Encarnacion likely on the move after Jays reel in Morales
By Richard Justice
From the moment David Ortiz announced that 2016 would be his final season, one name kept coming up more than any other in the discussion of possible replacements for the Boston Red Sox: Edwin Encarnacion.
It seemed like perfect timing. With one of baseball's greatest impact players riding off into the sunset, another would be entering the free-agent market.
So here we are all these months later, and things don't seem as certain as they once did.
At this week's General Managers Meetings, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn't come right out and say he was interested in Encarnacion. However, Dombrowski said shoring up Boston's bullpen was his top priority. He also said the Red Sox have such a logjam of talented young players that making a long-term commitment for a free-agent hitter might not make sense.
Like most others in his position, Dombrowski does not reveal specifics about what he will or won't do. He's typically one of baseball's most aggressive executives and apparently has not made a strong run at Encarnacion.
Things aren't so clear for Encarnacion, either. He has consistently said that returning to Toronto was his first choice.
That possibility seemed more remote on Friday after the Blue Jays reportedly reached a three-year, $33 million agreement with designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Encarnacion got roughly half his at-bats at DH the past two seasons, and it seems unlikely there's a fit for him now.
Encarnacion will still have plenty of suitors, including the Rangers, Astros, Angels and possibly even the Yankees. The Athletics, Twins and White Sox would also make sense.
In the past five years, Encarnacion has been among baseball's most productive offensive players, averaging 39 homers, 29 doubles, 110 RBIs and a .912 OPS. He will be 34 on Opening Day and is coming off a season in which he was as good as ever, hitting 42 home runs and driving in 127 runs with an .886 OPS.
Given that he has started 160 of 304 games at DH the past two seasons, Encarnacion seems more likely to land with an American League team. He can play first base, third base or the outfield, but hitting is what he does better than almost anyone. In the past five seasons, only Chris Davis hit more home runs, and only Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Ortiz had more extra-base hits than Encarnacion.
Encarnacion has made the AL All-Star team three times in those five seasons. At a time when every team is attempting to acquire pitching and home runs, he will have an impact wherever he lands.
Let's look at five possible destinations, in order of likelihood:
1. Red Sox
Boston may have younger players who will be productive if they get the at-bats, but they're unlikely to produce the way Encarnacion will. In a lineup with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, etc., Encarnacion would add the kind of explosive presence the Red Sox are losing in Ortiz.
Dombrowski may be hesitant to make a long-term commitment to someone about to celebrate his 34th birthday, but Encarnacion would go a long way toward getting Boston back to October.
General manager Jeff Luhnow has both the payroll and roster flexibility to make a serious run at Encarnacion. Houston finished 15th in the Majors in runs last season, and its DHs were among the least productive (.223 batting average, .696 OPS, 19 home runs).
Like the Red Sox, the Astros have young players who may be productive, but none of them is likely to have the kind of immediate impact Encarnacion would have.
With Carlos Beltran and Mitch Moreland exploring free-agent options, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is shopping for a middle-of-the-order bat to play either first or DH. He hasn't ruled out re-signing Beltran or Moreland, but Encarnacion could be a more appealing option than either. Texas' DHs had a .704 OPS in 2016, the second lowest in the AL.
General manager Brian Cashman says pitching is his first priority, but with Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez gone, Encarnacion would be a nice fit in the Bronx. If Encarnacion gets in the middle of a Red Sox-Yankees bidding war, things could get interesting.
After missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the A's could use a splashy signing. Oakland has done a nice job of accumulating young pitching, but its DHs had a .705 OPS in 2016. The A's don't typically dabble at the top of the free-agent market, but if Encarnacion's price gets to a certain point, they could get involved.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.