Edwin Encarnacion is going to be a jack of all trades for the Toronto Blue Jays next season.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday that the 28-year-old infielder is going to spend more time as a designated hitter and even play some games in the outfield.
“The fact that Edwin can play multiple positions, and now he's going to be playing some left field in winter ball as well, will open up some flexibility,” Anthopoulos told a media conference call. “As we sit here today, the role would primarily be DH but we like he can play some first, play some third and we'd like to find out a little bit more about him in left field.”
Toronto picked up its US$3.5-million contract option on Encarnacion on Monday.
Encarnacion appeared in 134 games as a third baseman, first baseman and designated hitter last season. He hit .272 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Although the Blue Jays hope Encarnacion can develop as an occasional outfielder, there are no plans to create a left-field-by-committee.
Eric Thames, Travis Snider and Canadian Adam Loewen all spent time in left field for Toronto last season. All three are left-handed, while Encarnacion is a righty.
“I wouldn't want to see him on the right-handed side of a platoon (in left field) strictly because it would limit the number of at-bats,” said Anthopoulos. “If he's only facing left-handers it would severely limit the at-bats that he'd get over the course of a season.
“We'd like to try to get him at-bats wherever we can, unless we have the opportunity to upgrade as we go through the off-season.”
How much time Encarnacion plays in left will be dictated by his performance in winter ball and beyond.
“We'll get more of a look in spring training too, that's definitely something on our radar, that we'll have him playing (left) a little bit more, just to find out about him,” said Anthopoulos. “We don't know for certain that he can do it, long term, but we think it's definitely an option.”
However, the Blue Jays GM wouldn't commit to Encarnacion being a permanent fixture as designated hitter.
“We still have the flexibility if the DH spot comes open or someone becomes available, to go down that path,” said Anthopoulos. “I will say it's very low on the priority list and we have a lot of other areas we'd rather address first.
“We do have the flexibility to get somebody else, if we want, in that DH spot.”
Encarnacion split time at DH last season with Adam Lind, David Cooper and Canadian Mark Teahen.
Jon Rauch's future in Toronto is murkier. The six-foot-10 relief pitcher — and sometime closer — had his $3.75-million option declined by the Blue Jays on Monday.
“We haven't closed the door on Jon being back with the club because there's a lot of things that he does that we like, the strike throwing ability, the makeup of the player and all those things,” said Anthopoulos. “It's just right now, at the option price, we didn't want to lock ourselves into that contract at this stage.”
The 33-year-old appeared in 53 games for Toronto last season, posting a 5-4 record with 11 saves and a 4.85 earned-run average.
“I think Jon pitched a lot better than what the stats will show,” said Anthopoulos. “I don't think our outfield defence did him any favours at all. He's a fly ball guy, he throws strikes, he'll pitch to contact.
“He's as tough a competitor as I've ever seen.”