We all knew the day was eventually going to come when David Ortiz decided to no longer play baseball. The longtime face of the Boston Red Sox organization was truly a larger than life figure as both a baseball player, having put up record setting numbers in a final season, and an off the field icon/hero for a city. Ortiz turned the narrative of the Red Sox from, “How is this team going to screw this one up,” to, “never count the Sox out.” Big Papi truly changed the landscape of the Boston Red Sox and helped capture 3 World Series championships, but he’s gone now.
For the first time since 2003, the Red Sox have a vacant DH spot, and that spot surely isn’t going to Pablo Sandoval, nor should it. Keep him far, far, far away from this team. Now, there is the opportunity to move Hanley Ramirez to the DH spot, but he surprisingly played a fine first base, and barring any resistance on his part to continue doing so, I’d like to see him stay right there.
Most assume the Red Sox are going to address the means of finding a DH through free agency. Despite a shallow free agent pool, there are still a couple good hitters out there who could be of use here in Boston. So far, we’ve heard links to Carlos Beltran, Kendrys Morales, and most notably, Edwin Encarnacion. All 3 would be serviceable options, but there is no denying that there is one big, potentially eye-popping choice. At than man is Edwin Encarnacion.
At the start of the 2017 Season, Encarnacion will be 34. The age concerns certainly aren’t eased with the rumored 5 year, $125 million dollar contract he is reportedly seeking. With a 5 year deal, he would remain under contract until his age 39 season in 2022. Even though we just witnessed a man perform at an elite level through his age 40 season, we should heavily temper our expectations for it to happen again. On the surface, there are similarities between the two Dominican sluggers. They each mash dingers, knock in runs, are big and hossy, and are beloved by their teams and in their respective cities.
The comparison delves even deeper than that with both men following a similar career path. Ortiz famously began his career in Minnesota with expectations for him being a platoon first baseman who could hit against righties. Coincidentally, Encarnacion began his career in Cincinnati as a potential power bat in their lineup. At age 27, Ortiz was released and signed with Boston where he soon emerged as one of the best hitters in baseball. For Encarnacion, during his 26 year old season, he was traded to Toronto, where he began to flourish.
Statically, Encarnacion seems to be the perfect candidate to fill the Ortiz role in the lineup. In the 2016 season, Encarnacion earned his 3rd all-star nod with 42 homers(T-career high), tied Ortiz, himself, for the league lead with 127 RBI’s, slashed a pretty good .263/.357/.529 and finished with an OPS of .886. In an Ortiz-like manner, he also came up with a couple clutch hits down the stretch and in the postseason for his Toronto Blue Jays. Moreover, his numbers at Fenway Park are particularly encouraging with 14 home runs, a .892 OPS and a batting average of .286 in 189 plate appearances. Over a full season span, those are some pretty impressive numbers. One can assume the success at the plate is one of the reasons Encarnacion supposedly “loves” Boston, according to his agent, Paul Kinzer.
Personally, I love the idea of bringing The Wing to Boston. There is no denying the numbers. Encarnacion can mash. However, five years is not particularly ideal for a 34 year old of any caliber. The final dollar amount doesn’t really matter since they’re the Red Sox. After all, there is no budget and we basically have infinite funds. Only in baseball can a team pay an overweight third baseman 90 million dollars and have no repercussions financially. Gotta love the MLB! Ideally, the Sox would find a way to sign Encarnacion to a 3 or 4 year pact with just a higher salary for each season (Maybe around the 4 years, 92 million predicted by ESPN). But, the weak hitter market certainly works against the Red Sox here. With high demand for impact bats, a shallow list of difference makers out there, and a long list of potential suitors, the market is heavily in the favor of the players. If the sox are unwilling to give Encarnacion his desired deal, there more than likely will be another team out there who will. If the only way to get him here is to pay him his asking price of 125 million over 5 years, then I’m for it. There is simply no bat out there like Encarnacion’s and if his production dips on the downturn of that deal, then so be it.
The Sox are built to win for a long time, but right now may be their best chance. With the opportunity to add Edwin Encarnacion staring them right in the face, Dombrowski and Co. can’t let this one pass them by.
By Mark Panzini