It might have been tough to watch Edwin Encarnacion leave after the 2016 season, but the Blue Jays received a huge blessing because he did.
It’s funny how differently things can look with the benefit of hindsight, and that’s exactly the way I’ve been feeling about Edwin Encarnacion‘s departure from the Blue Jays in free agency three years ago. At the time it was a gut-wrenching loss for the fan base, as Encarnacion was still a productive player and the club had just come off of back to back postseason appearances.
However, with the benefit of that hindsight, I’m really glad the Cleveland Indians ultimately signed him that winter. Why do I say that? Well, because the Blue Jays wouldn’t have Nate Pearson otherwise, and he has a chance to be the best homegrown pitcher this organization has ever produced.
The compensation system has changed a bit since then, but thankfully the Blue Jays were able to benefit one more time before it did. The way it worked was, the Blue Jays made Encarnacion a qualifying offer, meaning he had the option to return on a one-year, high salary contract. Because he turned it down and ended up signing in Cleveland instead, the Blue Jays were rewarded with an extra first round pick as compensation, and they wisely used it to select Pearson.
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Speaking of hindsight, the MLB draft is a great example of a scenario that could a crystal ball. Teams routinely make mistakes on a yearly basis, as it’s very difficult to project how a player will progress through minor league baseball, or if they’ll ever be good enough to reach the Major Leagues. For example, Mike Trout fell all the way to 25th overall in 2009, and I’m sure there are 24 teams that are still sick about that.
For the Blue Jays, they actually selected Logan Warmoth with their first pick of the 2017 draft. He may still end up as a quality big leaguer, but so far the shortstop has struggled to progress and just reached Double-A last year, where he had an on-base percentage of just .290 across 65 games. Meanwhile, Pearson, who was taken six picks later, flew through three levels in 2019 and there’s a solid argument that he should break camp with the team this season, even if that’s unlikely.
It wasn’t easy letting go of the last competitive window for the Blue Jays, but with the benefit of that hindsight I mentioned, it looks like Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins picked the right time, at least with Encarnacion. The Blue Jays only won 76 games in 2017 without ‘EE’, and as much as I still love the guy, he wouldn’t have made the difference in keeping that competitive window open a year longer.
As a result of the way things worked out (the Blue Jays did try to re-sign him, after all), it all turned out to be a blessing in disguise, at least that’s the way it’s shaping up to be. Pearson is now the top pitcher in the Blue Jays’ minor league system by a mile, and a top 10 prospect in baseball, and those guys don’t grow on trees. Considering the timeline of the rebuild and how Pearson projects, you can chalk this up to one of my Dad’s favourite sayings, “everything happens for a reason”.