Edwin Encarnacion will enter his final year of arbitration eligibility this winter, and will be an interesting case for the Toronto Blue Jays. Encarnacion signed a two-year, $7.6MM deal with the Reds before 2009 that covered his first two arbitration seasons, paying him $2MM in '09 and $4.75MM this year. With no contract for 2011 though, the 27-year-old will be a non-tender candidate.
Arguably, the Reds and Jays would have been better off if Encarnacion had gone year to year in arbitration. When he signed his deal, he was coming off a 2008 season in which he'd hit .251/.340/.466 and set a career high in home runs (26). In 669 plate appearances since then, the third baseman has hit .233/.311/.427 with an OPS+ of 95, and was even briefly sent to the minors. The production isn't a huge step down from his '08 numbers, but there are probably better ways for the Jays to spend $4.75MM.
The argument for tendering Encarnacion a contract for next season revolves primarily around his power potential. Even though his OBP and SLG rates have slipped, he's still hitting the ball out of the park, with 23 homers in 504 plate appearances since joining the Jays. Additionally, while "E-5" has continued to make his share of errant throws across the diamond, he's actually enjoying the best defensive season of his career, according to UZR.
The Jays will have some money coming off the books this summer, with Lyle Overbay, John Buck, Scott Downs, and others facing free agency. They'll be able to afford to bring Encarnacion back if they want to, but the bet here is that he won't be tendered a contract. Given Jose Bautista's ability to play either at third base or in the outfield, the team would have some flexibility if they had to replace Encarnacion.