Hot Corner Heats Up in Toronto

Not afraid to make controversial moves (see Roy Halladay), the Blue Jays’ rookie General Manager Alex Anthopoulos designated struggling third baseman Edwin Encarnacion for assignment on Sunday.

The 27-year-old former Red – who was acquired last season in the Scott Rolen trade that also netted Toronto a pitching prospect by the name of Zach Stewart – was hitting just .200/.298/.467 in 141 at-bats in 2010. Encarnacion missed much of April due to injuries and never did get on track. He made some headlines in May, though, when he went on a homer binge with six of his nine hits in the month going over the fence.

Like much of the Toronto lineup, Encarnacion got into a bad habit of swinging for the home run in each at-bat, even if the situation warranted a different approach. Hopefully his time in the minors will remind him of the importance of hitting the ball hard but not trying to do too much. It’s possible – but highly unlikely – that the third baseman’s contract will be claimed on waivers. In reality, he and his $4.75 contact will make their way to triple-A Las Vegas. After the season, Encarnacion will be arbitration eligible with close to five years of Major League service under his belt. He is not expected back in Toronto for 2011.

This might actually be a good time for the cement-gloved Encarnacion – affectionately dubbed E5 by the home crowd – to be introduced to right field. A position switch could make him a more valuable commodity during the late-July trade deadline (at which time Toronto would have to eat most, if not all, Encarnacion’s contract to receive even a B- or C-level prospect in return). He’s by no means a lost cause; he is still young and has a career line of .257/.339/.449 and a .344 wOBA in 2,322 MLB at-bats. With a new position, he could see a real boost in his WAR – especially if he hits like he did between 2006-08.

In his place, the Jays recalled 27-year-old Jarrett Hoffpauir, who was acquired off waivers this past off-season from the Cardinals organization. Mostly a second baseman in the minors, he’s also seen some time at third base this season… with mixed results on defense. At the plate, though, Hoffpauir has taken full advantage of the potent hitting environment and he has a triple-A slash line of .328/.378/.532 in 235 at-bats. The power output is a side effect of his league, but Hoffpauir has always hit for a solid average and quite often walks more than he strikes out. His offensive menu is much more appetizing at second, but the homer-happy club can afford his lack of power at the traditionally pop-tastic hot corner.

The former sixth round draft pick out of Southern Mississippi (2004) deserves a prolonged shot in the Majors, as he only had a brief cup of coffee with the Cardinals in ’09. It was Hoffpauir whom I expected to see when bench player Mike McCoy was optioned to triple-A last week… only to find out the Jays replaced the far-more-versatile player with… Nick Green (career .288 wOBA). Current triple-A infielder Brad Emaus, recently promoted from double-A to triple-A, could be the club’s third baseman of the future. He’s not a big-bopper, either, and profiles as a Scott Spiezio-type infielder. Emaus, 24, is currently hitting .292/.402/.467 in 195 at-bats.

It remains to be seen what Manager Cito Gaston will do with Hoffpauir and exactly how much time he’ll see at third base. It’s possible that Gaston will favor John McDonald (career .265 wOBA) for his defense at third. It’s also possible that Jose Bautista will shift from right field to third base for the majority of the time with another recent addition, Dewayne Wise (.278 wOBA) receiving significant time in right field until Travis Snider returns after the All-Star Break. If that’s the plan, though, it would have made more sense to keep infielder-outfielder McCoy over Green.

Truth be told, I’ve given up trying to understand Gaston’s moves.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Matt Defalco
12 years ago

Cito Gaston is definitely one of the most illogical and worst managers in the league.

12 years ago
Reply to  Matt Defalco

CIto may march to a different drummer as far as lineups go, but he’s hardly the worst manager in the league (and this is from a guy who wanted him gone after last year’s disaster). Whatever you might think of his in-game moves (or lack thereof), Cito’s usually very good at managing a team as a whole over the course of a season. Certainly, this year’s team has a very good record considering when many experts picked them to finish last in the division and come close to 100 losses. I, personally, will be glad that he has gone because of his in-game managing style, but I recognize that the Jays could do a lot worse in terms of a manager.

12 years ago
Reply to  Matt Defalco

Which is saying a lot for a guy that once led this team to back to back championships

12 years ago
Reply to  Jon

Pond slime could manage a team with twice the payroll of anyone else to the world series.

12 years ago
Reply to  Jon

But what does that have to do with Gaston?

Mike Wilner @ TheFan590
12 years ago
Reply to  Matt Defalco

Cito Gaston’s in-game decision making has been terrible all year. Especially his handling of the bullpen. For example, last night— oh wait, I can’t finish this post now. I just got fired.