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 the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Forrest Gumption
Forrest Gumption

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.