Jays From the Couch looks fondly on the one who got away from the Toronto Blue Jays: Edwin Encarnacion
With the Toronto Blue Jays out of contention and their season coming to a close, I find myself reflecting on the what ifs; I think it’s only natural. There were many factors that resulted in the Jays’ season collapse; however one in particular stands out the most. It could have been the off-season miscommunications, the unexpected free agent market, or perhaps it came down to the money. Regardless of the reason, Edwin Encarnacion will always be the question mark that looms over Toronto. Let’s take a closer look into the season of the once beloved first baseman and DH and the new face that has been employed to fill his shoes and at most times, unrealistic expectations.
In order to understand this tale, we must first look back to the off-season, where it all began. The 2016 free agency pool was littered with first basemen and designated hitters available for the picking, including Carlos Beltran, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Moss, Mike Napoli, Justin Morneau, Mark Reynolds and of course, Edwin Encarnacion. Blue Jays management had been aware, along with the media and fan base that his intention was to stay with the club, as he remained candid about that throughout the negotiations.
Fast-forward to December 22nd 2016. That was the fateful day when all hope and anticipation was dissolved once Cleveland announced that Encarnacion agreed to their three-year $60 million deal. It’s important to keep in mind that the Jays had initially offered him a more attractive offer of four-years and $80 million. In hindsight, he would have been better suited taking the Blue Jays’ deal and running for the hills; however with the market being pitcher focused and his agent, Paul Kinzer’s questionable handling of the negotiations, he had no other good options but to accept Cleveland’s offer.
All was not lost. The Blue Jays management had pinned down Kendrys Morales on November 11th 2016 for three years at $33 million, which seemed to signal the end for Encarnacion’s return. With Morales pegged as the DH and Smoak’s two year, $8.5 million extension, the Blue Jays no longer had a need for the juggernaut, affectionately coined as the “parrot”. I must admit, the loss stung. It stung quite a bit for the entire city and fan base. How could he be replaced? After so long developing as a ball player with the Jays, how could he just leave? It’s important to remember, even for the diehard fan like myself, that baseball is a business. After all the nuts and bolts, it comes down to a numbers game. Very few ball players are lifers, and in today’s modern game, that loyalty will become more obsolete.
So here we are. September 2017, only a mere few days left in the regular season and by contrast, Kendrys Morales and Edwin Encarnacion couldn’t be further apart.
It’s not to say that Edwin’s production he supplied with Cleveland would have been the impact that the Jays needed to reclaim the AL East, however, it’s safe to assume that his presence would have, at the very least, given the fans and team the familiar confidence and swagger it had in 2015 and 2016.
It’s clear that Edwin Encarnacion had left a void. Not only as an entity on the field, but in the hearts of the tens of thousands that filled the Rogers Centre along with the millions of television viewers for the past two seasons. His teammate, Toronto Blue Jays starting catcher, Russell Martin once said about his first baseman that “Most of the time he was quiet, but when he said something, you listened.” That seemed to be a common sentiment throughout the clubhouse, as he is remembered as a gentle giant, who maintained a calm presence and was always encouraging his teammates.
It’s hard to think of Edwin Encarnacion and not have nostalgic memories flood back, whether it be his hat-trick game or the Wild Card win against the Orioles last season, you can’t deny the impact and presence that he carried with him on and off the field. It could be argued his shoes were too big to fill and left Morales with a difficult task. How do you win the hearts of those that belonged to someone else? How can you duplicate the larger than life persona that was Edwin Encarnacion?
Even though Kendrys Morales had a respectable year, batting a .251 average with 28 homers and 85 RBIs, including a healthy number of walk off homeruns, it seemed to pale in comparison to what Encarnacion had contributed to the Tribe this season. With an average of .261 with 38 dingers and an impressive 104 RBIs, it’s clear that he hadn’t skipped a beat. It’s also important to note that his numbers, in part, were accomplished in Progressive Field, which is a pitcher-friendly park, unlike the Rogers Centre, which has been dubbed the “homer dome”. This season Edwin Encarnacion spent most of the time in the DH role, showcasing his bat 129 times and appearing at first base 23 times. Although his replacement, Morales, has proven himself to be an accomplished hitter in the DH position, his defensive play leaves much to be desired.
Is it fair to compare these two seasoned players against their 2017 stats? Probably not. The game of baseball is complex and unforgiving, and as the season played out, those two factors seemed more relevant than ever before. It’s undeniable that a void was left upon Edwin Encarnacion’s departure, and when reflecting back onto this season, it was clear that no matter how hard Kendrys Morales tried, he could never replace our beloved number 10.
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*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0 – cropped from original
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