DH Encarnacion to try out some left field
Blue Jays say learning new position could offer more options
TORONTO -- Edwin Encarnacion will spend part of his offseason playing left field in an attempt to improve his overall versatility.
The 28-year-old began shagging fly balls in the outfield during the final two months of the 2011 season. He will now continue that work in winter ball, which should provide the Blue Jays with a better idea of how well equipped he is to handle the position.
Encarnacion's potential ability to play at three different spots and an offensive resurgence at the plate were two of the main reasons Toronto recently exercised a $3.5 million option on his contract for next year.
"We don't know for certain that he can do it long-term, but we think it's definitely an option," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said in a conference call on Tuesday.
"We're trying to make him more flexible from a positional standpoint, just because it gives us more options in the offseason."
Toronto already has Eric Thames and Travis Snider vying for the starting job in left field, and Encarnacion is not expected to enter that mix. But he would provide manager John Farrell with another option to occasionally rest his everyday position players.
Anthopoulos said Encarnacion remains the Blue Jays' starting designated hitter. That could change if an upgrade could be found via trade or free agency, but it's at the bottom of the GM's list of priorities.
Toronto will instead focus most of its attention on rebuilding the bullpen and potentially adding a starting pitcher. The offense, which ranked sixth in the American League this past season, is considered a strength of the club and not a pressing need.
Encarnacion began his 2011 campaign hitting .250 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 55 games. He then appeared to take a more patient approach at the plate and finished the year strong by batting .286 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs over his final 79 games.
The seven-year veteran has yet to put together a consistent season from start to finish, but Anthopoulos believes he has 30-homer potential and can be a reliable middle-of-the-order bat.
"I know we've said this for a few years that we think there's more in there," Anthopoulos said of Encarnacion's abilities at the plate. "We still believe there is more in there.
"He's a guy that can draw a walk; he showed that once he changed his approach after the All-Star break. His walk rate climbed quite a bit, and he's a guy that has tremendous hand-eye coordination, because for a right-handed power hitter, he doesn't strike out much."
Encarnacion had his contract guaranteed by Toronto on Monday, but the same could not be said for right-hander Jon Rauch. The Blue Jays opted to buy out the final year of his contract for $250,000, instead of paying him $3.75 million in 2012.
Rauch is now available to other teams through free agency, but he still could find his way back to the Blue Jays next year. Toronto has until Nov. 23 to decide whether to offer him salary arbitration.
The 33-year-old is coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him go 5-4 with a 4.85 ERA in 52 innings. That appeared to be a far cry from the 3-1 record and 3.12 ERA he posted in 2010, but Anthopoulos feels those numbers are misleading.
"I think Jon pitched a lot better than what the stats will show," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think our outfield defense did him any favors at all. He was certainly the fly-ball guy, he throws strikes, he pitches to contact. He's as tough of a competitor as I've ever seen."
"I just think our outfield defense, especially early on in the year, led to some runs that probably shouldn't have occurred. We haven't closed the door on Jon being back with this club, because there's a lot of things that he does that we like."
Rauch was one of five Toronto players who finished the year as a ranked free agent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Second baseman Kelly Johnson finished as a Type A, while catcher Jose Molina and right-handers Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp and Rauch are all Type Bs.
The Blue Jays must offer arbitration to each player in order to receive compensation if he leaves for another organization. Johnson's Type A status would net the Blue Jays two picks, while each Type B would give the club a compensatory pick between the first and second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Toronto has plenty of time to decide what to do with each player, and Anthopoulos said he's not going to rush into any final decisions.
"We're going to reach out, and have in some cases reached out, to the agents for all of our current free agents," Anthopoulos said.
"I definitely have some thoughts as I sit here today about what we're going to do. ... But at the same time, if something does change over the next few weeks -- trades, free-agent signings, things like that -- that may change the decision that we ultimately make. Until we're forced to make that determination, it's going to be open-ended."