since Adam Dunn saddled up and rode west, it seems the ire of frustrated Reds fans has fallen upon the young shoulders of Edwin Encarnacion. he is mired in a miserable slump, hitting .185/.250/.370 over the last month. this frustration began to boil over last night with the safety squeeze play, which mostly wasnt his fault anyway.
many solutions have been proposed for this situation. some just want to trade him, others want to move him to LF or 1B, and still others would probably prefer to see him tossed off the bridge. "his defense hasnt improved!" "he isnt clutch!" "we need a right-handed bat to anchor this lineup, and Eddie just isnt cutting it!"
some of the allegations leveled against him are unwarranted, some are pretty well dead on. he is still a big question mark over at the hot corner (even though that was all Bako's fault last night) and he is a pretty streaky hitter (evidenced by his .620 OPS over the last month after a few months of a .900 OPS prior).
with a number of infield options coming through the reds minor leagues like Frazier and Fransisco and guys like Rosales and Keppinger already in the majors, Eddie could have some competition for his job if the front office sees to it. Eddie was named by Walt Jocketty a few months ago as one of 5 "untouchables", but im not so sure that confidence will survive the season.
with the Reds in Chicago and the Cubs sitting proudly in first place, it got me thinking about what they have that we dont.
Aramis Ramirez is one of the top third basemen in the National League, posting better than a 125 OPS+ the past 5 seasons. while he may not be a gold glover, he's no slouch with the leather either. the comparison between Encarnacion and Ramirez has been made before, as both were very young and still very raw when they came up to the bigs.
Ramirez debuted in that magic summer of '98 for the Pirates and was underwhelming as a 20 year old. for the next three seasons, in varying amounts of playing time, Ramirez never posted an OPS over .700. he broke out as a 23 year old in '01 with a line of .300/.350/.536 in 603 ABs. his defense was shaky, but nevertheless the Pirates saw him as a cornerstone of the organization.
but he could not shake that "inconsistent" label. his next season, still only a 24 year old, he was ghost. with an OPS+ of 72, he was a huge disappointment to a Pirates franchise embittered over his unfulfilled promise. his defense was not improving either, leading some in the Steel City to call him a fluke.
in '03 as a 25 year old, Ramirez played in 96 games for the Pirates with a league average OPS and below average defense before they finally gave up on him and traded him to Chicago for what amounted to be a small hill of beans.
then something happened. in '04 everything came together for him. he became the Aramis Ramirez he was supposed to become in Pittsburgh, the one we have all grown to hate. that season, his age 26 season, he began a string of 5 consecutive seasons with an OPS+ over 125. he hit more home runs, struck out less, walked more, and played a solid defense.
Edwin Encarnacion is just 25 this year. he has been around since '05 when he was a 22 year old, but most will say he has had ample opportunity to improve upon his game. last year he hit .289/.356/.438, and played markedly better defense after a May demotion to AAA. it appeared that Eddie was going to be the right handed bat this team so sorely needed in the middle of the order. but this year, his defense is still shaky, if not bad, and his batting average has dropped significantly. he's hit a career high 22 homers this year, but he's also on pace for a career high in strikeouts, leading some to call for a trade.
the stories of these two players is very similar. both were rushed to the majors. both had "breakout" years followed by disappointment. both have struggled with defense and consistent hitting. the difference is, the Pirates gave up on Ramirez too early, and the Reds still have a choice. we are a few years from competing, according to Bob and Walt's letter. let's hope the Reds have the patience with Eddie that the Pirates lacked with Ramirez. lets hope Eddie is still around in 2010 as the Reds run for the pennant, mashing home runs, striking fear into the hearts of NL Central pitchers, and drawing favorable comparisons to the Cubs anchor at the hot corner.