Report: Blue Jays, Edwin Encarnacion have mutual interest

Andrew G. Zuber
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 07: Edwin Encarnacion #30 of the New York Yankees reacts to a check swing in game three of the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on October 07, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 07: Edwin Encarnacion and the Toronto Blue Jays could be headed for a reunion next season. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays have already kicked off their holiday shopping this offseason by adding a trio of pitchers to the fold, and according to the latest rumours their search for an extra bat at first base could lead them to a familiar face.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported Thursday morning that both the Blue Jays and Edwin Encarnacion have “mutual interest” after incumbent first base/designated hitter platoon piece Justin Smoak signed a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.

A reunion makes sense from the team’s perspective, as Smoak’s absence opens up roughly 500 plate appearances in the lineup as part of the rotation with Rowdy Tellez at first base.

The 25-year-old Tellez hit 21 home runs in his first full season in the major leagues but struggled to piece together sustained success getting on base. The power is clear, but he managed just a .293 on-base percentage across 111 games.

Encarnacion, who turns 37 in January, fits into the puzzle as a hitter at the tail end of his career but one that can still provide power and plate discipline despite his age. He played on two teams last season, swatting 34 home runs and driving in 86 while posting a .244/.344/.531 line in 109 combined games for the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. Encarnacion’s numbers are about as consistent as they come for sluggers in this era, as he has averaged 37 home runs, 106 RBI, and a .264/.363/.529 stat line since his breakout with the Blue Jays in 2012.

Even at his advanced age, his peripheral numbers stayed strong in 2019. He was in the 83rd percentile in xSLG last season and 78th percentile in xwOBA, buoyed by 69th percentile performance in average exit velocity and hard hit percentage.

Despite the continued positive impact from his bat, there stands reason to believe that the market for Encarnacion’s services is limited. Jon Heyman tweeted last week that six teams maintained interest in him, but the logical amount of suitors with room for a bat with no positional flexibility and declining skillset in an era where home runs are flying out at a higher rate than ever before thins the herd even further.

With his signature parrot trot around the bases and upper-deck home run power, Encarnacion was a headline name and fan favourite during the 2015 and 2016 playoff runs in Toronto. His price tag figures to be reasonable and it would represent a return to the scene of the best years of his career. A reunion could also soothe some of the angst from the fan base towards the front office as a make-good move while also addressing a need in the lineup.

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