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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #14 Edwin Encarnacion

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AL Wild Card Game: Baltimore Orioles v. Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion | 1B, 3B, DH | 2009 - 2016

It has been a few days since I put up one of these. A combination of being busy with other stuff, the time it takes to write one of these, and laziness. Underline laziness.

Edwin Encarnacion was born January 7, 1983, in La Romana, Dominican Republic. The Rangers drafted him, in the ninth round, out of HS in Puerto Rico. Apparently, his family split time between the Dominican and Puerto Rico. Living in the American territory of Puerto Rico made him eligible for the MLB draft.

In 2001 the Rangers traded him to the Reds for Rob Bell. The Reds called him up in 2005. He played for the Reds, mostly at third base, until July 31, 2009, a total of 514 games, hitting .262/.345/.449 with 71 home runs.

The Jays traded Scott Rolen to the Reds for Edwin, Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart. Edwin was a throw-in to give a little bit of monetary balance to the trades. We really wanted Roenicke and Stewart. Roenicke and Stewart pitched a total of 53.1 innings for the Jays. Edwin? Well, he’s on this list.

Encarnacion played 42 games for the Jays in 2009, hitting .240/.306/.442 with 8 home runs, and was instantly loved by Jays fans. Well, that last part was a lie. He wasn’t very good at third base. His footwork wasn’t good. He’d field balls flatfooted and not step into the throw properly and, far too often, miss the target.

In the off-season, he got hit in the face with a ‘rocket firecracker’ and ended up in hospital for a couple of days, adding the fun that fans had at his expense.

Edwin had a slow start to the 2010 season and then went on the DL with a shoulder injury in mid-April, missing 30+ games. In his fourth game back, he had a three-home run game in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. He would hit a homer in each of the next two game games, finishing a three-game series with five home runs. And they weren’t wall-scrappers. He crushed them. But he also had long homerless stretches that season. He finished off the season well, hitting five homers in the Jays season-ending, four-game series in Minneapolis.

On June 21st, the Jays DFAed Encarnacion to add Scott Richmond to the roster. Thankfully, Edwin cleared waivers, spent a few days in the minors, and then came back up.

He hit .244/.305/.482 with 21 home runs, but his play at third was still subpar.

After the season, the Jays DFAed him again, and this time the A’s picked him up, but then released him about a month later, and the Jays signed him as a free agent. Two years at $2.5 million per, plus a $3.5 million option for a third year. Sometimes I refer to Billy Beane as my favorite GM. If he had been smarter, we wouldn’t have had Edwin or Josh Donaldson.

Before spring training, in 2011, the team announced that Jose Bautista would move back to third from right field, Juan Rivera would play right, and Encarnacion would play first base. I happened to be at spring training that year and watched Jose take fielding practice at third, and, well, it was clear he wasn’t happy. Add in that Rivera had the range of a garden gnome, and it wasn’t a surprise when, a couple of days before the end of spring training, the team announced that Bautista would play right and Edwin would play third. I thought it was unfair to Encarnacion (not that I think the team’s star, Bautista, should be forced to play a position if he didn’t want to). Edwin really needed spring training to work at the position, but he spent it learning first base. No one should have been surprised that he didn’t do well.

But, in early August, Brett Lawrie, who we had traded to get in the winter before the 2011 season, was called up to play third, and Edwin played DH for most of the rest of the way. Encarnacion hit .272/.334/.453 with 17 home runs.

2012 was the year his career turned around. He became a star. He hit .280/.384/.557 with a team-leading 42 home runs. By bWAR, it was his best season, 5.0 (he lost points for his defense, offensively he had a 5.6 WAR). He got MVP votes. And he started doing the chicken wing thing to carry his parrot around the bases with him on home runs.

Defensively, he played mostly DH and 68 games at first and 2 games in left field. The two games in left were an adventure, and he almost hurt himself on a play.

And he signed a three-year, $27 million contract, with an option for a fourth year.

He had another great season in 2013, hitting .272/.370/.534 with 36 home runs. He made the All-Star team for the first time and again received MVP votes. On July 26th, he hit two home runs in one inning against the Astros. Edwin finished the season on the DL with a wrist injury. He had surgery on the wrist after the season.

Edwin had a great start to the 2014 season. He hit 16 home runs and had 33 RBI in May (including five two home games), winning the AL Player of the Month award. Soon after that, he missed a bit more than a month missed with hamstring issues.

He’d finish the season with a .268/.354/.547 batting line and 34 home runs (he and Bautista had 69 home runs between them).

In 2015 the Jays made it to the playoffs for the first time, and Encarnacion was a big part. He hit .277/.372/.557 with 39 home runs and 111 RBI. He finished 12th in MVP voting (Josh Donaldson won the award, Bautista was eighth).

If you are like me, you remember his three home run game against the Tigers, when fans littered the field with caps for the ‘hat trick.’ Edwin looked amused and bewildered, but there were pictures of him holding large garbage bags full of caps with a huge smile on his face. He had a few nagging injuries that year, sore back, bad shoulder, and he had hernia surgery when the season was over, but they didn’t slow him all that much.

Edwin had a great series against the Rangers in the ALDS, hitting .333/.478/.556. And he was up after Bautista hit his ‘bat flip’ homer, almost getting a fight with pitcher Sam Dyson. He hit a single, not that it mattered. The ALCS didn’t go as well. He hit .227/.292/.273 against the Royals.

2016 went just as well for Edwin. He hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and a league-leading and career-high 127 RBI, making the All-Star team for the third time, and finished 14th in MVP voting. He also set a career-high in games played (160) and home runs (tied 42). He took the franchise lead in walk-off home runs.

And he hit the walk-off home run in the Wild Card game against the Orioles Ubaldo Jimenez (with Zach Britton sitting in the bullpen). For that alone, he deserves to be on our list. He again hit great against the Rangers in the ALDS (.417/.500/.917) but had a rough time with Cleveland’s pitching in the ALCS, like most of the Jays.

After the season, he and the Blue Jays couldn't agree on a new contract (yes, that’s the short version of the story), and he ended up signing with Cleveland. Since then, he’s played for the Mariners, Yankees, and White Sox. At the moment, he is still looking for a contract for this season. His chances of getting one dropped with the NL not using the DH this year.

As a Blue Jay, he played 8 seasons, playing 999 games, hitting .268/.355/.522 with 239 home runs, 447 walks, 679 RBI (and 37 steals).

He was always one of my favorites. When fans call a play lazy, I tend to like them. I also tend to like guys who are over criticized by fans. I’m a contrarian by nature.

He wasn’t universally loved by Jays’ fans from his first game in Jays' colors. He wasn’t a good defensive third baseball. Back then, I talked to Brian Butterfield about Edwin’s defense, and he said that Edwin hadn’t learned the proper footwork and, because of that, his throws weren’t consistent. Fans often have no patience for guys learning on the job. And, of course, since he didn’t hit great when he first joined the team, it was hard to see the upside. To be honest, he wasn’t good defensively at first base either, but by then, he was hitting well enough that we didn’t care.

But you could see the power. He didn’t hit wall scrappers. He hit the ball deep. One of my little sayings is: always bet on power.

Back in 2012 (back when the Jays would let us talk to the coaches), I asked hitting coach Dwayne Murphy what caused Edwin’s improvement with the bat:

He’s a better hitter. You learn each year. I really thought, when we first got him, basically everything was to oppo field, trying to hit the other way. He kind of turned the field around on him. We tried to teach him how to go to the middle of the field instead of oppo field. Now the barrel’s getting there, and I just think it took a little over a year for him to learn, to learn to hit. And he knows how to get the barrel out there on the ball.

I think, too, that when the team stopped trying to make him figure out third base and let him DH (and play first some), he was a lot more comfortable. We all do better when we are comfortable.

The best part about baseball, to me, is watching players develop. Watching Edwin become a star was a treat. And his little quirks were fun. The parrot, sniffing the bat to see if it was cracked, the hat trick game, the smile when talking with teammates on the bench. It took a while, but he slowly gave us little looks into his personality.

Edwin owns team records in home runs (16) and RBI (35 tied with Josh Donaldson) in a month. He’s also tied for most RBI record in a game (9, tied with Roy Howell).

On the Jays all-time list, Edwin Encarnacion is:

  • 7th in bWAR: 7th, 25.2.
  • Offense bWAR: 5th, 27.2.
  • Batting Average: 24th, .268
  • OB%: 12th. .355.
  • Slugging Average: 4th, .522.
  • OPS: 4th, .878, tied with Bautista
  • Plate Appearance: 8th, 4203
  • Home Runs: 3rd, 239.
  • RBI: 6th, 679.
  • Walks: 5th, 477.