Hot Corner Heats Up in Toronto

Not afraid to make controversial moves (see Roy Halladay), the Blue Jays’ rookie General Manager Alex Anthopoulos designated struggling third baseman Edwin Encarnacion for assignment on Sunday.

The 27-year-old former Red – who was acquired last season in the Scott Rolen trade that also netted Toronto a pitching prospect by the name of Zach Stewart – was hitting just .200/.298/.467 in 141 at-bats in 2010. Encarnacion missed much of April due to injuries and never did get on track. He made some headlines in May, though, when he went on a homer binge with six of his nine hits in the month going over the fence.

Like much of the Toronto lineup, Encarnacion got into a bad habit of swinging for the home run in each at-bat, even if the situation warranted a different approach. Hopefully his time in the minors will remind him of the importance of hitting the ball hard but not trying to do too much. It’s possible – but highly unlikely – that the third baseman’s contract will be claimed on waivers. In reality, he and his $4.75 contact will make their way to triple-A Las Vegas. After the season, Encarnacion will be arbitration eligible with close to five years of Major League service under his belt. He is not expected back in Toronto for 2011.

This might actually be a good time for the cement-gloved Encarnacion – affectionately dubbed E5 by the home crowd – to be introduced to right field. A position switch could make him a more valuable commodity during the late-July trade deadline (at which time Toronto would have to eat most, if not all, Encarnacion’s contract to receive even a B- or C-level prospect in return). He’s by no means a lost cause; he is still young and has a career line of .257/.339/.449 and a .344 wOBA in 2,322 MLB at-bats. With a new position, he could see a real boost in his WAR – especially if he hits like he did between 2006-08.

In his place, the Jays recalled 27-year-old Jarrett Hoffpauir, who was acquired off waivers this past off-season from the Cardinals organization. Mostly a second baseman in the minors, he’s also seen some time at third base this season… with mixed results on defense. At the plate, though, Hoffpauir has taken full advantage of the potent hitting environment and he has a triple-A slash line of .328/.378/.532 in 235 at-bats. The power output is a side effect of his league, but Hoffpauir has always hit for a solid average and quite often walks more than he strikes out. His offensive menu is much more appetizing at second, but the homer-happy club can afford his lack of power at the traditionally pop-tastic hot corner.

The former sixth round draft pick out of Southern Mississippi (2004) deserves a prolonged shot in the Majors, as he only had a brief cup of coffee with the Cardinals in ’09. It was Hoffpauir whom I expected to see when bench player Mike McCoy was optioned to triple-A last week… only to find out the Jays replaced the far-more-versatile player with… Nick Green (career .288 wOBA). Current triple-A infielder Brad Emaus, recently promoted from double-A to triple-A, could be the club’s third baseman of the future. He’s not a big-bopper, either, and profiles as a Scott Spiezio-type infielder. Emaus, 24, is currently hitting .292/.402/.467 in 195 at-bats.

It remains to be seen what Manager Cito Gaston will do with Hoffpauir and exactly how much time he’ll see at third base. It’s possible that Gaston will favor John McDonald (career .265 wOBA) for his defense at third. It’s also possible that Jose Bautista will shift from right field to third base for the majority of the time with another recent addition, Dewayne Wise (.278 wOBA) receiving significant time in right field until Travis Snider returns after the All-Star Break. If that’s the plan, though, it would have made more sense to keep infielder-outfielder McCoy over Green.

Truth be told, I’ve given up trying to understand Gaston’s moves.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

20 Responses to “Hot Corner Heats Up in Toronto”

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  1. Matt Defalco says:

    Cito Gaston is definitely one of the most illogical and worst managers in the league.

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    • siggian says:

      CIto may march to a different drummer as far as lineups go, but he’s hardly the worst manager in the league (and this is from a guy who wanted him gone after last year’s disaster). Whatever you might think of his in-game moves (or lack thereof), Cito’s usually very good at managing a team as a whole over the course of a season. Certainly, this year’s team has a very good record considering when many experts picked them to finish last in the division and come close to 100 losses. I, personally, will be glad that he has gone because of his in-game managing style, but I recognize that the Jays could do a lot worse in terms of a manager.

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    • Jon says:

      Which is saying a lot for a guy that once led this team to back to back championships

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    • Mike Wilner @ TheFan590 says:

      Cito Gaston’s in-game decision making has been terrible all year. Especially his handling of the bullpen. For example, last night— oh wait, I can’t finish this post now. I just got fired.

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  2. B N says:

    Two things:

    1. I now stand completely corrected in thinking that the Reds trading Encarnacion for Rolen was a bad idea. Score 1, old vets.

    2. I don’t see how moving to RF could possibly help Encarnacion improve his value much. It’s not like there’s a shortage of RF who can hit but have lead gloves. If people wanted one of those, they could probably get better production out of Sheffield or Dye for a small chunk of cash and a phone call.

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    • Bill Campbell says:

      Regarding 1. – The trade wasn’t Rolen for Encarnacion. It was Rolen for Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. So it may be early yet for a recanting.

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  3. jerkstore says:

    I hope that E5 will not be taking playing time at 3rd from Emaus. The path to Toronto for him will not come through second base.

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  4. Htpp says:

    Brett Wallace is playing 1B now, right? That’s why he’s not in the picture?

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  5. Bill Campbell says:

    E5 has been optioned, so he can be claimed off waivers if any team really wanted him. But apparently nobody does. As reported by CanWest:

    Anthopoulos expects Encarnacion to clear waivers.“With the nature of discussions and dialogue with teams, and with respect to the performance and the salary of the player, I would say it’s unlikely” that another club will make a claim, the GM said.

    Which makes one wonder how much trade value he could possibly have.

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  6. exxrox says:

    Correct, Wallace is now a 1B. Also correct, Stewart+Roenicke was the real haul, E5 was the “nothing” part of the deal. Stewart came into the season as the Jays’ #4 prospect.

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    • Alan Marshall says:

      The Jays had to take E5 as part of the deal, so the Reds could unload some salary to take on Rolen’s.

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  7. 198d says:

    Now, now Mr. Hulet! Questioning the great Gaston may force Rogers Communications Inc. to redirect to throughout their great empire. Kiss and make up, tout de suite, for the sake of Canadians everywhere!

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  8. Rogers Communications says:

    Anyone who reads or posts to this thread — your cable now plays nothing but reruns of Black Fly. Also, Marc Hulet is dead.

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    • Alan Marshall says:

      Rogers: My Internet is about as fast as Encarnacion running to first!

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      • Rogers Communications says:

        We apologize for the slowness of your internet service. This is due to our screening software that is currently scanning all online activity for possible criticisms of our corporate assets.

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  9. Jim says:

    Marc, a question regarding what may happen with Encarnacion(or any other player in a similar situation).

    Since it’s possible, as you pointed out, that Encarnacion clears waivers and heads to AAA, then he’s no longer on the 25-man roster and not accruing service time. So, at the end of season, is he still eligible for arbitration for a major league contract? It seems like a player would have to be on the major league(40-man) roster for that to be true. Or so I’ve convinced myself, at least. :)

    And if hes, then you’re right–he’d likely be non-tendered, since the maximum salary reduction from one year to the next for arb-eligible players is 20%.

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