Vernon Wells had his moment in his first return to Rogers Centre, but the Blue Jays (61-59) made sure that moment didn’t last all weekend long. After Wells homered on the first pitch he saw in his Angels’ win on Friday night, Toronto rallied to win both weekend games and claim the series.
A Closer Look
Up (Edwin Encarnacion): Get a game-winning, series-clinching walk-off hit and you’re a good bet to be featured in this space. But Encarnacion’s two-out single in the 10th on Sunday to bring home Yunel Escobar simply serves as one example of what has been an incredibly productive month and a half for the slugger. Since July 6, Encarnacion has seen his batting average surge 47 points to .287 and his OBP improve 71 points to its current .341. Over the course of his current hot streak, the 28-year old has not only rewarded management’s faith in him (the team retained him when he was believed an afterthought last winter and then continued to put him in the line-up despite early struggles and fan backlash) but has raised questions about a future with the club that would have been thought laughable in June. At the very least, Encarnacion has given the Jays plenty of reason to exercise his $3.5 million team option for next season. Much has been made about the team’s off-season plan and if any big-ticket free agent DH options (ahem *Prince Fielder* ahem) may be in play, but any such possibility is a pipe dream right now and Encarnacion has numbers comparable to all but the best at the position. If Encarnacion can continue producing at a reasonably high level, he helps enable the club to focus their resources on other areas of need.
Down (Aaron Hill): Which brings us to Hill whose 0-3 effort on Friday was followed by a pair of benchings. The likeable second baseman’s struggles have reached a point where John McDonald could well be the best in-house candidate for the position – both from a defensive and offensive perspective. These woes, which have seen him tally three fewer hits since the start of 2010 than he had in 2009 alone, have gotten past the point of wondering about a swing adjustment or injury to requiring big questions about his future in the majors. That future currently appears highly unlikely to come in Toronto. Like Encarnacion, the Jays have a team option on Hill for next year (and the year after, for that matter). But unlike Encarnacion, the $8 million price tag for Hill hardly seems worthwhile given recent production. Despite his popularity with the fans and in the clubhouse, the team doesn’t owe anything to Hill and perhaps a fresh start elsewhere is what’s best for both sides. So where does that put the club? Well, that’s less clear. Free agent options are scarce beyond the home run that would be Jose Reyes (he or Escobar could be moved from SS) and none of Jose Lopez, Kelly Johnson, Orlando Cabrera or Brandon Phillips (to name four) would bring the potential ceiling that Hill would if he could ever find his stroke. In-house options aren`t much better, with Adeiny Hechavarria not ready, Justin Jackson having been converted into an outfielder and aging non-prospects occupying spots at AAA Las Vegas (28-year old Manny Mayorson and 35-year old Ramon Vazquez) as well as AA New Hampshire (28-year old Callix Crabbe). It will be interesting to see how Alex Anthopoulos addresses this complicated situation in the off-season.
Revisiting the Trade: I realize that I missed a chance to do a revisit of the Rajai Davis / Trystan Magnuson deal after the Oakland series, but given that there was plenty already happening in Jays Land and Magnuson hasn’t developed to the point where his major league arc is predictable, I figure there’ll still be time down the road. As for the Wells / Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera deal, much of the fallout is already plainly clear. From a financial standpoint, Anthopoulos earned a huge win in unloading an albatross contract. The $81 million saved on the deal will go a long way towards the signing of draft picks and any potential moves this winter and beyond. As a baseball trade, it’s essentially a wash. Wells has been an expensive bust and is hitting a pitiful .207 with 17 home runs, while neither Napoli or Rivera remains with the club less than seven months later. On Toronto’s end, the subsequent Napoli-for-Frank Francisco deal with Texas was a huge miss, as Francisco has been shaky at best while Napoli counts among those aforementioned elite DH’s along with Boston’s David Ortiz and Detroit’s Victor Martinez.
The Other Guys: It will be interesting on many levels to see whether the Angels are in on the free agent sweepstakes for any of the available first baseman this winter. For one thing, it will indicate the state of mind of deep-pocketed owner Arte Moreno. He has developed a penchant for being free-spending, but could be gun shy after burning plenty of cash on under-performing veterans like Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu. On the other hand, he could feel that his club needs a shake-up with veterans not coming through and youngsters like Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos stalling in their development. Secondly, it will also speak volumes of his faith in Kendry Morales to return to form after what will be 22 months away from the game come Opening Day 2012, not to mention Mark Trumbo’s capabilities in replacing Morales.
For the Jays, Monday means a trip to Seattle, where rookie power pitchers Henderson Alvarez and Michael Pineda will collide to open a three-game set. For Anthopoulos, Monday means the deadline to sign free agents and I will have a recap on who the Jays got under contract and who they didn’t.
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Written by Ben Fisher