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White Sox announce deal with Encarnación

@scottmerkin
January 9, 2020

CHICAGO -- What do the White Sox need for success from free agent Edwin Encarnación, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $12 million, including a club option for 2021 also worth $12 million without a buyout, as announced by the team Thursday? That answer seems pretty straightforward: Hit home

CHICAGO -- What do the White Sox need for success from free agent Edwin Encarnación, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $12 million, including a club option for 2021 also worth $12 million without a buyout, as announced by the team Thursday?

That answer seems pretty straightforward: Hit home runs -- as Encarnación has done throughout his entire career, leading the Majors with 297 since 2012. The White Sox ranked 25th in all of baseball with 182 home runs during the 2019 season, with only the rebuilding Royals and Tigers below them in the American League.

“Obviously we're quite pleased to add someone of his caliber to this lineup,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn during Thursday’s conference call. “The numbers speak for themselves in terms of continuing to be a dangerous presence and an outstanding source of power for the last decade-plus.

“We made no secret about the fact while we had certain positions -- such as right field and DH -- that we needed to improve our offensive production on, we also were clear that we needed to improve, as a whole, our ability to get on base and our power. And between Yasmani [Grandal] and [Nomar] Mazara and Edwin, we feel like we're going to take a step forward in that regard, not to mention once Luis Robert gets here, as well. So, it's an area of need entering this offseason and one that we feel we've managed to address here over the last few months.”

Encarnación, 37, is the only hitter with 30-plus homers in each of the past eight seasons. He showed little sign of aging while playing for the Mariners and Yankees in ’19, as the Dominican-born slugger slashed .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers in 486 plate appearances.

Don’t mistake the lack of pure White Sox home run power for a lack of offensive potency. Encarnación adds to a lineup featuring Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez returning from last season, with Robert -- the game’s No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- also joining in 2020.

Anderson won the AL batting title, raising his average from .240 to .335. Abreu won the AL RBI title, while Moncada was the team’s best overall offensive player from start to finish.

Jiménez gained valuable knowledge from his first full year in the Majors, posting a .340/.383/.710 line in September to go with nine homers, eight doubles and 25 RBIs. Jiménez finished with 31 homers and 79 RBIs overall, and as Encarnación mentioned Thursday, the two have known each other since Jiménez was 14 years old.

“He's one of my kids,” said Encarnación of his close bond with Jiménez. “I've worked out with him and he's a great hitter, too, and all those young guys. They have an idea at the plate what they are doing right now.

“It's a young and talented team. I'm very excited to be part of this team, and I think this team has a great future.”

That future will be enhanced by the veterans added in the present such as Encarnación, who has appeared in the playoffs for five straight years. Grandal also has played in five straight postseasons, while left-hander Dallas Keuchel has pitched in four of the last five playoffs and fellow southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez has been part of five overall.

These players make the White Sox far better on paper than they were at the end of ’19. They also will help the White Sox in the clubhouse, a learning-how-to-win plan followed by the 2019 Twins with veteran additions Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Martín Pérez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron providing immeasurable assistance in jumping from 78 wins to 101 and the AL Central crown.

“It also speaks in part to what we're trying to accomplish not just on the field but in terms of taking that next step in our clubhouse,” Hahn said. “And this young core, not only growing together but learning how to win and learning what it takes to be successful, not only over the course of the summer but well into October. Edwin's another piece in trying to accomplish that.”

With 723 games started as a designated hitter, Encarnación will be in a familiar position as opposed to a position player being shaped into that role which hasn’t worked for the White Sox in the past. The one-year deal with the option also allows for the emergence and development of someone such as Andrew Vaughn, the team’s top pick in the 2019 Draft, who slots in at first base or designated hitter, but probably not until ’21.

Renteria’s crew moved from 62 wins to 72 in ’19 and, even with a less-than-stellar division in front of them, will need somewhere around a 20-win jump in ’20 to get into contention. The Encarnación move indicates a win-now attitude on multiple levels in the context of the rebuild.

“Again, he’s someone who would make many lineups stronger just from his presence,” Hahn said. “We certainly are no exception and we are thrilled to continue to add quality players to improve not only the lineup but our depth throughout the roster.”

To make room for Encarnación on the 40-man roster, the White Sox designated left-hander Kodi Medeiros for assignment. The White Sox 40-man roster remains at 40.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.