rivera, if you had the opportunity to release one of them right now and HAD to keep the other, which one would you ship out of town?