All business: Encarnación is all about mashing. Think he’d fit in a weak White Sox offense? (@desusnice)
While the decision-makers at 35th and Shields are likely working feverishly to fill vacant spots in the starting rotation, another offensive upgrade is ready to be fitted in black and white.
Nomar Mazara was added to the outfield mix recently, and while the acquisition didn’t aptly whet the appetite of White Sox fans, it’s an upgrade nonetheless. White Sox right fielders accumulated a -1.3 fWAR last year with Leury García rounding out as the only positive contributor. The only thing worse than the club’s production in right field in 2019 was their production at designated hitter however.
The White Sox as a collective finished 17th in baseball, including dead last in the American League in fWAR (-3.5 fWAR) at the DH position. Two National League clubs performed better (albeit in a much smaller sample)! In 773 plate appearances, White Sox batters slashed .197/.275/.342 with a 64 wRC+ and .266 wOBA in the designated hitter role. Players presiding in this precarious position hit just 25 homers on the year as well. It’s not the most glamorous spot on the roster by any means, but putrid production stinks, no matter how it’s shaken.
During his media scrums in the initial stages of this important offseason, GM Rick Hahn bemoaned the production in right field and designated hitter. The architect of the 2020 roster made it a point of emphasis to state that those areas would be priorities this offseason, along with numerous additions to the pitching staff. The thirst for pitching hasn’t been quite quenched yet, but the club went away from its publicized target list with the signing of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. Grandal’s addition was welcomed and warranted, but it didn’t solve the stated trouble spots.
White Sox one of three teams who met with DH Edwin Encarnación’s agents
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 12, 2019
Multiple transactions weren’t officially filed while the front office vacationed in San Diego for baseball’s annual winter meetings, but that doesn’t mean work wasn’t being done. Veteran hardball scribe Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported on Thursday that the team’s brass met with the representatives for designated hitter Edwin Encarnación. EE is a free agent after spending last year with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. He would be an interesting roster fit if added, but provides a definitive upgrade at the dish.
Encarnación was a ninth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2000 draft and made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005. The 6´1´´, 230-pound, then-third baseman carved out a career after moving north of the border to play with the Blue Jays. The 36-year-old slugger has hit more than 30 homers in every season since 2012 and has compiled 414 during his career. Edwin possesses immense raw power but also has posted walk rates around 12% throughout his big league tenure.
In 2019, the Dominican hit .244/.344/.531 in 486 plate appearances for the Mariners and Yankees. Encarnacion’s season was cut short with a fractured wrist, but he still came to the plate 486 times. He posted a .363 wOBA with a 129 wRC+ and once again eclipsed the 30 home run-mark. He posted a 2.5 fWAR, largely attributed to his success vs LHP: a .969 OPS with a 152 wRC+ vs southpaws. The power presence is substantial from both sides but in 2019, Encarnación posted a staggering ISO% of .349.
As the roster currently stands, the 26-man rule makes it easier to utilize a third catcher in the big leagues. Grandal will join José Abreu, James McCann and Zack Collins in Chicago’s DH mix. If Edwin Encarnacion were added, he would likely be the primary designated hitter and play most days. His bat would be essential in the lineup against left-handed pitching. According to Baseball Savant, Encarnacion places in the 69th percentile in exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. He’s also elite in xWOBA (78th percentile) and xSLG (83rd percentile).
It’s not likely that a club has ever truly had too many hitters or too much offense. Versatility is important, however, and while Encarnación can absolutely mash, the White Sox would be left with a multiplicity of the same type of performer to deal with. It seems likely that at the current juncture, McCann would either be catching or used in the DH spot against all lefties. McCann posted a 132 wRC+ vs southpaws during his All-Star campaign last year. Collins is in the mix as well and while he’s not a roster lock, he would likely serve as the DH vs righties if the season were to start tomorrow.
As the club’s first round pick in 2016, Collins likely gets a look in the big leagues in 2020. The 24-year-old, left-handed slugger posted a 140 wRC+ with the super ball in Triple-A Charlotte last year. He has big-time power potential and plate discipline (14% walk rate in Chicago) and could do some damage immediately vs. right handers.
Grandal has a long history of hitting all pitchers adequately. In 2019, the switch-hitting catcher posted a 138 wRC+ vs LHP to go along with a 114 wRC+ vs RHP. Grandal signed a $73 million contract with the White Sox this offseason, and his ability to hit and also play first base ensures him of a full season of plate appearances. Abreu is entering his seventh season with the club and his offensive profile is similar to that of Encarnación.
Encarnación gets on base more often, and Abreu hits for a higher average at this point. Both players possess premium power and they both destroyed lefties in 2019 (Abreu posted a 168 wRC+ vs left handers last year). It’s imperative that Abreu be in the lineup against all southpaws going forward. José was a league-average performer (99 wRC+) vs righties, though, and tough decisions on who gets into the lineup might have to be made if Encarnación were to be added to the mix.
When tough righties take the mound, Abreu should probably take a seat and wait for pinch-hitting opportunities. He wasn’t signed for $50 million last month to be a platoon player, though. There could be real lineup construction issues with Encarnación needing a spot for games where McCann ends up catching. But those are probably good problems for a team as offensively-challenged as the White Sox, though.
Dingers are fun, and Edwin Encarnación hits lots of them. As a subscriber to the methodology of the phrase, “Ball Go Far, Team Go Far,” EE would enhance the White Sox’s chances in 2020. Lineup construction can be worried about at a later date.