Call it the Jays’ “steak or burger” position.
The steak is David Ortiz, whose age, inflexibility, potential for injury and probable price tag make him a risky proposition as a free agent, but one whose boffo 2011 numbers might help convince suitors that it’s a risk worth taking. The burger is Edwin Encarnacion, a versatile, younger, inexpensive option who is already locked in for 2012 and is coming off an altogether solid (though unspectacular) 2011 campaign.
Let’s have a closer look at the DH spot, shall we?
The 2011 Guy(s)
Starter: Edwin Encarnacion
Back-Up: Adam Lind, Mark Teahen
Waiting in the Wings: Moises Sierra?
How Did The Jays Fare?
Before the 2011 season, GM Alex Anthopoulos told Encarnacion that he would be getting 500 at-bats, with most coming as the team’s designated hitter. This was undoubtedly perplexing to Jays’ fans who had seen the Dominican slugger hit just .244 (.305 OBP) over 332 forgettable at-bats in 2010 and wondered why there was a need to reward him with 168 more. Anthopoulos, however, saw promise in his 21 homers in 2010, as well as a .482 slugging percentage, not to mention an affordable contract with a reasonable team option for the following season.
Now, I’m not saying Encarnacion’s turn was Bautista-esque or anything, but it was certainly more than anyone else had seen from him as a Blue Jay, with his .334 OBP holding up as his best since recording a .340 in Cincinnati in 2008. In doing so, he made his $3.5 million extension for 2012 a no-brainer to pick up and established himself as a nice, complementary offensive contributor to the middle-of-the-order guys while also being able to step in at the corners when needed.
Where Are They Headed?
Unless a bigger move shakes the club up positionally (Adam Lind to DH?), any yearnings the club may have for Ortiz is all that stands in the way of Encarnacion being the primary guy next season. Ortiz lacks versatility and would likely command a prohibitive multi-year deal, but he is a John Farrell guy, would fit right in with the Latin flavour in the clubhouse as a friend of Jose Bautista’s and would add 29 home runs and a .953 OPS to an already-potent line-up.
Still, the talks connecting Ortiz with Toronto feel like the work of a 38-year old taking a page out of the Manny Ramirez playbook on how to manufacture interest from teams. I just don’t see Anthopoulos spending big on a full-time DH when it clearly isn’t among the team’s top off-season priorities.
Encarnacion, for his part, is spending the off-season expanding his defensive repertoire, playing some left field in winter ball. But hey, we’ll get to left field next time. Until then…
I’ll be tweeting my picks for the various MLB awards categories as votes are announced throughout the week and will have plenty more thoughts on free agency with two weeks to go until the winter meetings. In other words, be sure to follow: @RealBenFisher
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Written by Ben Fisher