The Toronto Blue Jays unveiled Jose Bautista as the latest member of the Level of Excellence in a rousing and emotional ceremony earlier this month. He was an obvious choice to be placed among the other greats in team history but in our “what’s next?” society, many fans are wondering who the following Jays alumni could be to join this distinctive group.
It could very well be Edwin Encarnacion, which was anything but a lock when he first joined the franchise back in 2009. He was the main piece in the trade that sent Scott Rolen to Cincinnati. Despite a few good seasons under his belt, the then-26-yeard-old wasn’t considered a player who would be enshrined among the best players in franchise history.
He started slowly but always hit for power and benefitted from a position change. Encarnacion began his career as a third baseman, but by the time he landed on the Blue Jays, it was clear that first base and designated were more comfortable spots for the talented slugger.
After a pair of so-so years, the Dominican slugger broke out with perhaps his finest season in 2012, when he hit 42 home runs with a .941 OPS (both third in the AL) and 110 RBI. Another 900+ OPS season in 2013 resulted in his first All-Star game appearance, and his 98 RBI in 2014 was the only season between 2012 and 2016 that didn’t end with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI.
For his Toronto tenure, Edwin hit .268 with 239 homers (third in team history), 679 RBI, and .878 OPS (136 OPS+). His rise culminated with back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015 and 2016, and he was arguably the team’s best player in ’16.
Following that year, Encarnacion signed a three-year contract with Cleveland. There were some hurt feelings, finger-pointing, and the pivot to sign Kendrys Morales, who could never come close to filling EE’s shoes.
The fan base has gotten over any harsh feelings and the beloved slugger has made some appearances with the Jays over the last few years, including at Bautista’s big day. He was a big part of a memorable era in this team's history, and his name deserves to be alongside Joey Bats and Carlos Delgado as the most prolific home run hitters in Blue Jays history. And who could forget the Edwing home run celebration?