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Surely, Boston Red Sox fans can’t believe David Ortiz is retiring. We understand. Your great-aunt who couldn’t tell a Carl Yastrzemski from a hole in the ground understands.
But Big Papi is indeed hanging ’em up.
The question now is, who can replace him?
The answer may be Edwin Encarnacion.
Granted, no one will ever truly replace Ortiz. The 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion will forever be a part of Red Sox lore. He was there when the Curse of the Bambino was lifted and for all the salad days that followed. He’ll never need to buy another meal in Massachusetts.
He also hit 38 home runs, tallied 127 RBI and paced MLB with a 1.021 OPS in his farewell season. Clearly, Ortiz is rolling off the race track with gas sloshing in his tank.
On Thursday, Boston exercised its $17.2 million option on Ortiz for 2017 “as a formality,” per the team’s official Twitter feed.
That leaves the door cracked on an eleventh-hour change of heart, with Ortiz busting out of the phone booth in full Superman regalia to redeem Boston’s unceremonious division-series exit.
Back in reality, the defending American League East champion Red Sox will have to move on without their designated hitter, lineup anchor and franchise icon.
Which brings us back to Encarnacion, Ortiz’s friend and compatriot.
The 33-year-old Dominican posted a .263/.357/.529 slash line with 42 home runs last season for the Toronto Blue Jays while tying Ortiz for the AL lead with 127 RBI. He’s surpassed 30 homers in each of the last five campaigns and 100 RBI in four of them.
He delivered some huge moments in the postseason, including a Joe Carter-esque walk-off bomb in the AL Wild Card Game.
He’s also one of a precious few impact bats available in a weak free-agent class.
That means demand for his services will be high. Considering his age and defensive limitations, however, his most serious suitors will be American League clubs in need of a DH.
That could include everyone from the Jays to the Baltimore Orioles to the Houston Astros to the Texas Rangers.
If you’re looking for an ideal landing spot for Encarnacion, however, you couldn’t do much better than Beantown.
“The Red Sox know that they need to reinforce the middle of the lineup,” Ortiz said during a July 12 news conference, per ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. “And sorry, Blue Jays, but who better than Encarnacion to do that?”
MLB investigated and absolved Ortiz for tampering, per Crasnick. The fit is simply too obvious. It’s like noting the sky is blue or that Bill Simmons is fond of Boston sports teams.
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Ortiz sparked an MLB investigation after he suggested Encarnacion would be his ideal replacement.
Encarnacion spent the first four-plus years of his career with the Cincinnati Reds before a 2009 trade to Toronto.
He’s made himself exceedingly comfortable in the AL East. Other than the Reds’ Great American Ball Park and Blue Jays’ Rogers Centre, the stadiums in which Encarnacion has hit the most home runs are: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (16), Yankee Stadium (15) and Fenway Park (14).
The prospect of the right-handed swinging Encarnacion taking aim at the Green Monster and feasting in other AL East yards should leave Sox fans salivating.
“I think maybe the Green Monster helps,” Encarnacion said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. “We are pull hitters. And we have that wall right there. I see the ball good here in this stadium. I love every time I come to play here.”
The Red Sox have an enviable farm system. They’re the division champs. They’ve got AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts at the forefront of a burgeoning lineup that led MLB in runs scored and OPS.
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Encarnacion said he loves to hit at Fenway Park.
They don’t need Encarnacion. The riches they’d surrender to secure his services could squeeze the budget down the road, particularly on the back end of a long-term deal—unless he discovers Ortiz’s fountain of youth.
The Jays are expected to extend Encarnacion the qualifying offer, per Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball, meaning he’d cost a draft pick.
The Red Sox, however, can handle it. They’ve got the budget and the minor league depth.
Will the Red Sox sign Encarnacion?
This team wants to win now and win later, and Encarnacion would help accomplish the former without precluding the latter.
“I do think that they will go very hard after Encarnacion,” CSNNE’s Sean McAdam said on The Baseball Show (h/t Matt Dolloff of CBS Boston). “That seems to be the guy they think is closest to providing near the production that Ortiz has given them in recent years.”
No one will ever replace Ortiz. That much is certain.
If the Sox are searching for the best facsimile, however, Encarnacion is probably their guy.
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.