Defending Edwin Encarnacion

Edwin Encarnacion: Revisionist History?

edwin encarnacion adam dunn

In case you missed it, former Red Edwin Encarnacion hit a walk-off home run in the American League wild card game on Tuesday night:

Over the last few years, as Encarnacion has developed into a star, more and more people have come out of the woodwork, screaming at the Reds for trading Encarnacion away in exchange for Scott Rolen at the 2009 trade deadline. Those people showed up again this week, in the wake of Edwin’s big home run. Which led to these tweets:

Then Mo wrote this on his blog:

When Edwin Encarnacion was traded by the Reds to the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2009 trade deadline, it was time. EE had worn out his welcome, and at the time of the deal – after a parts of five seasons filled with starts and stops – he was batting .209. There was a very real sense, held by pretty much every Reds fan – that after more than 2000 big league plate appearances, either the light bulb was never going to come on, or that Edwin was the quintessential “change of scenery player.”

So they traded him, and no one objected.

Read the whole thing. Lance wrote about it too.

I’m not here to quibble with either Mo Egger or Lance McAlister, mostly because their central premise is pretty much absolutely correct (plus I love both those guys). And anyway, in retrospect, despite the fact that Edwin has turned into one of the best sluggers in the game, there’s still a strong argument that the Reds got good value out of that trade. After all, the Reds made the playoffs in three of the next four seasons. Sure, Scott Rolen only had one good half-season left in him, but I’m willing to buy the argument that he transformed the clubhouse with his leadership. Sure, why not?

And it’s not like the Blue Jays themselves realized they had a star on their hands. They actually waived Encarnacion, and he was free for the taking to any other team. They later re-acquired him, and the Reds is history, but we can’t forget that every major league team whiffed on him.

So I have little interest in arguing the merits of the trade here, seven years later. But I must take exception to one thing Mo and Lance said: that no one objected, and that no one thought Edwin would become a star. They are both correct that, at the time of the trade, almost every Reds fan was ready for Edwin to hit the road.

But Redleg Nation objected. We predicted Encarnacion’s stardom.

The day after the trade, Chris Garber raised an eyebrow about the deal here:

I think Rolen is playing over his true level right now (a .347 BABIP is inflating his line, sayeth Fangraphs). I think EE is playing well below his true level. So Jocketty bought high and sold low.

(Chris also pointed out some tweets by Lance that questioned the deal.) I also wrote a trade roundup post, in which I noted that Baseball Prospectus (“The Worst Deadline Deal”) and FanGraphs pretty much hated the trade from Cincinnati’s perspective.

But no one hated it worse than me. I was a huge fan of Edwin Encarnacion (and still am), and I loved his potential to be a big bat in the middle of the Reds’ lineup. Mo noted in his blog piece that pretty much every Reds fan had given up hope on Edwin by mid-2009, and that’s true, without question. At times, I felt like I was the lone voice in the wilderness, screaming Edwin’s praises from the rooftop (along with Chris and others here at the Nation).

Not long before the trade, we created a category of posts here called Defending Edwin Encarnacion. I extolled Edwin’s virtues in numerous game recaps and other posts (here are the archives of all of the posts mentioning EE at Redleg Nation over the years); dig through them, and you’ll see what we thought of Edwin Encarnacion in real time. No revisionism here.

Two months before the Encarnacion/Rolen trade, I was getting frustrated over the conventional wisdom among the fan base regarding Encarnacion that Mo and Lance each referenced, and it began to bubble over. So I went on a little rant:

Okay, I admit it, I got a little worked up yesterday trying to defend Edwin Encarnacion. (I know, I shouldn’t use “defend” and “Edwin Encarnacion” in the same sentence.)

I’m just continually amazed at how Reds fans want to toss this guy under the bus, even after the last three years, when Edwin has been an above average hitter (at ages 23, 24, and 25). What more do you want out of the guy? There aren’t many players who can claim to be above league-average as a hitter at those ages.

Some of you actually think there is a question as to who should start at 3B when Edwin gets back? Before you answer that, read this. The gist of that link is that Edwin’s production from last year is far superior to the production the Reds are getting from 3B this year. It’s not even close (and I see no reason not to think Edwin won’t be a better hitter than he was last year).

We all know what the deal is here. Edwin doesn’t smile and he doesn’t drink milk like Brandon Phillips, so no one’s first reaction is to like the guy. That’s the way players are judged in Cincinnati (see Rosales, Adam), for better or worse. It’s vital that you look like you are having fun and playing hard. Perception is much more important than reality in the Queen City.

Perhaps I feel a need to defend Encarnacion because I can see what’s going to happen here: Edwin is going to get the A*** D*** treatment, on a smaller scale. Everyone wants to focus on the things Edwin doesn’t do well (throwing the stupid baseball) instead of cheering the guy for being an above-average hitter who has a chance to be one of the best-hitting third basemen in the game — and for being one of the two hardest-working players on the team, by all reports. And he’s still very young!

At this point, Encarnacion is not the best 3B in the game, but he’s the best 3B that the Reds have. By far. Let’s give the guy a break. When we get Edwin back and healthy and productive, third base becomes one of the Reds strengths. If Walt Jocketty can focus on improving shortstop or left field, this team becomes even more interesting as we transition into summer.

I’m not sure I can sum up my feelings on EE any better than that. Some of us never gave up on the guy. (By the way, there are some interesting comments below that piece — I see the names of some long-time commenters there! — that really gives you some perspective on how Encarnacion was viewed in Cincinnati in mid-2009.)

Okay, so yes, I’m patting Redleg Nation on the back a little here. I beg your indulgence. I’m wrong so often (look in those same archives for plenty of examples) that you have to let me point out the rare instances in which I was correct.

There are way too many variables to say, with any certainty, who won the Encarnacion/Rolen deal, and I’m not particularly interested in re-litigating that topic. But I’ve been an Edwin Encarnacion fan since day one, and I’ve missed him every single day since the Reds traded him away. I wish he were still here, hitting in the middle of the Reds lineup (or traded for prospects at last year’s trade deadline, to bring up another sore topic among Reds fans).

At any rate, here’s hoping Edwin has a few more post-season home runs in his bat…

33 thoughts on “Edwin Encarnacion: Revisionist History?

  1. I thought the trade was a good one at the time and am happy the EE has done well as a DH—where he belongs. My recollection of him back in 2009 was that the ball made a different sound coming off his bat. Edwin hit the ball HARD when he hit it. Unfortunately he seemed to bite on every single outside breaking pitch so there was little reason for pitchers to throw him anything else. Obviously he adjusted.

    My favorite memory of Rolen is the blood pressure relief I felt on a ground ball hit to third. Routine plays became routine outs. EE made early season Suarez look like Brooks Robinson.

    I’m from Cincinnati and don’t care the Edwin didn’t smile.

    • It’s not intentional, but I can’t help but remember Rolen most for this:

      It’s the first thing I think of when I hear Rolen. I hate remembering that play. I hate remembering that series. I hate baseball. 😦

      • And let’s not forget the passed by committed by the “always” reliable Ryan Hannigan which got the runner to 3B

  2. Rolen was a steady presence on the 2010 team. There might not have ever been the epic late September Jay Bruce HR to clinch the division without Rolen that year.
    EE didn’t hit his stride with Toronto until the 2012 season. I don’t think Reds fans had enough patience with EE to wait until 2012 for him to breakout.
    Rolen has a career line of .281/.364/.490/.855. He has a career fWAR of 70.1, with 316 HR’s, 1211 R’s, and 1287 RBI’s. That might be HOF material. Who knows, in the end, it might turn out to be one HOF player for another HOF player.
    Free agent to-be EE, will be sporting a Boston RedSox uniform next year and taking aim at the Green Monster for the next few years. He is a very suitable replacement for another HOF player to be, Big Papi.

  3. That walk-off HR by EE on Tuesday night, might be the kickstart to a new bullpen revolution in MLB. With Showalter strictly adhering to the old-school bullpen usage theme, keeping his best reliever in the bullpen, and not even pitching him in the most important game of the season, might be a dagger to that philosophy.
    With the Reds seemingly committed to Iglesias and Lorenzen as 90-120 IP relievers, the Reds might be at the forefront of a tectonic shift in the bullpen usage philosophy next year. If the Reds go from worst bullpen in history in 2016 to a very good bullpen next year using several multi-inning relievers, the copycats will take notice.

    • While I’d love to see this happen, second-guessers are so rampant that it will just take a few instances of a top “closer” being used early and then his replacement blowing a game for old-schoolers to say “See? They wasted Chapman early and now THIS!”

      • Not that it was “early,” but Familia waited less than 24 hours to hurt this movement! 😉

        • Maybe the Indians Terry Francona and Andrew Miller make this post-season about the bullpen usage. That was pretty awesome last night what they did.

  4. As I recall, his nickname of E5 was well earned. However, I remember thinking all along that we would have been better off moving him to 1B or OF, since he didn’t seem to have such a problem catching the ball, and keeping his bat around. I liked getting Rolen, especially for that 2010 season, but I thought we gave up too much. Granted, I also thought Stewart would amount to something.

    • Yes, “E5” he was. The problem with moving him to first is that Votto plays there. The problem with second was BP, in his prime, and a great defender. E5 did hit it hard, but he really wasn’t very productive for the Reds and needed (needs) to be in the league with the DH. I did always wonder whether he could have been an outfielder: Good arm, if erratic, and no scorching grounders. Moving guys to left field seems to be a favorite pastime among us.

  5. I can’t remember precisely how I felt about the EE/ Rolen trade; but I was following EE’s subsequent travels and wondering why the Reds weren’t after him for a look in LF.

  6. My favorite memory of EE is him hitting a walkoff bomb four seconds after the Cowboy emphatically stated that he is “not, not NOT a clutch hitter.”

  7. Since the Reds are in the midst of a major rebuild perhaps the lesson to learn and take heed of from EE is that he was in the majors at age 22; and that the Reds gave up on him at the ripe old age of 26.

    • I think there was a time between 2010 and 2012, when the Blue Jays actually released EE, and then claimed him back. He then worked very hard to become the player/hitter he has now become. Something significant changed between his ears. This is something that is hard to gauge in players.
      People equate some of the hitting skills of Jesse Winker to Joey Votto. May be true, but Joey has, and always has had, a tremendous work ethic in training, working and preparing. I don’t know if Winker has that same ethic, regardless of talent.
      Aroldis Chapman could have been a great starting pitcher, but it is more work to prepare to be a starter than a closer. I think, among other things, that Dusty perceived that Aroldis did not have the work ethic to be a great starter.
      If you have ever been around high school or college track athletes, there is a tremendous difference in work ethic between distance runner and sprinters. The really great sprinters work hard, but most of them seem to think they are born to be fast. Distance runners know they have to train, train, train.

      • EE was DFAed and outrighted off of Toronto’s MLB roster to AAA in June of 2010; but then put back on in July. Following that season, he was claimed on waivers (from Toronto) by Oakland in November (of 2010) then nontendered by the A’s on 12/2/2010 and subsequently resigned by the Blue Jays on 12/16/2010.
        The stuff after the season was about avoiding paying him an arbitration impacted salary in 2011. The contract he signed in 12/2010 was for $8M across 3 seasons but only the first 2 seasons were guaranteed (@ $4.5M total) with the third season ($3.5M) on option against a $500K buyout.

        The contract now ending was for $36M across 4 seasons with 2016, the final year (@$10M), on option against a $2M buyout.

        So, he personally has paid a price for his slow and some what shaky start.

        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/al-east/toronto-blue-jays/

  8. Looking through his peripherals, it’s interesting to note that EE is basically the same hitter now as he was in Cincy.

    The differences are a very slight increase in pull tendency (from high 40s to around 50%), and a very slight increase in fly ball rate. His hard his % is about the same, as is his oSwing%, which makes the increase in walk rate seem odd.

    So, is a few % more pull and a few % more fly balls the difference between a 100 wRC+ hitter and a 150 wrC+ hitter? Apparently it is in his case.

  9. Hindsight is always 20/20. At the time EE had to go. He has benefited by the change in scenery. As pointed out by Chad, he struggled the first 2 years with the Blue Jays. He is now either at IB or DH. I don’t see him at Third anymore. It has also helped him that he is in the American League. Who knows what would have happen to him if he was traded to a National League team.

    Speaking of that, I would like to see the NL go to the DH. I think it would help the Reds in the coming years as Joey V gets older. I am an “old school” guy but it is time for the NL to change. Every other league uses the DH, high school, college, minor leagues and the AL. It is now time for NL to go to it as well!

    • DH in the NL?

      Blasphemy!! (just kidding)

      And I think artificial turf was a bad idea too (not kidding).

      The DH has some attractive qualities, but really don’t like it, Not even being old school. It does change the way teams put their rosters together. Starters generally pitch more innings (i think I read that) for AL teams because of the DH. It has seemed to wear on some starting pitchers. And the AL scores more runs. It has prolonged the careers of some players.

  10. Since we were talking about Premiere Leage clubs in the other thread, here’s something for you: Did you know that clubs in England, in addition to physical therapists, also employ a team of psychologists? The idea is that in order for athletes to perform their best, it’s not enough to make sure their bodies are in peak physical condition, but also their minds. There is the belief, which I prescribe heavily to, that confidence plays a big part in performance, not just in sports, but in all aspects of life. It runs very counter to the American ideal of just “sucking it up” and “doing your job”.

    How does this relate to EE? Well, am I the only one here who remembers the certain disdain that Jerry Narron seemed to treat EE with? It seemed like no matter what EE did, Narron would find some reason to punish him, sit him, or otherwise call him out. I have little doubt this treatment by Narron had an effect on EE’s confidence and self-belief, and more likely than not led to him pressing as he tried to impress Narron and “earn” his spot on the team.

    This treatment of EE is the reason why I look back on Narron’s run with the team in a largely negative light. I often wonder if EE had been allowed to play under Dusty if he would have been encouraged and so would have discovered his current superstar form. For those who say “the manager doesn’t matter”, player development, and the psychological impact on performance, is one aspect where they most definitely do.

    • EE had a year and a half under Baker. With Baker’s affection for tough veteran players, it might have been Baker himself who pushed the front office for a trade of EE for a veteran. Then Jocketty pulled out his STL rolodex and found Rolen.

  11. Oh, and for the record, I hated the EE trade too. I was always pulling for him and wish he could have been given a fairer shake in Cincinnati.

  12. Well there is one thing we are leaving out here that is worth consideration. That trade was one of Jocketty’s first moves as GM and it would establish and possibly embolden him to make many more moves where he brough in ex-Cardinals, which eventually became a not just a nuissance to the casual fan but an absolute plague of poor return in investment. So whatever brief influence of leadership Rolen may have brought with him was negated by a bunch of questionable acquistions. How Jocketty remains employed is anyone’s guess, but I am disgusted by it.

  13. While Edwin has excelled in the AL, people who are talking against the move are missing a couple of things. First, Edwin has excelled as DH over there. He was no kind of defender playing 3rd base for us. He’s hardly played any defensive position with the Blue Jays. First base? We had Votto coming up. OF? The Jays hardly play him there as well. Bottom line, the AL is where a player goes when they can bat but can’t field.

  14. The trade is not really the issue here . . . Why? Edwin was released 2 years after the trade. The As picked him up then released him shortly after. He then resigned with a Toronto. He signed a minimal deal then hit around the Mendoza line with decent power. Then they resigned him again. The revisionist history is not for the Reds, it is for the Jays. They had no idea he was that good or they would not have released him.

    • Close on the actual sequence of events but considerably off on the timing. It all transpired during and after his first year in Toronto (2010). See above. I checked it out on Cot’s overnight. He was DFAed and outrighted to AAA in mid season by Toronto but then put back on the MLB roster within a month . Following the 2010 season he was claimed off waivers by Oakland then nontendered by Oakland within two weeks only to be re-signed by Toronto to a 3 year MLB contract 2 weeks later (December 2010).

      I didn’t look into the details of why he was DFAed; but, the activity in November and December was about staying away from an arbitration influenced salary with him because in 2010 he had made $4.75M on the last year of the deal he was on when traded to Toronto.

      • Sort of correct (I did make a small error) but he was traded to Toronto July 2009. Then, he finished out his 5.4 million in 2010 (signed by the reds as a 2 year deal in 2009 arbitration). After the season he was waived. A,s released him a month later. He was a free agent in December 2010. He signed for 2.5 million with Toronto. Anyone could have signed him!

  15. Edwin Scissorhands. What were the Reds supposed to do with him? He couldn’t play 3b and he was struggling more and more offensively so he wasn’t exactly forcing Votto to LF. It was what it was. If I was going to look at revisionist history then I would put Josh Hamilton’s Ted Williams Rangers years back in the middle of the Reds lineup from 5-6 years ago. Hamilton hit would should’ve been the WS winning HR vs the Cards and probably would’ve been the WS MVP! The Reds make the NLCS (atleast) with Hamilton!

  16. It took us a long time to really like Edwin here in Toronto. I loved his bat, but he struck out a lot, and every time he did something good offensively, he always seemed to follow it up with a defensive miscue. Let’s just say there’s a reason why he was called E3. Edwin wasn’t a star when he came to Toronto, buy he became one by working on his swing and plate approachave and because he was in the either place at the right time to inherit the DH spot, where he thrived and continue to work on his defence at 1B. All the best to him in the future, but here’s hoping he takesthe Jays to the World Series before he goes

  17. I’m a fan of EE but understood the trade at the time and still think it was good move. EE is hitting great now but he is a DH/1B and still wouldn’t fit in with the Reds, unless they traded Votto instead.

  18. Encarnacion was known as scissorhands at third base since so many balls when thru the hot corner. EE did have power but he was an inconsistent free-swinger. I was in favor of the trade at the time. The AL doesn’t seem to want the pitcher to hit again, so I think it’s time the NL goes to the DH. With inter-league play, all teams should be on the same level.

    • Why should the Junior Circuit call the shots? I actually like the complication it presents in inter-league games.

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