Billy Flips The Script

As Matthew pointed out after the A’s acquired David DeJesus from the Royals, Oakland certainly has a player type that they favor at the moment – good defender, some walks, and a dash of gap power. They have kept their costs down by eschewing players who hit home runs and focusing on what they feel are skills that are still undervalued. DeJesus fit perfectly into the mold of previous acquisitions, and when Billy Beane acquired him, we all just nodded our heads and said “yeah, of course.”

Apparently Billy woke up this morning annoyed with his own predictability, because this afternoon, he decided to acquire the antithesis of the rest of his roster, claiming Edwin Encarnacion off waivers from the Blue Jays. Encarnacion is probably the least A’s like player in baseball.

He’s probably best known for his brutal defense at third base, where he’s earned the nickname E5. In six years of mostly partial playing time, he’s still managed to rack up an awful -44.5 UZR, over half of which comes from his error problems. His career fielding percentage is .936, which is pretty terrible for a guy who also doesn’t have very good range.

Toronto fans hate his defense with unbridled passion. He scored a 29 on the Fans Scouting Report in each of the last two years – remember, the rating is out of 100. That puts him in the same company as Jonny Gomes, Manny Ramirez, and Jose Guillen. Yeah.

Walks? He’s not a big fan of those, either. He’s drawn 216 unintentional free passes in 2,548 trips to the plate. He’s not an uberhack, but it would be charitable to call him anything other than a free swinger. What Encarnacion can do is hit the ball over the wall. He’s got significant home run power, averaging 24 home runs per 600 at-bats in his MLB career to date, and launching 21 in part-time action last year. Those home runs are why he was available on waivers in the first place, however.

As a 5th year arbitration eligible player with some decent counting stats to point at, and a $4.75 million base salary in 2010 to build off of, he’s looking at a pretty decent arbitration award this winter. If the A’s choose to offer arbitration, he’d probably be looking at a $6-$7 million paycheck in 2011. The Blue Jays had no interest in paying him that much, which is why they cut him loose to begin with.

I can’t imagine that the A’s would actually be willing to pay him that much either. Kevin Kouzmanoff is both better and cheaper at third base, and actually fits in with their pitching-and-defense model. Encarnacion won’t be taking Daric Barton‘s job at first base, even though that’s probably the only spot on the infield he should play.

They could cut Jack Cust loose and use him at DH, except that better offense-only players are available as free agents and will sign for less than $6 million this winter. They could also move him to the outfield, where he might not be as terrible as he is at third base, except they just traded for DeJesus to play one corner and have a plethora of options for the other corner.

I just don’t see how offering him arbitration makes sense, given the A’s roster and what they already have in house. The only way I can see this making sense is if they thought he might sign a much cheaper deal to avoid ending up a free agent when he gets non-tendered – perhaps they think they can convince his agent that he’ll only get $1 or $2 million if forced to deal with the market, and that a $3 to $4 million offer is the best thing they’ll get all winter?

Still, a year away from free agency, I can’t see Encarnacion taking a pay cut to play part time in Oakland, where his offensive numbers will likely take a nosedive. My guess is that this ends up being a forgettable transaction when Encarnacion ends up non-tendered in a few weeks. Like Mike Piazza as a Marlin, we’ll likely never remember Encarnacion in an A’s uniform.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


69 Responses to “Billy Flips The Script”

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  1. PL says:

    I’m just hoping if this is the plan, that Kouzmanoff is packaged in a deal for a player that doesnt make me care that E5 is at third.

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  2. Chris Benioff says:

    This is just the A’s getting themselves more options so they can dangle Kouz or try to sign Beltre without leaving themselves with nothing else. They could also try to sign Kouz or E5 to a longer term deal at a lower price and leverage them against each other.

    This likely amounts to nothing, but doesn’t cost anything.

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  3. Jeff says:

    I don’t see what’s so bad about this deal. Beane got EE for nothing. Despite his lack of on base percentage, he can rake as evidenced by his slugging percentage. Beane is just trying to put together a well-rounded team that is inexpensive. He made some defensive improvements last year with his range. The truth is he’s a 28 year old who can rake in any stadium and may be this year’s Garrett Jones late-bloomer award winner. If so, Beane acquired a solid player in his prime for nothing. If he sucks, then they can always designate him for assignment, no big deal.

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    • WY says:

      They may have gotten him for nothing, but if they want to keep him, they are going to have to pay him something — unless they non-tender him, in which case, why claim him in the first place? That’s the problem.

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      • sums95 says:

        Simple. If theres an NL team that didn’t get a shot at claiming him, the A’s can flip him for a low level prospect next week during meetings. Could also trade him to whoever loses the Beltre sweepstakes.

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  4. Jacob Jackson says:

    Better to have two of the top 30 3b in baseball than only one. Even if neither one would ever be confused as elite.

    I think the A’s might try a bit of new strategy with perceived non-tender candidates this year. Guys like Co-Jax, Encarnacion, Sweeney, Kouzmanoff, Rajai Davis, Cust – each of them would be great values at the league minimum. The A’s can use some of their extra cash, swallow a few million on of those contracts via trade, and then deal some combination of these guys to other teams for future assets.

    The A’s showed a willingness to swallow money to acquire assets last year – Taveras/Miles for Fox/Rosales (one of whom actually panned out).

    At least there’s some potential for future return that way. Better than a non-tender.

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    • Jono says:

      You can get a steaming pile of dog dodo on your front stoop for almost nothing but that doesn’t make it any more valuable. He paid almost nothing for the Big E because that was his worth…

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      • quincy0191 says:

        You could probably get dog poop for nothing, and if you need fertilizer, hey! If it’s free, worst case scenario is that it’s worth nothing. Best case, it turns into a valuable asset. This is a no-risk move.

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      • R M says:

        You are worth nothing to the A’s, but EE is definitely worth something. He’s a major league caliber hitter, and you are comparing him to dog sh*t. I’d like to see you say that to his face.

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      • Jason B says:

        “This is a no-risk move.”

        The claim itself doesn’t cost anything, yet, true. But as WY pointed out above, it’s not risk-free if they actually decide to try and keep EE and the Kouz. Then you’ve got a significant chunk of the payroll tied up in two average-to-below-average third basemen. Not the most effective allocation of limited resources.

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      • brendan says:

        @jason kouz has been 2.5-3 WAR for the past 4 years running. that’s solidly above avg, right?

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  5. Sean D says:

    I don’t know how the money will shake out, but looking at the 2010 splits for E5 and Cust they look like they’d make one hell of a DH platoon.

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    • MC says:

      This is true, he hits lefties much better than he hits righties. Actually that would make some sense; Cust hits better against righties.

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  6. Skillings24 says:

    I really was hoping that this article was about Billy Wagner coming back for another year.

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  7. opisgod says:

    Encernacion’s issue on defense was his poor footwork, he would would set himself up wrong and his throws would constantly be off target. It’s funny how Edwin can make off balance throws and flips look routine and throw out runners from his knees, yet it’s the plays that should be routine that he struggles with. His arm is no joke, it’s a strong one, and it would be accurate if he learned better footwork. As a matter of fact, Edwin was rated barely below average by UZR and was infact a positive defender by DRS in 2010, which supports the idea that Toronto’s coaches worked on his footwork. I actually saw a noticeable improvement overall; he’s no longer a massive liability at the hot corner, and his bat plays better than Kouzmanoff’s. Billy actually got a player who is a lot closer to the model of a top 15 3B than top 30, and for next to nothing.

    “we all just nodded our heads and said “yeah, of course.”” Would apply here as well.

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    • scatterbrian says:

      That’s interesting to hear. Just looking at his UZR in Toronto compared to Cincinnati shows a clear improvement. Then again, his UZR over the last two seasons has been better than David Wright’s, so I appreciate the actual scouting report re: his footwork. And if the A’s still have Chavez around in some capacity, I’m sure he could help EE.

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    • brown says:

      Yeah, I’ll gladly second that from opisgod.

      Having watched ~120 Jays games this year, EE wasn’t nearly as bad as his rep. His range is probably above average, if not spectacular, and his arm is strong, if extremely unpredictable*. His footwork isn’t terrible. He’s pretty spry; surprisingly-so given the body type. He seems to rush the routine plays, and the arm is a major X-factor (Seriously. Ridiculous). But he has soft hands and throws ropes (sometimes on-target). Granted, this is just my observation, but his reaction time is fine. He made a number of plays on hard line drives. In the field I’d glady take him over Michael Young. Faint praise?

      At the dish I reckon his slash line pretty much speaks for itself. Pop. No patience. But the pop will play in any park- he hits bombs. Umm, the rally-killing strike-outs will also play in any park.

      Much of the reason for the E5 moniker (hilarious, and I believe coined in the drunkjaysfans.com comments section, though I could be completely wrong) was that he was the replacement for Scott Rolen, and while Rolen’s no longer The Absolute Best 3rd baseman defensively (GG notwithstanding), he is still a master of the craft. So, yeah, a bit of a drop off there. You know, that and the fact that he frequently thinks that first base is in the dugout. Or in the right field bleachers. Or…

      Overall, the E5 experiment was fine. The Jays got him in the Rolen trade, reportedly because they (JPR at the time, remarkably) got a better prospect package (Zach Stewart, Josh Roenicke) by taking on his salary, than they would have otherwise.

      I won`t miss him, but he`s not a bad player. His reputation is unfair, probably, and I`ll be interested to see what, if anything, Billy Beane winds up paying him.

      *Seriously, Lyle Overbay hasn’t been the same hitter since wrist surgery, but man can he make a left-side infielder look good. E5 might have had another 15-20 (seriously) throwing errors this year if not for the Great Pink Hope. As Lylo Overstache figures to sign with a new team, I have major concerns.

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      • Kris says:

        Agree with this summation. Strong arm but often inaccurate because of poor footwork or mechanics any time he has time to think about the play. On reaction plays he is pretty solid, and can make great plays because of his athleticism. The rep has been earned because he completely lacks consistency and can’t make routine plays, but if someone could get him straightened out, he would be above average.

        The E5 nickname has been around since at least his 2nd season in Cincinnati, though. Well before his Blue Jays days.

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      • sc2gg says:

        Perhaps Beane will sign Overbay just for E5 damage control…

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      • sums95 says:

        Barton is a pretty good 1B. He makes some plays getting off the bag and tagging runners and can do the splits. Though he is a bit short for a 1B…

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      • blackout says:

        “The E5 nickname has been around since at least his 2nd season in Cincinnati, though.”

        Yes it has. And having watched EE for his entire CIN career I concur absolutely with the remarks above regarding his footwork, range, and throwing issues. His reactions are exactly what you want at third, which is why (I assume) he continues to get chances to play there.

        I think the poor OBP/patience remarks aren’t completely accurate. In his Age 23, 24 and 25 seasons EE posted OBPs of .359, .356 and .341, based as much on adequate walk totals as on avg (that was .341 despite a .251 avg for instance).

        His strikeout rates have fluctuated radically, and it’s hard to tell how much is due to actual issues in his approach. He’s never struck out excessively for a guy with his power, and anecdotally speaking I think most Reds fans would speak to his ability to give a good AB. He has the contact ability and pitch recognition to be aggressive early in the count and then work is back in his favor by laying off pitches out of the zone if he gets in a hole.

        During those Age 23-25 seasons, which are his best, his walk and whiff rates were 8.9/16.8, 7.0/15.5 and 10.5/17.6. Even in TOR last year he posted rates of 7.9/16.3, so opining that he’s a hacker is off-base imo. He may not walk at an elite level, but he makes contact and is relatively difficult to strike out.

        I have no idea what Beane’s true plan is, but EE is still a valuable hitter who is entering his prime. If he can be even a slightly below average 3B he’d be worth quite a bit, but I’ve long felt that his bat profiles fairly well at even a less premium corner. He was never comfortable in CIN, and both CIN and TOR have demoted him to Triple-A once each so there may be some makeup issues there. Still, as gambles go this is one of the better risk to reward ratios I can think of, even with OAK’s budgetary constraints.

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  8. DIVISION says:

    I haven’t taken Beane seriously since the days of Erubiel Durazo.

    It was all downhill after that…

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    • scatterbrian says:

      Totally. I mean, in 2004, Beane paid that sack Durazo $2.1M and all he got was a 3.2 WAR season. What a dummy.

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      • DIVISION says:

        What did Durazo do after 2004?

        What has Durazo done since?

        When was the last time Durazo was even in professional baseball?

        I rest my case, Brian.

        Being a D-back’s fan, I saw more of Durazo than Billy Beane did and for a much longer period. If he could play defense he’d probably still be in Arizona.

        Even as a DH, how long did he last in MLB?

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      • quincy0191 says:

        After 2004? Nothing. Of course, the A’s haven’t paid him anything since 2005 as far as I can tell, and though they lost $4.7M in ’05, they gained $11.2M worth of net value from ’03-’04. He had a decent season, then a good season, then a bad season, and when all was said and done the A’s got more out of him than they paid for. That’s a good deal.

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      • jwb says:

        When was the last time Durazo was even in professional baseball?

        He went 3 for 5 on Wednesday.

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  9. JoeS says:

    I think the biggest question is why Jonny Gomes scored so low on the Fans Scouting Report

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    • opisgod says:

      Because the fan scouting report is about as reliable as the common perception about any given player.

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    • Scott says:

      Maybe because Jonny Gomes is terrible at defense? This is the Jonny Gomes with a -38.4 career UZR and a -33 career DRS. There is no reason to think, based on statistics or scouting, that he is not bad at defense.

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    • Kris says:

      Gomes is awful. The stats (UZR, TZ, +/-) all rate him significantly worse than Adam Dunn in LF for their careers, FWIW, and Dunn is universally ragged for his defense. Gomes is one of the 5 worst OF in baseball.

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    • blackout says:

      Have you seen Gomes play, JoeS? I was not surprised when defensive metrics backed up my anecdotal impressions. I love Gomes’ attitude, and I’m sure every error he commits is like a needle in his eye, but he’s a poor, poor defender. Late jumps, bad routes, erratic throws.

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  10. jirish says:

    The EE pick up is for possible DH/back up player for third base.

    The notion that a power hitter can be a power hitter at their current home park is silly. Beane fully understands that power just doesn’t play at his park-better to have gap hitters and good defenders IMO.

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    • DIVISION says:

      Beane didn’t understand it when he picked up Erubiel Durazo from the D-backs.

      He thought it was a move with heavy upside, but forgot about “limited sample size”.

      I agree that Moneyball works with limited success within a limited budget, but how many of you would have picked the 2001 A’s to beat the D-backs in the WS that year?

      The Yankees got clobbered, even though it went seven games.

      Statistically, that series was a mismatch (B.K. Kim notwithstanding), so what chance would the A’s of Giambi and Chavez have had against Unit and Schilling?

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      • scatterbrian says:

        What’s up straw man?

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      • vignette17 says:

        I absolutely would have taken the 2001 A’s over the 2001 DBacks. Their W-L was 102-60 with a 104-58 Pythagorean. The DBacks won 92 and were expected to win 95.

        OK, so the DBacks had two phenomenal starters. They also had 3 and 4 starters with ERAs over 5.2. The A’s had 4 strong starters: Corey Lidle was good that year.

        On offense, the A’s were a much better team. They scored 884 runs to 818. All while playing in a much worse stadium in a tougher league.

        While it’s impossible to predict a playoff series, I would absolutely pick the A’s as a more talented team in 2001. If you want to argue about the best team in 2001 look at the Mariners, although they had quite a few career years.

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      • Nick says:

        Well, since the book is titled “Moneyball: How to Manage a Team that is Perfect in Every Way that Will Never Lose,” your rambling posts of shit make a lot of sense.

        Oh wait, Moneyball is just about trying to win lots of games as cheaply as possible because Oakland has a tight budget. Imagine that….

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    • mike says:

      EE 14 of 21 hr’s were on the road, so he wasnt completely benefitting with a good hitting park in TOR. Whether that power translates to oakland remains to be seen. Or if he gets nontendered himself

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    • steve says:

      um edwin hit like 6 home runs in the final 3 games of the season at the Twins park(at least 1 opposite field, and at least 1 dead centre), I’m pretty sure his power plays anywhere

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  11. beaneball says:

    If you’ve been an A’s fan in the past 5 years you know that every year they are crippled by injuries and this added depth at 3B and DH is more than welcome in my book. More potential trade bait if anything

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    • chuckb says:

      How is E5 potential trade bait? No one wanted him. That’s why he was available on waivers. Moreover, he’s moving to a less hitter friendly park. I suppose he adds some depth at 3B, DH, and maybe in the OF but it’s not quality depth. I get that it only cost the team the $25,000 or $50,000 that a waiver claim costs but this move to me makes little sense. If they can somehow trade Kouzmanoff for something valuable then maybe it’s worth the hit they’ll take at 3B but, if not, why do this?

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  12. dustygator says:

    1.8 wins last year x $4mil a win= $7.2 million

    Which is around/slightly higher what his arbitration will be. And it cost nothing to get him.

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    • opisgod says:

      Take in mind this was in just over half a season worth of PA’s; prorated that comes to 3+ wins everyday, and in that time frame he also outslugged every hitter on the A’s roster. Billy Beane obviously saw that his defense had noticeably improved and picked up a big power boost for absolutely nothing, this is vintage and I really don’t know how it could be argued otherwise.

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      • Mark says:

        The problem is it’s a one year sample of UZR. I watched the same games as you did and I didn’t think his defense was particularly good, or close to league average. So if the UZR drops back down to – 7/8 runs like it’s been the past few years, he’d be around 2 WAR next year in 575 AB’s.

        Then of course we have to adjust for the fact he’s playing half his games in Oakland, and odds are the bat won’t produce as many runs as he did playing half the games in Toronto. So he’d drop below 2 WAR.

        It’s really hard for me to accept E5 as a 2 WAR player or better when he’s never done it in his career before.

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  13. Theo says:

    As a Toronto fan, watching him every day, his defense is poor but not abominable, and, as stated, has improved from when he came over.

    However, the man can absolutely crush some balls. Those 21 homers weren’t flukes, and he mashed four to the deep parts of Target Field in as many games in the last series of the season. He’s a low OBP, homer-happy kinda guy, and so was pretty redundant in Toronto, where that descriptor could be given to almost all of the line-up. In a less powerful Oakland lineup, he could certainly be useful.

    It’s a good trade, it seems, for both sides, though perhaps not a hugely relevant one, down the road.

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    • Jim says:

      “”It’s a good trade, it seems, for both sides”

      So good, in fact, that no trade was made, and one team claimed a player from the other team on waivers because they didn’t want to ruin the (non) trade. ;)

      (Just having fun with you.)

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      • Theo says:

        Bah, of course it’s not a trade. My bad.

        However, the Jays do gain an extra $5M of flexibility in payroll, which is probably worth more to Anthopolous than EE is at this point, so both sides come out well after the waiver claim (see – I do know what happened!).

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    • ??? says:

      it’s not a trade…

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    • PL says:

      While he is an intriguing bat, I honestly do not see him as an upgrade over Jack Cust, who I assume he’d be replacing at DH. Nothing about this makes sense unless Beane is working a trade with an NL team in dire need of a 3B….which I think is what’s going down. We most likely will never see E5 in the green&gold.

      Kouzmanoff is far too consistent and excellent on defense, which is the cornerstone of the A’s gameplan right now. E5 is a massive downgrade and so bad defensively that even if he hit 25 HR, he wouldnt top Kouzmanoff’s high 2 WAR every year. Only Beltre is the known available upgrade over Kouz here.

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  14. Ken says:

    Free swinger? 10% bb rate in two of the last three years isn’t shabby.

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  15. Trebecois says:

    So Beane gets a guy who played average defense, and Bill James projects to a .350 wOBA(good for 9th in MLB last year) for nothing and people bad mouth it?

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    • Hodgie says:

      James is notoriously optimistic in his projections and even then a .350 wOBA wouldn’t be top 10 at 3B in 2011 according to James. Encarnacion has played ALMOST average defense 1 season in his career, has an OBP that has been trending downward 4 straight seasons and is coming off what could easily be his “career year”. Oh, and he is probably due $6-7 million in arbitration. It looks a transaction just for the sake of doing a transaction.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        So, basically … Beane claimed a league average 3B off of waivers.

        Given the same time span as he acquired DeJesus, this looks like it could be one of those years where Beane and the A’s show everyone that they’re not quite forgotten yet.

        Seems like he’s improving the team’s talent/depth at a reasonable price, and without trading away future starters under team control.

        If OAK is guilty of anything, it would be a move thinking of the greatest payoff possible.

        League average, claimed off waivers. A 9 to 10 M dollar value for 6-7M/y … pretty much sounds like the definition of Moneyball.

        But, before any of us get all smart about it, and think we really know something … I’ll remind everyone about we all loved every one of Seattle’s moves last year … and hated San Francisco’s.

        Be interesting to see how this plays out. 3B’s that can hit with major league power aren’t everywhere, despite the stereotype.

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      • blackout says:

        “3B’s that can hit with major league power aren’t everywhere, despite the stereotype.”

        So true.

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  16. DJH says:

    better analogy than Piazza as a Marlin is David Justice as a Met.

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  17. Guapo says:

    he’s also probably a type B free agent after this year with those kind of numbers at 3B. If he’s a $3 million back up corner IF/DH and nets them a supplemental pick next year I applaud the move.

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  18. Person says:

    What’s hilarious to me every time I hear Encarnacion’s name is that just before the 2009 season, Tom Verducci wrote about his doubts about a team that had just been given a $45M contract to its third baseman. To make his point, he compared this third baseman to Encarnacion. Who was Verducci talking about? The 3rd baseman for the Washington Nationals.

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/tom_verducci/04/21/dicek.injury/index.html?eref=T1

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  19. Larry says:

    His upside can be Jose Bautista or even Juan Uribe.

    Even though it maybe an unfair stereotype, it seems more in-between the head for Encarnacion than anything the can be spun with the numbers.

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    • Jason B says:

      “His upside can be Jose Bautista”

      52/120 in the counting stats? I know EE can crush a ball on occasion, but I’ll take the under, and under, respectively.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’ll take the under on predicting ANYONE going 52/120.

        I think what he means is that Encarnacion could be one of those guys that puts it together in a unified approach and turns into a good power hitter.

        The difference between Encarnacion and bautista would be a significant one … plate discipline.

        The thing with 3B’s is that replacement level is pretty high, so a 2 WAR 3B who is a below average fielder, is a pretty good hitter … like maybe a 5 hitter, or even a lesser 4.

        But to predict anyone as the next Bautista or even Aubrey Huff is to be a little crazy. However, i don’t think the poster meant that EE would go for 50/100, but rather that he could put it together and “get it” in a big way. It’s possible.

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  20. CesarV says:

    I say we give it time and see how it pans out. Oakland is a couple of hitters away of being competitive, let’s see what happens.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Also …

      … they haven’t PAID him anything yet. They’ve only claimed him off waivers.

      We also do not have an idea as to what other teams had an interest in EE. We only know that the AL teams with W-L records worse than OAK did not claim him.

      So … 5 teams did not claim EE before OAK did. I can think of one of those teams that would do better with a 1.5 WAR 3B for 7M, then a 0.6 WAR 3B for 9M (and you get 3 more years of aged performance for that).

      As a Cardinals fan, I’ll take a league average 3B for $7M/y. The Cubs got 0.9 WAR out of AR in 2010.

      I’m sure if we worked at it, we could form a decent list of teams that could use a 2-3 WAR guy for 6-7M/y.

      Looking at his stats, he popped 21 bombs in 367 at bats … so basically 30 bombs if we prorate over a full season (Hit 26 in his last full season).

      Yet, we have some posters talking about how it’s a bad claim. For fun, take mark Reynolds full season stats and scale them to Edwin Encarnacion’s and see how close they are.

      The more I talk about it, the better the deal looks to me. While I wouldn’t expect an Aubrey Huff situation, there is genuine potential for a 30-HR 3B in a full season, who plays below average defense for $7M/y.

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  21. Oddibe McDuck says:

    In a vacuum, it’s easy to view such waiver claims on players already maxing their arbitration compensation vs. on-field value as marginal at best.

    However, this claim is happening now, leading into negotiations for two other marginal infielders/DHs (Cust and Kouz) with some projectably complementary splits.

    At worst, Billy just bought a much improved bargaining position on three average players of different skillsets for $20,000. Sounds like an excellent hedge to me.

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  22. Stan says:

    His UZR/150 for last year has him at slightly below average. I think the angst over his fielding is overrated.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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