Quality shortstop play won't make Encarnacion tolerable

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encarnacion fielding.jpgNot to pick on MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, who is hardly the only one saying it, but included in his writeup of the Jays’ Alex Gonzalez signing is the following note:
“Strong “D” at the position will be important in helping make up for having Edwin Encarnacion in place as the starting third baseman.”
In fact, it’s being repeated so often that one gets the idea that the Jays really think it’s true.
But, really, it’s a ludicrous idea.
Signing a limited player at shortstop to make up for a limited player at third base is an awful way to go about building a team.
Sure, Jimmy Rollins and Jack Wilson could help out a lead-footed third baseman with their impressive range at shortstop. But Gonzalez? In 2010? He’s still very good at handling everything he towards him, but he’s not going to head deep into the hole and still throw guys out with regularity.
Plus, Encarnacion’s range isn’t a problem. He makes as many fine plays as an average third baseman. It’s just that he tends to botch far more than most. Gonzalez isn’t making up for that. I mean, there’s actual visual and statistical evidence that it doesn’t work that way, considering that the two played side-by-side in Cincinnati throughout 2007 and for part of last season.
So, the real question is why Encarnacion is still being penciled in at third base when everyone knows he’s a liability there. It’s not as though the Jays don’t have some flexibility. At the moment, both outfield corners, first base and DH are all question marks, with only Adam Lind guaranteed of filling one of the spots on Opening Day. Encarnacion has enough speed to play the outfield, and while it could be ugly at first, he might even become adequate in left or right eventually.
The Jays would just as soon see Encarnacion and his $4.75 million salary go away, but it’s doubtful he’ll be traded this winter since there’s so little respect for his defense. His bat, on the other hand, remains very promising. Encarnacion is just turning 27 in January, and even though he’s never busted out offensively, he has a solid 790 career OPS. He even finished strong in his into to the AL, hitting .274 with seven homers and 20 RBI in 95 at-bats between September and October. He’s not a third baseman, regardless of who is put next to him at shortstop, but he could be a valuable player if the Jays are willing to try something different.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.