The White Sox’ addition of Edwin Encarnación came with as much fanfare as any signing of a 37-year-old approaching the twilight of his career would. His one-year, $12 million contract with a 2021 team option could be the last contract he signs in the Majors. In all likelihood, he’s not long for the full culmination that the White Sox have spent the last four years building toward.
But in a 60-game season where quite literally anything could happen, Encarnación’s addition to the lineup could be more important than initially thought. He offers little positional flexibility as almost exclusively a DH who can fill in at first base for José Abreu, but right now, power is king, And the 2019 White Sox didn’t have much of it.
Despite enormous strides from the likes of Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada, the Sox were still a team that lacked power throughout last season, finishing 25th in baseball with 182 home runs. As a team, their .153 isolated power (ISO) was 27th in baseball. Eloy Jiménez’s 31 home runs in 2019 are more than enough to be excited about, and whatever Luis Robert has in store for his rookie season is a present everyone is eager to unwrap, but Abreu is the only other Sox batter to hit for more than 30 home runs in 2019.
The White Sox, to make the postseason, will chase the Twins throughout this season, and to do that, they will need more than what was available last year. Minnesota, who set the MLB record for home runs in a single season, return five batters who hit over 30 home runs, including Nelson Cruz, who mashed 41 bombs. It’s unrealistic to surpass the Twins in in cumulative power, but having as many dangerous bats in the order as possible would serve them well in keeping pace. And in a season expects to be full of weirdness, getting hot for a week while the Twins get cold could be the difference between a division crown and another year left out of the playoffs.
And that’s where Encarnación could prove to be very valuable.
Encarnación’s career as a power-hitter truly took flight in 2012 with the Blue Jays, and it hasn’t slowed since then; he’s hit over 30 home runs each year since, twice going over 40, and this past year, between the Mariners and Yankees, he hit 34 bombs in 489 at-bays. His OPS+ for 2019 was 132 with an ISO of .287, which would place him in the company of Joc Pederson (.289) and Kyle Schwarber (.282).
Encarnación fought a few injuries throughout last season and his production took a plummet in the ALCS. He also hurt his back in Spring Training, an injury that can linger throughout an entire season, but the time off from the pandemic appeared to give him an opportunity to to recover.
“The break helped me just to get better from my soreness in the lower back,” Encarnación said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “And I took advantage of it. Now I feel very good. I feel strong, physically.”
For a player at the stage of his career as Encarnación, a 60-game schedule could prove to be beneficial. As the season goes on and nagging injuries build up, power gets lost, and that fact is exacerbated for older players. But through 60 games, it gives Encarnación an opportunity to potentially make a bigger impact than he would in a regular season; through his first 60 games last year, he hit 17 home runs. Through the first 60 games of 2018, he hit 16, and through the first 60 of 2017, he hit 12. Extrapolated out to a 162-game season, those numbers would be, 47, 44 and 33, respectively.
But of course, expecting someone to produce right away in a season like 2020, where most players are not likely to be in the kind of groove they’d be in at the beginning of the regular season, this may be asking a little much.
“It has been different,” Encarnación said. “It feels a little weird because we’re not used to it.
“I think we have to adjust and it’s going to be step by step.”
The Yonder Alonso experiment failed in Chicago last year, both on the field and in the pursuit of Manny Machado, and following his release, the White Sox never found a consistent bat to put at DH. The hope was for Zack Collins to step in, but a rough go of it in his appearances put that on hold. In Encarnación, the White Sox, barring injury, have a reliable bat in the middle of the lineup, especially against lefties.
So while, there may be no fans in attendance donning pirate hats or parrots on their shoulder, Encarnación may still run around the bases with his iconic Edwing trot. And maybe it will be in a moment of huge importance.