With the Toronto Blue Jays coming to Fenway Park for the last series of the regular season, the Boston Red Sox get one last look at possible free agents.
The Red Sox are not only preparing for the 2016 postseason, having clinched the American League East division this week, they are also having an up-close look at two men who could take their talents to Boston in 2017: Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. However, the current assets on the field for the Red Sox will influence the final determination of which man will get a free-agent offer in the offseason.
Put to rest the media’s attention on David Ortiz, the designated hitter and legendary leader of the Red Sox, for saying that Encarnacion would make a great fit with Boston’s historic franchise, earlier this season. The man was just supporting his friend and fellow Dominican native in the press; legit tampering is a stretch in this case. Yet, there is definitive proof in what Ortiz said. If the Red Sox were to put an offer on the table for only one of those two Blue Jays players, it would have to be for Edwin.
Encarnacion has hit a slash line of .266/.358/.536 with a whopping 42 home runs and 127 RBIs this season. The 33-year-old doesn’t seem to be slowing down, especially when it comes to Fenway Park. Edwin has hit .296/.373/.547 with 14 home runs and 41 RBIs in only 47 games of his career playing in Boston.
With Ortiz retiring at the end of this season, the Red Sox are looking for another big bat to help fill the void in 2017. Edwin’s contract with Toronto comes to a close this fall, and the possibility of joining a team that his friend will likely be a part of, even in an advisory capacity, seems like a good one.
Having Hanley Ramirez, another Dominican native, on the team doesn’t hurt the chances, either. Ramirez has shined this season on defense at first base, after succumbing to injuries that forced him out of his regular shortstop role a few years ago. Hanley’s bat has also awakened, leaving people to wonder that maybe he should be left at first base, instead of moving to the designated hitter role when Ortiz leaves. Edwin and Hanley could also share the defensive responsibility at times, since Encarnacion plays first base for the Blue Jays, allowing Ramirez to have a break when needed.
However, what pushes this discussion into gear is the other option: Bautista. He’s also a great friend to Ortiz and he has been also rumored to be a candidate for the Red Sox to sign in the offseason. There’s just the matter of his own production.
After the infamous bat flip against the Texas Rangers in the 2015 playoffs, Bautista’s aura and mystique had seemed to have peaked. For 2016, Bautista has hit only .232 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs, while struggling through an injury-plagued season. For a man who prides himself on taking good care of his body, some fans in Toronto have been scratching their heads about whether Bautista would be worth the ton of money that he asked for before starting the regular season this year.
What seems to clinch it for Edwin over Bautista has everything to do with another player, but he already plays for Boston. Mookie Betts plays right field, the position that Bautista has played for much of his career. While Joey Batts has been hitting as a designated hitter for much of the season, while trying to heal his body, Betts has had an All-Star season of his own, literally.
Betts is hitting .320 with 31 home runs and 112 RBIs in only his second full season with the Red Sox. The 23-year-old righty bat is on the same side of the plate as Bautista but is much younger and looking much stronger. So much so, Red Sox manager John Farrell has put Betts in the cleanup spot in the batting lineup for months.
If one wants to talk being clutch, like Bautista has, read this: Betts is .355 with runners in scoring position and an incredible .500 with runners at third base. The 35-year-old Bautista is .297 and .400 in those same categories, respectively. That’s not to say that Bautista’s some slouch, but the age, the body, and the numbers spell out the advantage to Betts.
Alex Speier of The Boston Globe, in his most recent newsletter called 108 Stitches, said it best when referring to Betts’ own mystique: “On the night that the Red Sox reached the playoffs, a span of two at-bats defined the state of the franchise.” When the New York Yankees decided to pitch around Ortiz to get to the youngster, “Betts did not crush the ball into the stiff breeze, but rather chopped it over the infield for a two-run double and 2-0 lead – seemingly a prelude to a clincher.”
Instead of the legend making more history against the Yankees, Betts made a bit of magic of his own, suggesting that the future the Red Sox offense looks bright when Ortiz finally leaves.
The Red Sox will get a chance tonight to look at both Edwin and Bautista tonight and for the next two games to end the season. However, the choice seems pretty clear that Encarnacion could be producing some good home cooking if he were to sign with Boston, while Bautista’s skills seem to be on the decline. Betts helps the team’s front office from feeling desperate to sign a big-name bat like Bautista to play right field. And, the possible combination of Ramirez and Encarnacion will protect first base for at least a few more seasons, without any dropoff offensively.
With all of that in mind, the bat flip might have been an amazing moment in baseball history, but Bautista will likely not be making similar moments in a Red Sox uniform.