CHICAGO -- What do the White Sox need for success from Edwin Encarnación, who on Thursday signed a one-year deal worth $12 million?
That answer seems pretty straightforward: Hit home runs, just as Encarnación has done throughout his entire career.
The White Sox ranked 25th in all of baseball with 182 home runs during the 2019 season. Only the rebuilding Royals and Tigers fell below them in the American League.
Encarnación, who will be 37 when the 2020 season starts, is the only hitter with 30-plus homers in each of the past eight seasons -- no one else has amassed more than six such campaigns in that span. He showed little signs of aging while playing for the Mariners and Yankees in ’19, as the Dominican-born slugger slashed .244/.344/.531 with 34 homers in 418 at-bats. Encarnación's deal includes a $12 million club option for 2021 that does not include a buyout.
Don’t mistake the lack of pure White Sox home run power for a lack of offensive potency. Encarnación adds to a lineup featuring returnees Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez, along with Yasmani Grandal and Nomar Mazara, who joined the organization this offseason.
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.
By adding left-handed starters Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez and Encarnación (although the team has not confirmed either Keuchel or Encarnación), they also are taking a page out of the 2019 Twins’ handbook for success. Veterans such as Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Martín Pérez and C.J. Cron provided immeasurable help on the field for a Minnesota team jumping from 78 wins to 101 and the AL Central crown.
But having all been through the postseason previously, they also helped the young players off the field. The White Sox 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.
Encarnación was playing in the last year of a three-year, $60 million deal he signed with Cleveland in 2017 before the Yankees declined his $20 million club option for ’20. The three-time All-Star spent a majority of his '19 season at designated hitter with a little first base mixed in. He missed about a month with a right wrist fracture after being hit by a pitch in early August.
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 of 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.
There’s still more moves to come for the White Sox. They would like to add a reliever, and even with center fielder Luis Robert (No. 3 prospect overall per MLB Pipeline) and second baseman Nick Madrigal (No. 40 overall) firmly in the ’20 picture, they might not be with the team at the outset. So, a right-handed-hitting outfielder and a utility infielder also should be in their plans.