Boston Red Sox Free Agent Targets: Edwin Encarnacion

Sep 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) hits a sacrifice RBI against Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) hits a sacrifice RBI against Baltimore Orioles in the first inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The BoSox Injection staff looks at players available on the free agent market that the Boston Red Sox may have interest in this offseason.

The Boston Red Sox made tremendous progress in 2016, climbing out of the basement of the division to win the AL East. This worst-to-first turnaround can partially be attributed to moves that the front office made last winter to upgrade the roster, but the team’s early playoff exit shows us that further upgrades are needed.

There will be holes to fill on this Red Sox roster if the team intends to take the next step toward the ultimate goal of a championship. While there are many avenues the team can take to improve, free agency will be a primary focus for a Red Sox team willing to spend.

We start our series of free agent targets with Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion.

Why he fits

The Red Sox have an enormous hole to fill in the middle of their lineup following the retirement of David Ortiz. Who better to fill that void than Encarnacion? Nobody, at least in the eyes of Big Papi himself.

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How will the team replace the run production that Ortiz provided? How about with the guy that tied him for the league lead in RBI. Encarnacion was also third in the league with 42 home runs, four ahead of Ortiz. While the Red Sox easily led the majors in runs scored, they were middle of the pack in homers. Encarnacion has averaged over 38 home runs and 110 RBI over the last five seasons, making him one of the few sluggers left that is a virtual lock for a 30/100 season now that Ortiz is out of the picture.

Encarnacion can easily slide into Ortiz’s DH role, allowing the Red Sox to keep Hanley Ramirez at first base, where he adapted quicker than most expected.

As an added bonus, signing Encarnacion away from the Blue Jays weakens a division rival, increasing Boston’s chances of repeating as AL East champs.

Why he doesn’t fit

Encarnacion will be 34 years old by the start of next season, yet will still seek a lucrative long-term deal. While Ortiz proved that players that primarily serve as a DH can extend their careers deep into their 30’s and beyond, he is more the exception than the rule. Encarnacion is still in his prime, but a decline is inevitable. How soon that happens will determine if his next contract is ultimately deemed a bust, so the longer the deal is, the riskier it becomes.

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We also have to consider if Encarnacion is even willing to become a full-time DH. He spent just over half of his time in that role over the past two years, but may not be ready to give up on playing the field yet. He could conceivably split time at first base with Ramirez to help keep both of them fresh, but Encarnacion is even more defensively challenged than Han-Ram.

If he is willing to be the primary DH, don’t expect it will lead to much of a discount. Ortiz never earned more than $16 million in any season of his career. While Big Papi may have left a little money on the table in order to stay in Boston for the rest of his career, a player limited only to DH duty simply doesn’t offer as much value as more versatile players. Encarnacion will certainly point to his time at multiple positions over the past several years as a sign he’s capable of playing the field and therefore shouldn’t be held to the financial limitations of a DH. If he’s asking for $20+ million per year, is it worth it for a one-dimensional player entering his mid-30’s?

Next: Arizona Fall League updates

Will they sign him?

The need to replace Ortiz’s production in the middle of the lineup will ultimately outweigh his defensive limitations or concerns about his age. This team needs a home run hitter, as Mookie Betts and Ramirez are the only hitters in this lineup that joined Ortiz in topping 30 homers this season and neither is a lock to repeat. Encarnacion is.

Expect the Red Sox to make Encarnacion among their primary targets. While the Blue Jays will fight to keep him, their failure to lock him into an extension prior to this season signals that Encarancion is open to leaving Toronto if the price is right. Boston has the resources to sign him, especially with significant chunk of change coming off the books that they can put toward an offer to Encarnacion.

Interest Level: High