Toronto Blue Jays News

Toronto Blue Jays: Life without Edwin?

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Apr 3, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (10) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Somewhere between the euphoria of witnessing 17 runs scored on Sunday afternoon and feverishly texting friends that Troy Tulowitzki’s swing is finally back, I found myself mulling over questions which seemed inspired by horrible TD Bank commercials and birds indigenous to South America.

Why have Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins failed to negotiate a reasonable long-term contract to keep their feared slugger in Toronto beyond this year? What is management waiting for? And why aren’t we hearing more about this?

Edwin Encarnacion is having himself the kind of free agent season which makes baseball agents salivate with glee while rolling around on mattresses stuffed with cash. He’s currently leading the league in RBI, 3rd in home runs, 9th in walks and 10th in slugging percentage – and is on pace to hit 42 home runs with151 RBI.

A player who began his professional career in relative purgatory as a Cincinnati Red, struggling mightily only to find himself claimed off waivers – and becoming a glorious reclamation project which allowed Alex Anthopoulos to cement his legacy as a shrewd GM.

Earlier in the season I wrote a slightly meandering and mildly interesting perspective on how the team should approach the impending free agency of both Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. My conclusion rested on the notion that Edwin represented a safer approach to a long-term financial commitment whereas Jose would be a gamble of sorts – further illustrated by the latter’s maddening inability to remain healthy through an entire regular season. For those scoring at home, this is the third of the last five seasons in which Bautista has landed on the disabled list, coming off spring training speculation that a hometown discount is out of the question – oh, and also that his camp is probably looking at around $30 million per year with a 5 year term.

All reasons for me to conclude at the time of writing that Edwin remained the best option for the team. Replacing his cleanup power and plate discipline would be a tall order, and the longer the Jays waited to negotiate, the higher his salary demands would inevitably become thus leading straight to his departure. The fans didn’t like this premise at the start of the season and they hate it even more now.

And so here we are. Halfway through yet another predictably stellar campaign in which the Dominican from La Romana is fastidiously bashing his way through the league and earning his keep as one of the best bargains on this 2016 team. A player who began his professional career in relative purgatory as a Cincinnati Red, struggling mightily to prove his worth while not knowing a word of English. Often riding the pine and almost always benched for his defensive gaffes, only to find himself claimed off waivers – and ultimately becoming a glorious reclamation project which allowed Alex Anthopoulos to cement his legacy as a shrewd GM.

Let’s also take a moment to dispel the growing perception that he’s a liability in the field – manager John Gibbons has used the designated hitter as a first baseman for 25 games (!) and he’s acquitted himself nicely to the tune of  a .991 fielding percentage with only two errors and a -0.7 defensive WAR. We may not have Keith Hernandez at first base, but his efforts are slightly above his career norm and are nicely offset by his overall 2.0 WAR and the offensive damage he’s caused to American League East opponents this year:

Baltimore (36 AB) – .333/.457/.667 – 3 HR, 10 RBI.

Boston (49 AB) – .306/.368/.653 – 5 HR, 14 RBI.

New York (33 AB) – .273/.278/.412 – 0 HR, 7 RBI.

Tampa Bay (37 AB) – .216/.293/.324 – 1 HR, 5 RBI.

Against the Orioles and Red Sox – two teams standing in the way of foreseeable playoff contention, Edwin has 8 home runs and 24 RBI already this year. That kind of production against the fiercest of rivals is why he’s become a genuine fan favourite even if he’s starting to feel more and more like a mercenary each day.

At the end of March, a crestfallen Edwin seemed resigned to the fact that his team would not be making a serious effort to retain his services, especially given the deafening silence from the front office in lieu of his self-imposed spring training deadline. Shapiro himself downplayed the whole incident saying: “I think we just reinforce how much we appreciate him as a player, as a person, for what he has done here and what we hope he is going to do this year.” 

It’s very possible that negotiations are already underway between the parties, but it’s more likely that Rogers is going to wait this out and hope for the best possible time to offer Edwin an “optimal” term and money arrangement – perhaps somewhere in the range of 2-4 years at around $20-24 million per annum. Even the most ardent cynic would freely admit that such numbers are reasonable, especially with the distinct possibility that Bautista could end up playing at Fenway Park next spring. But is waiting really the answer for a player that has surpassed every expectation of him since day one?

Against the Orioles and Red Sox – two teams standing in the way of foreseeable playoff contention, Edwin has 8 home runs and 24 RBI already this year. That kind of production against the fiercest of rivals is why he’s become a genuine fan favourite even if he’s starting to feel more and more like a mercenary each day.

In many ways Edwin is both a spectacle of an athlete and the very antithesis of one, and he’s had to live with doubters throughout most of his career. One moment making a sensational play in the field that leaves the crowd grinning from ear to ear, and the next committing an error or making a mental mistake normally associated with watching the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Interestingly enough, all the disparaging cries of “E5” have quietly dissipated and are now replaced with frequent chants of “MVP!” – a sure sign of evolution from a player who was once horribly maligned and is now obviously proud to be a member of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club.

And of course there’s this. Watching the video of his infamous barrel-roll in 2014 is an oddly cathartic and gratifying experience when enjoyed in slow-motion. It’s not quite as depressing as Bautista’s turf toe or mortifying as Michael Saunders’ freakish sprinkler mishap, but it certainly ranks high in the category of true baseball surrealism – where bizarre stuff happens to strange people who run around with an imaginary parrot on their arm – an endearing tradition started on April 28th, 2012, when the city of Toronto was introduced to the glory of the Edwing for the very first time. 

In a season heavily influenced by mediocre offensive production (notwithstanding the last two weeks) and an endless rotation of injuries to key players (Tulowitzki, Bautista, Cecil, Floyd, Travis), there’s something strangely heartwarming in seeing Edwin take his licks and delivers results time and time again when the Jays needs him most – reinforcing on an almost daily basis that a 2017 season without him is a frightening prospect scarcely worth imagining for supporters of the club.

Considering his age, his tenure, his affinity for the fans in abundance, and his vocal and passionate desire to end his career as a Blue Jay – the timing is right to get a deal done. Not only would this send a loud and clear message from ownership in their desire to field a competitive team beyond 2016, but it would signify the first major decision by this management group that all fans would universally embrace.

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