Should The Orioles Pick Up Edwin Encarnacion?

The Blue Jays recently designated Edwin Encarnacion for assignment, and with the third-baseman due about $3 M for the rest of the season, it sounds like there’s not enough interest to warrant a trade. That means that any team who’ll take his salary of Toronto’s hands will be welcome to it, and the Orioles have first dibs. Should they pull the trigger?

Encarnacion did hit 26 home runs a couple years ago, and the Orioles could certainly use another power threat in their line-up. He’s struggled mightily this year – with a .200/.298/.467 batting line – but he’s a career .257/.339/.449 hitter who walks a bit more than your average batter (9.3% career walk rate, 12.8% in 2010) and has some pop. The entirety of his poor showing this year is due to his BABIP, which sits at .167 compared to his career mark of .281. If you adjust his batting line to his expected BABIP (~.275) then it would be a  more robust .274/.361/.557, which would seem worthy of taking a $3 M flier on. Adjusting further for his relatively high HR/FB rate (16.1% in ’10, 12.1% career) and his swing and contact rates, you get a still serviceable .260/.327/.496. The OBP there might even be a touch low, given that even though Encarnacion is swinging at way more pitches out of the strike-zone (as defined by FanGraphs), the league-wide rate has gone way up and Edwin is actually better than average in that regard. That .827 OPS is a fair bit better than what ZiPS has him at for the rest of the season though (.227/.314/.403), which is part and parcel of a very prolonged rough patch. His batting line from last year goes from (actual) .225/.320/.410 - with a .245 BABIP - to (adjusted) .270/.353/.463, by the way.

Defensively, Encarnacion has been given the nick-name E5 – and that’s backed up by his career -12.4 UZR per 150 games at third-base (he’s subpar in the range component too, not just the errors one). You might be able to get some more value out of him from the outfield, but realistically he’d probably be a DH for the O’s.

If you think Edwin is just in a BABIP slump and can get his wOBA back to the .350 level it was at for the Reds, then he’s probably something like a 1 to 1.5 Wins Above Replacement player in a full season. So he’s just about worth his salary on the higher end, but that’s it. Encarnacion is in his fifth arbitration year, which means that any team that would pick him up would have control over him for 2011 as well. If he’s not willing to take a pay cut, then he’ll probably be released anyway, even as a third-baseman.

I guess the verdict is that it’s not really worth it, unless the Orioles are likely to deal Luke Scott right away as well (plus Ty Wigginton). In that case, Encarnacion pretty much takes his spot as DH, with the hopes that either he can hit a hot streak and be spun off in short order or that he figures things out at some point this year and is willing to take a lower salary for next year. That would give the team an option at third-base in case Josh Bell isn’t ready enough to take the job, and (probably) the team’s top power bat going into the off-season. I’d give it a big “meh, OK – we’ll see what happens” if they picked him up for free off waivers.