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In praise of Edwin Encarnacion

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One of my personal favorite hitters has been everything the Yankees could have wanted.

MLB: ALDS-Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Even though I no longer live near Toronto, my formative baseball years were spent at Rogers Centre far more than Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have always been my favorite team, but proximity dictates that certain Blue Jays were always going to draw my attention. The late Roy Halladay was one example, and of course the dynamic trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion was another.

Edwin, especially, was a guy that demanded your attention. A third baseman so bad he was given the E5 nickname, a player that couldn’t hit in one of the best hitters’ parks in baseball in Cincinati became a star in Toronto because he stopped playing third, started walking and hitting the ball in the air to the pull side. In so many ways, Encarnacion is the archetype of a modern hitter, and he’s just too much fun.

I started writing for this site in the spring of 2017, meaning I missed the chance to “Corbin” Encarnacion, or to be given the platform to write the case for signing him as a free agent. His agent famously misread the market and took less guaranteed money from Cleveland, while the Yankees would flail around looking for a full-time first baseman until the Luke Voit trade 18 months later.

The guaranteed portion of that contract is up this year, and the Yankees will be faced with what’s essentially a $15 team option. The option comes with a $5 million buyout that’s a sunk cost, but New York, facing big arbitration raises for its young stars and a general philosophy antithetical to spending on older players, could just pass on Encarnacion all together.

If that happens, Encarnacion’s future becomes pretty cloudy. He’s exactly the kind of player hurt in the new free agent market; he’ll be 37 next Opening Day, is best at DH, and uncertainty around the ball increases the incentive for teams to steer clear of hitters like Encarnacion.

But for now, we don’t have to worry about that. In fact, Edwin’s given us precious little to worry about at all - he’s been the third-most valuable player on the team through the ALDS, and has raised the floor of an offensive juggernaut as they approach an ALCS needing all the runs they can get. The best way to beat Justin Verlander or Charlie Morton is to load your lineup with as many 130 wRC+ sluggers as you can and wait for them to run into a few meatballs. Encarnarcion had a 129 wRC+ this year and has a 127 mark for his career; seems like he fits the bill.

As I talked about yesterday in the news post, the playoffs demand personalities that can keep a clubhouse loose and light, and that’s a big reason why Nick Swisher travels with the Yankees this postseason. Despite only being on the team a couple of months, Encarnacion’s proven he can fill that role too - or at least, his stuffed parrot can:

Encarnacion was part of a cadre of players that fundamentally changed the way I see baseball, and he was just too much fun to miss going to a bunch of Jays games. He’s now one of the biggest bats on my favorite team, and whatever the future holds for Encarnacion, it’s been a blast watching him - and the parrot - continue to hit in the Bronx.