Edwin Encarnacion’s power stroke could make him an enticing option for general manager John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals got their man over the weekend — inking center fielder Dexter Fowler to a 5-year $82.5M deal, but could John Mozeliak and the Cardinals be primed to make even more noise this offseason?
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote as much after the Fowler signing, stating that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed, turning toward free-agent sluggers Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as possible pursuits.”
Well, this certainly adds more intrigue this winter. I want to focus on Encarnacion in particular, mainly because I believe that Trumbo is Mark Reynolds 2.0 in his heyday — meaning he is a guy who either strikes out or hits bombs, and I simply do not see Mozeliak shelling out a ton of money for that type of hitter. Encarnacion is a different story.
In 2016, Encarnacion posted his 4th straight All Star season with quite an impressive year:
The Blue Jays’ first baseman and designated hitter even garnered enough votes to finish 14th in the American League MVP voting. His power stroke could make him an enticing option for the Cardinals.
Before Jedd Gyorko last season, you’d have to go back to Carlos Beltran in 2012 to find the last Cardinal hitter to blast 30 homers or more in a season. The last Cardinal to post 100 RBI or more was Matt Holliday and his 102 RBI in 2012. Holliday is now in pinstripes and Beltran returned to Houston.
The more I look at it, the more Encarnacion would look fantastic changing birds this offseason and donning a Redbirds jersey instead of the Blue Jays.
Encarnacion would provide the Cardinals with something they haven’t had in any lineup since Albert Pujols took his talents to Anaheim — a true slugger in the cleanup spot. Encarnacion has spent the majority of his career batting cleanup posting a .270/.362/.526 slash line with 120 homers and 353 RBI out of the 4-hole.
If consistently hitting home runs makes you the Hercules of baseball, then Encarnacion has triumphantly sat atop Mount Olympus for the last six years. From 2011-2016, Encarnacion ranks first in all of baseball with 210 home runs. What about runs batted in? The Blue Jays’ slugger has stayed at the top of the ranks of that department as well with 605 RBI in that 6-year span — behind only Adrian Gonzalez (621) and Miguel Cabrera (674).
The 33-year old, despite his age, has gotten better with his power stroke over the last three seasons, hitting 34 homers in 2014, 39 in 2015 and 42 long balls last year. Encarnacion’s RBI total has also increased over those last three years at 98, 111 and a career-high 127 RBI in 2016.
Encarnacion isn’t a one-trick pony, though. He doesn’t just hit home runs. He averages 33 doubles a season with a .266 batting average. Despite battling a .260, .267, and .270 BABIP over the last three years, Encarnacion has still managed to post .268, .277, and .263 batting averages over that time. The slugger also holds a career .352 OBP, which is solid for a power hitter.
Encarnacion turns 34 in January, but the slugger seems to be aging well. There are those who argue that the Cardinals should avoid signing him, but I believe he is a great fit for St. Louis.
Those who argue that Encarnacion could be declining point out last season’s 19.7 strikeout percentage. Encarnacion struck out a career-high 138 times last season, but here’s the catch — it was only the second time in his 12-year career that he struck out 100 times or more, the first time coming way back in 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds. I believe the strikeouts were an outlier, an anomaly. Encarnacion holds a career 16.2 strikeout percentage, which isn’t bad at all for a slugger with his power.
Remember, Jose Bautista was injured much of the season last year, so Encarnacion could have very well been trying to take on even more of the power role with the Blue Jays leading to him reaching and striking out more at the plate.
While Enarnacion’s fly ball percentage dipped from 44.5 percent in 2015 to 41.4 percent last season, he posted a career-high 21.5 percent home run to fly ball ratio. He also continues to hit the ball hard. Encarnacion posted a 37.6 Hard%, which was the second highest of his career and ranked 14th among all AL hitters.
Despite the Cardinals committing to Matt Carpenter at first base to begin 2017, if Encarnacion were signed he would have to take over there with Carpenter moving back to third base. But folks, it’s December, I’m sure it wouldn’t throw Carpenter off too much to hear now that he would be taking back over the hot corner.
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Defensively is where Encarnacion suffers the most and raises some questions about whether he is a true fit for the Cardinals. Despite posting positive UZRs of 1.6 in 2015 (481.1 innings) and 1.7 last season (636.1 innings), Encarnacion has a career UZR per 150 games of negative 6.0, which is quite bad. Last I checked, the National League still doesn’t have a DH slot, so the Cardinals wouldn’t be able to hide him away there.
Still, if Encarnacion could post average UZR numbers at first base, his power would more than offset his weakness defensively. The question is would Mozeliak throw down the money to sign Encarnacion? The 33-year old has already turned down a 4-year $80M offer from the Blue Jays. For Encarnacion to be a fit for the St. Louis Cardinals, I just don’t see a 4 or 5-year deal happening. The slugger would have to be willing to take a two or three-year deal to end up in St. Louis.
Still, doesn’t this lineup make you wide-eyed?
So, what kind of money would it take? I believe a 3-year, $70 or $75M deal would get it done. But odds are Encarnacion will hold out for more money and a 4 or 5 year deal from a team willing to make that kind of commitment. One can dream. We will see if Mozeliak still has some tricks up his sleeve this offseason. Thanks for reading.