How much is a soon-to-be 34-year-old slugger who has 193 homers (second in MLB) and 550 RBI (also second) since 2012 worth? We’ll soon find out after Edwin Encarnacion declined the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer Monday. Encarnacion is arguably the best bat available on the free-agent market and will have no shortage of suitors, especially in the American League. Among them:
Boston needs a big bat to replace David Ortiz, who actively (and somewhat illegally) campaigned during his farewell season to bring Encarnacion aboard in 2017. It’s a logical fit because Encarnacion could rotate at DH with several players and also share first base with Hanley Ramirez. And that Green Monster would be awfully inviting in right field.
Clearly trying to seize the window of opportunity, Houston has been linked to everyone from Encarnacion to Miguel Cabrera to Carlos Beltran already this offseason. And the Astros clearly have a need: Their first basemen ranked 28th in the majors in OPS (.680) this past season, and their DHs ranked dead-last in the AL with a .677 OPS.
After losing Prince Fielder to a career-ending neck injury during the season and with Mitch Moreland now a free agent, Texas has a huge offensive need – specifically at first base/DH. Encarnacion is just a .188 career hitter at Globe Life Park, but 12 of his 18 hits there have gone for extra bases (seven doubles, five homers). As for the Rangers, if you can’t beat him, sign him.
Mark Teixeira is retired, and Greg Bird is coming off a labrum tear that cost him the entire 2016 season. So it wouldn’t be surprising for New York to consider addressing its first base situation by making a big free-agent splash. Encarnacion, who has 15 homers in 60 career games at Yankee Stadium, could split time at first with Bird and at DH with Brian McCann – unless McCann is dealt to free up some cash and at-bats.
All signs indicate that Toronto has moved on after agreeing to a three-year deal with free-agent Kendrys Moralaes, but maybe – just maybe -- there still is a chance to retain Encarnacion. The Blue Jays still are going to need offense if Jose Bautista leaves, and perhaps Encarnacion will sacrifice a few bucks for the comfort of staying put. Possible, but not likely.
A move to the NL is somewhat far-fetched for Encarnacion because there is no DH, but Colorado might be the exception. Mark Reynolds is a free agent, leaving rookie Stephen Cardullo atop the depth chart at first base – at least momentarily. A lineup that includes Encarnacion, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon could mask a lot of pitching deficiencies. Just imagine Encarnacion in that altitude.