GLENDALE, Ariz. — If this is where the White Sox are, as Edwin Encarnacion suggested Tuesday, bring on the American League Central!
The Sox’ new designated hitter said the team reminded him of the 2015 Blue Jays, who finished 93-69 and lost to the Royals in the AL Championship Series a year after going 83-79.
Realistically, Encarnacion might have his new team ranked a year ahead of its time. PECOTA’s projections put the Sox at 83 wins this season, but they believe they’re postseason contenders.
“This team [reminds me of] the team we had in 2015 with the Blue Jays,” Encarnacion said. “A lot of young talent, a few veteran guys, and we put everything together, and this team is going to be right.”
This Sox team has young talents Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, to name a few, and veterans Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Encarnacion.
“A great lineup from top to bottom,” Encarnacion said.
On that Jays team, Encarnacion was thefourth-best player, according to Baseball Reference WAR, behind Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista.
On this Sox team, he figures to slide into the middle of the lineup primarily as a DH and also give Abreu some days off at first base.
In 486 plate appearances for the Mariners and Yankees in 2019, Encarnacion showed he still has it in his late 30s, hitting 34 home runs with a .244/.344/.531 slash line as a DH/first baseman. The Sox believe there’s more where that came from and signed him for a guaranteed $12 million this season with a
$12 million option in 2021.
“A dangerous presence,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “An outstanding source of power in the last decade-plus.”
At 37, just how much impact Encarnacion has for a Sox team hoping to move from rebuilding to contending status remains to be seen. We know this: He has been one of baseball’s most consistent sluggers with at least 32 homers the last eight seasons. He has 414 homers in 15 seasons.
“He’s a huge piece of an offensive impact player for us,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Combined with [Abreu] and Eloy and [Nomar] Mazara, Timmy, Moncada, and I can go on. Much more [pop] than I have had in the past. He’s going to obviously play a huge role for us.”
This offseason, Encarnacion was listed 10th on MLB Now’s ranking of the best first basemen in the majors, a list Abreu did not make. Renteria wouldn’t say how much first-base time he has in mind for Encarnacion, but Abreu will get more.
“Whatever they need me to do,” Encarnacion said. “I’m here for whatever they want. I have no problem being the DH or playing first base.”
It was his second day of full-squad workouts, dirt stains on his pants, and Encarnacion already was talking like a team guy, repeating all-for-one and one-for-all themes.
“Being together, staying together,” he said. “You especially have to have the talent, and we have the talent on this team.”
For the young players striving to be winners for the first time in their careers, “don’t think you’ve got to do everything in order to win. It’s going to be a team effort. You can’t think about just yourself.
“That’s the main thing: The team has to be together if you’re going to win. Pick up your teammates. If your teammate does something wrong, you’re going to feel it, and you’re going to want to do something to help them out. That’s what it’s all about.”
Which brought Encarnacion back to the Jays.
“Nobody counted on us because we had Boston and the Yankees [in the AL East]. But we knew what we had in the clubhouse, and we stayed together and we had the talent.
“This team has the talent to compete in the division and win.”