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I just love old sluggers. Guys getting long in the tooth who continue to do what they were born to do. They still can smash baseballs into the far reaches of stadiums across the land while perky little infielders they once played against and hard-throwing pitchers they once faced exited the scene years ago.
Guys like the Big Hurt, who at age 38, slugged 39 homers and drove in 119 for Oakland in 2006. He followed that up the next season in Toronto with 26 and 95. And Big Papi, who in his final four seasons averaged 35 round-trippers and 110 RBIs before finally calling it quits when he was 40.
Nicknames suffice for these two gentlemen. We all know who they are.
There are lots more older players in the same category. Jim Thome came to the White Sox in 2006 when he was 35. Over the next three seasons, he homered 111 times and added another 25 in Minnesota when he was 39.
Henry Aaron, who retired at 42, accounted for 40 HRs and 96 RBIs with the Braves in 1973, two seasons before retirement. Don't forget that this was the National League where Aaron was required to play in the field.
Same with the villainous Barry Bonds who, like Aaron, kept going until age 42. In his last two seasons, Bonds hit 54 home runs while posting OPS marks of .999 and 1.045.
And now, the White Sox have their very own old slugger, courtesy of the free agent signing of Edwin Encarnacion last week. With 15 years of big league experience, the productive Dominican, who will turn 37 on January 7, brings a resume of 414 career round-trippers along with a .851 OPS, just a notch below elite status.
For $12 million with a club option at the same amount for 2021 - when the Sox very well could be a legitimate contender - this sure beats a year ago when general manager Rick Hahn was fruitlessly chasing Manny Machado. Lest I be remiss, that process included trading for Machado's brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and then signing Machado friend Jon Jay as a free agent.
Hahn also traded for pitcher Ivan Nova last offseason while signing right-hander Ervin Santana prior to spring training. If anyone has commended Hahn for those two moves, I plead ignorance.
Obtaining James McCann and Kelvin Herrera turned out somewhat more successfully for Hahn, although McCann's breakout season almost seems ancient history now that Yasmani Grandal has been added to the mix.
The signing of Encarnacion, who also appeared in 57 games at first base last season with the Mariners and Yankees, is not so ambiguous; the man is a study of consistency. A right-handed hitter, his career batting average against righties is .263, a meager two points higher than his mark facing southpaws. His career OBP is .352, including a .344 mark last year. Against lefties, Encarnacion has homered in 4.9 percent of his plate appearancesl 5.3 percent facing right-handers. He sees the ball. He hits the ball. Left-hander or right-hander. Apparently they're all the same to Edwin.
Therefore, it was puzzling last Thursday when the Tribune's Paul Sullivan questioned the intelligence of signing Encarnacion. Sullivan called it a "[Kenny] Williams-patented move," comparing it to the former general manager's signing of aging veterans such as Jose Canseco, Roberto Alomar, Ken Griffey Jr., David Wells, "home-run-or-bust slugger" Adam Dunn, and a few others.
Sullivan also questioned the timing, writing that a team on the cusp of contention might benefit from the addition of someone like Encarnacion to add the icing on the cake, but not for an organization still in the rebuilding process.
He did say that the Sox now have the potential to have six 30-home run hitters in the lineup for a team that hit 182 last season. Sullivan acknowledged that this could mean a boost in attendance, to which one might ask, "What's wrong with that?"
The local scribe wrote that Encarnacion "[will] strike out a lot." Perhaps, but not as often as Sullivan suggests. Encarnacion has fanned in 17.2 percent of his career plate appearances. Last year as a team the Sox whiffed in more than 25 percent of their at-bats. That includes Jose Abreu (19.9 percent), Tim Anderson (21), Eloy Jimenez (26.6) and Yoan Moncada (27.5).
Sullivan claims that the Sox are "not a championship-caliber team by any means," although that's not exactly a bulletin. But consider the Minnesota Twins of a year ago coming off a 78-84 season in 2018. They added several aging sluggers, including Nelson Cruz, another one of those entertaining batsmen who simply love to hit baseballs.
Cruz has a big birthday coming up. He'll turn 40 on July 1, and he'll be swinging for the fences once again for the Twins after 41 homers and 108 RBI last season. His deal was quite similar to Encarnacion's Sox pact: $14 million for the first year with a club option for 2020 at $12 million.
Need you be reminded, though the Twins were swept by the Yankees in last fall's playoffs, they still won 101 games, easily outdistancing the Central Division.
Reports indicate that Hahn remains busy as he continues to put together a formidable roster. Yasiel Puig and Nicholas Castellanos are the two most prominent names on the radar, even though the addition of Nomar Mazara seemed a reasonable solution to the right field dilemma. Both Puig and Castellanos would be welcome even though a logjam could be one of the results.
Gee, wouldn't it be stressful if manager Rick Renteria had to tax his brain over whether to play Mazara, Puig or Castellanos? Poor Ricky would need to judge whether to use Abreu at DH with Encarnacion or Zack Collins (if he survives this flurry of activity) at first base.
Just a year ago he regularly had to contemplate centerfield between Leury Garcia (who's really an infielder), Adam Engel and Ryan Cordell. Did someone mention progress?
Encarnacion represents an immediate upgrade at the DH position, where the Sox slashed .205/.285/.641 last year. Sox DHs hit 17 homers and drove in 75 runs. Encarnacion easily eclipsed those numbers in each of the past eight seasons.
Sorry, Sully, if you have an opportunity to improve your ballclub in such an obvious manner, you'd be foolish not to capitalize. This guy is not Adam Dunn. And do not mistake him for Adam LaRoche. Kenny Williams hasn't been the GM for almost seven years. Times have changed.
Encarnacion is a member of the genre of old(er) professional hitters with solid resumes and plenty of remaining fire power. He'll look just fine in a White Sox uniform.
1. From Tom Chambers:
Paul Sullivan today is a wet mop Negative Nancy on the Encarnacion signing.
Why not call Williams or Hahn and ask them what his role is to be? I'm not sure if he was hurt or if he was just grabbing pine, but the Yankees tried to micro-magic him last year to do wonderful things in the small playoffs window, which might not have been fair. Renteria is under pressure. In this case, he's going to have to find at-bats for Edwin, especially during the dog days of summer.
Sullivan is already writing off 2020, assuming, I assume, that IF the Sox make the playoffs, it will be either play-in game or first series and done. Why?
The primary mission of the White Sox THIS SEASON is to develop a winning culture, demanding everything of these players. Novel approach, be the hardest hustling team in baseball. It could mean 10 wins. It starts in the minors, but, hey, do it at Comiskey. The Yankees and Cardinals often win simply because it's in their DNA. There is NO TEAM in this town that has a true winning culture; that's always been a foreign concept in Chicago. Except through the sheer will of Jordan and his sidekick soldiers. Ineptitude and frozen front-office brains doomed the Blackhawks. The Cubs sat on their diamond-encrusted rings and won the games they did simply because of the level of talent they possess(ed).
I know the Sox are young, but that youth can sometimes mean they're not smart enough to know they're "too young." Why can't they take a big step forward? I know, work on that defense! Pray to St. Luis of Aparicio and be awakened that defense is fun, and salvation.
This is a golden opportunity for the Sox to say "EFF Jobu. We'll bust it every night." It would be so easy to be different in this defeatist town. I'm sick and tired of the toleration of mediocrity around here.
The radio blowhards are already finding their deluded silver linings with the Bears. Ryan and Matt and Sing Along with Mitch deserve another chance and will/can get NFL better? Um, no. This is the cancer of Chicago's low sports expectations.
I was just in Wisconsin for Christmas and you can feel it. Those fans? The Packers haven't done a damned thing until or unless they win the Super Bowl.
I can't stand any of the owners in this town, and you can't put strip-tease tearaways on a cardboard cutout of these ugly robber barons.
Can Renteria summon a "Why the hell NOT?"
There's only one thing left to do:
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