Encarnacion to White Sox...

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T15D23
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Encarnacion to White Sox...

Postby T15D23 » Thu Dec 26, 2019 12:22 pm

Edwin Encarnación inches White Sox that much closer to contention in 2020
James Fegan

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The White Sox are managed by a sprightly former utilityman who played four positions and finished his career with as many sacrifice bunts as home runs. Their executive vice president was a fleet-footed center fielder who tells a fun story about being challenged by John Carlos and Tommie Smith to a footrace as a youth.

They cannot be accused of building a contender in their own image. They could be accused of trying to build a contender.

In signing three-time All-Star and career-long masher Edwin Encarnación on Christmas Day, according to a source, the White Sox are not filling a glaring hole on their depth chart. With the one-year, $11 million deal and $1 million signing bonus for 2020, and $12 million option for 2021, they are not locking up someone who will grow along with their young core. It’s not even clear if they’re addressing a real, urgent need. In adding Encarnación and his .263/.352/.499 career batting line, they’re just adding another guy who can really hit. That always seems to help.

Other than the one-year deal with no draft pick compensation surrendered part, it’s not the most elegant move. With below-average defenders as starters in both outfield corners, five catchers on the 40-man, a face-of-the-franchise first baseman, and another plodding first baseman as one of their best prospects, adding Encarnación — who maybe could fill in at first base once per week — is not a crafty boost to the White Sox’ up-the-middle athleticism. It also doesn’t allow for a ton of creative mixing-and-matching on defense. It just aims to make the team better, right now.

But three years into a rebuild, the novelty of crafty moves to stack value wears thin, and the thirst for naked aggression grows. This is of the latter variety, and it’s welcome.

Encarnación cannot platoon with Nomar Mazara against lefties in right field. His presence at least temporarily obscures how the Sox will make a timeshare work with their dueling All-Star catchers Yasmani Grandal and James McCann, and it completely blocks Zack Collins from any avenue to major league playing time. But coming off his eighth-straight season with over 30 home runs, Encarnación is simply better than all of them.

Well, he has been.

Encarnación turns 37 in January, and his bat descended from top-10 in the league status after 2015. His strikeout rate crested over 20 percent in 2018 and is unlikely to dip below it ever again, and with it, his once exceptional on-base rate has drifted back toward just good enough (.339 the past two seasons) that it doesn’t detract from his unfailingly standout power production.

So there is a risk this doesn’t pay off. Wrist and oblique injuries, and even a tweaked ankle running the bases, kept the Yankees from enjoying the full benefit of adding Encarnación as a finishing piece to an already loaded lineup in the second half last year. He’s at the age where things can physically fall apart very quickly, where even smart hitters like Paul Konerko go from dominant to unusable within a matter of months.

But a credit of this increasingly expansive White Sox offseason is that success is not solely rooted in continued star-level production from Encarnación. And now, in turn, it’s less dependent on another banner year from Grandal on both sides of the ball, or McCann essentially hitting like Tim Anderson against lefties for another season, or on Collins making the leap to above-average major league production.

With a good offseason — and the White Sox have reached a point where the potential flaws of individual moves are diminished by the volume of additions — comes, alas, even more scrutiny. The White Sox have gone beyond simply taking a valid step forward in their rebuild — this move is more nakedly about winning in 2020 than anything else they’ve done. They’ve left questions about whether they’ll be “interesting” or “fun to watch” behind, and moved the discussion to whether they can take down the Twins and Indians for the AL Central crown.

For that, the urgency of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal helping the major-league effort as soon as possible will come to the forefront, and some vulnerability in the bullpen might need to be addressed. But also, five upgrades to the big-league roster later, you get the sense that the White Sox are going to do something about it.
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