Earlier this month, the Blue Jays were connected to the likes of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Justin Smoak and Edwin Encarnacion as they evaluated first base options. Less than two weeks later, both Tsutsugo and Smoak are off the board, but Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith tweets that there’s mutual interest between Toronto and Encarnacion.
A match between the two sides would make for a nice reunion angle to sell to fans in what figures to be another transitional year in Toronto. The Jays have added some arms to the pitching staff in Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson and Shun Yamaguchi, but it’s tough to see them fully bouncing back from last year’s 67-win season — even with a full year of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio in addition to the looming presence of additional prospects (namely, flamethrower Nate Pearson).
Pitching has been the primary focus for Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, as he vowed at the onset of the offseason, but the Jays could certainly fit another first base/designated hitter option into the rotation. Rowdy Tellez, 25 in March, currently looks to be in line for regular at-bats on the 1B/DH carousel, but an Encarnacion reunion would surely deepen the lineup and bring a more formidable on-base presence to the fray than Tellez has offered in his young career (.299 OBP in 482 plate appearances).
Encarnacion hit .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers between the Mariners and Yankees last season — a strong output that’s more or less in the lines with what’s come to be expected of one of baseball’s most consistent sluggers. But despite his potent bat, it seems like he could struggle to find suitors willing to make offers commensurate with his production.
Let’s take a look at his potential market.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported last week that six clubs, including an NL team, have expressed interest in Encarnacion. Of course, “interest” is a rather subjective and nebulous term without further context, and it’s a bit hard to find that many teams with a path to a regular role for Encarnacion.
The White Sox met with his agents (per 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine) and could indeed be a sensible fit if they’re comfortable rotating Encarnacion and Jose Abreu at first base. The Blue Jays fit is reasonable, too. The Rangers make some sense as well, but signing Encarnacion basically commits to playing either him or Shin-Soo Choo in the field on a daily basis. It’s not a bad situation, however, particularly given the steady production offered by both.
The rest of the AL West features three teams with firmly set 1B/DH options (A’s, Astros, Angels) as well as another that traded Encarnacion away in 2019 and just signed its hopeful first baseman of the future to a long-term deal (Mariners, Evan White).
Over in the Central, it doesn’t seem likely that rebuilding clubs in Kansas City or Detroit will spend aggressively. The Twins have Nelson Cruz, who didn’t play an inning of defense in 2019, at DH. They’d need to commit to full-time first base reps for Encarnacion, which seems unlikely. The Indians, like the Mariners, have traded Encarnacion in the past calendar year. They also already have Carlos Santana and July acquisition Franmil Reyes in the mix.
In the AL East, the Yankees may prefer to keep their DH slot open to help rotate their corner outfielders, while Luke Voit and Mike Ford are options at first base. The Rays just signed Tsutsugo and have a crowded 1B/DH mix. We know the Orioles aren’t likely to spend on any notable free agent. The Red Sox have J.D. Martinez entrenched at DH and an opening at first base. But, as is the case in relation to the Twins or any NL club, it’s a bit tough to see Encarnacion as an everyday first baseman in his age-37 season. He’s never even played 700 innings at first base in a season.
The Blue Jays, White Sox and Rangers look like the best on-paper fits for Encarnacion, making the mutual interest between the slugger and Toronto all the more notable.