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40 in 40: Edwin Encarnacion

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Somehow, Mariners fans seem to have forgotten this three-time all-star is on their roster

Seattle Mariners Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In vintage Jerry fashion, the Mariners made one of their most overlooked moves of the offseason while their fourth-year GM was in the hospital, flipping Carlos Santana for Edwin Encarnacion and a draft pick. One reason the move got little fanfare may be due to the fact that the M’s offered a player in Santana who had only been with the team for 10 days. Additionally, many thought Encarnacion was not long for the Mariners roster. In fact, several reports allege that the M’s haven’t stopped looking to flip the three-time all star.

More than three months later, however, Edwin Encarnacion is still a Mariner. He’s started two of the organization’s five spring training games at designated hitter, and has slotted in at third in the lineup in both of those appearances. Considering that no whispers about potential trade destinations have surfaced, one might assume that Encarnacion will still be a Mariner upon the advent of the Japan Series.

The context of his arrival to Seattle and the rumors of the Mariners trying to ship him has allowed his presence on the roster to go unnoticed to this point; however, it appears that the 36-year-old slugger is effectively Nelson Cruz’ replacement, whether the M’s wanted it to play out like that or not. What does this mean for our beloved baseball team.

First, this is a pretty low stakes situation for our ‘Ners. Should Edwin Encarnacion fail to post his 10th consecutive season with a wRC+ north of 100, it’s not like he will cost the Mariners a spot in the postseason. Worst case scenario, he fills a spot on a future-oriented roster without proven contributors at first base or designated hitter for one year, costing the club $20 million in 2019 and a $5 million buyout after the season. But who likes looking at the downside? Let’s look at what history suggests the Mariners are getting from their new designated hitter.

A fun fact about Mr. Encarnacion is that he has the third most career home runs of any active MLB player, finishing one spot ahead of Nelson Cruz. Both Cruz and Encarnacion made their MLB debuts in 2005; however, Edwin has played nearly 150 more games. On top of boasting an impressive .233 career ISO, he’s also controlled the zone well throughout his career. Over his 14 years in the bigs, he’s posted a 17% strikeout rate and 11.1% walk rate. While his flyball-hitting tendencies yield a substandard BABIP, Encarnacion puts the ball in play - and more often than not with a lot of power behind it - helping him churn productive offensive seasons out on a regular basis.

It’s important to note that last year he posted his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season, while his walk rate dropped to its lowest since 2011. Glancing at his plate discipline numbers, his increased swing rate at pitches out of the zone figure to be a telling stat for those trends. Further encouraging the boosted strikeout percentage is the fact that his contact rate has decreased each year for the past five seasons.

It might be “type one thinking,” but would it be fair to see that decrease in contact rate correspond with his hard contact increasing year over year during the same time period and consider that a fair trade? Perhaps that as he’s aged and transitioned towards becoming a full time designated hitter, Encarnacion is more willing to trade a handful of extra strikeouts for a few extra long balls each season.

The decreased walk numbers are more concerning; however, if you erase last year’s less-than-good April, Encarnacion walked at a slightly higher clip than his 11.1% career average. Besides, his 10.9% walk rate in 2018 would have been higher than any Mariner that posted more than 110 plate appearances.

Even as he’s aged, Encarnacion has remained one of the game’s most consistent hitter. If past performance is any indicator, you can lock him in for 30 or more home runs, while walking in at least 10% of his plate appearances, while striking out around 20% of the time (give or take a percentage point or two).

What I am most curious to see going forward with Edwin’s time as a Mariner is whether or not he will garner attention at the trade deadline. The M’s were never really in a position to flip Cruz midseason, so there isn’t much context when thinking what a player of Encarnacion’s stature might be worth. The most comparable mid-year trade to the M’s dealing Encarnacion during the 2019 season was the Red Sox’s acquisition of Steve Pearce. I know, it’s not a great comparison for a number of reasons; however, similar to Encarnacion, Pearce at the time had one year left on his deal and was acquired for his bat. In return for Pearce, the Blue Jays got Santiago Espinal. Espinal was named one of baseball’s five most compelling fringe prospects in 2018. While it’s not an overwhelming haul, it’s fair to think the Mariners would get more for Edwin, who’s produced nearly four times the WAR of Pearce and has more favorable platoon splits.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. Edwin Encarnacion will be a Mariner for the foreseeable future. I think that’s a good thing.