Baseball’s winter meetings are in full swing, and with the Collective Bargaining Agreement settled, teams are wheeling and dealing. This is a week where free agents are signed, and trades planned – even if deals aren’t completed, often the groundwork is laid for a move in the near future. One of the more surprising rumors to come out of the winter meetings so far is that the Indians are in discussions with free agent 1B Edwin Encarnacion. Early on Monday Jeff Passan implied that the Indians had at least kicked the tires on the (soon to be former?) Toronto slugger:
Sources: Cleveland has checked in on Edwin Encarnacion. Perfect fit as RH power in LH-heavy lineup. Question is: Would they spend the money?
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 5, 2016
Encarnacion already turned down a 4-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays earlier this offseason. Would the Indians really be able to top that offer? The question is more likely, would they need to top that offer? With Toronto’s signing of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, it looks more and more likely that they may have moved on beyond Encarnacion. Other potential suitors included the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees; the Astros signed Carlos Beltran to a 1-year, $16 million deal and the Yankees signed Matt Holliday to a 1-year, $13 million deal. While this may be a relatively thin free agent market this winter, there is a glut of 1B/DH types on the market. It’s a distinct possibility that Encarnacion may be forced to settle for something that’s actually less than his original offer from Toronto.
One alternative that may work for both Encarnacion and the Indians – a multi-year deal that includes an opt-out after the first or second year. Even though next winter’s market may be a bit more robust, the new CBA will eliminate the current qualifying offer system by next winter. Without draft pick compensation hanging over him, it’s quite possible that Encarnacion’s market could pick up. That means that it’s entirely possible that the Indians could get a fairly reasonable deal. Paul Hoynes reported that the Indians are currently working on a multi-year deal with Encarnacion, and actually made the situation sound fairly promising. Hoynes notes that it could still fall apart (and it definitely could), but with the slugger’s market diminishing and the hindrance of the draft pick compensation, it could legitimately happen.
Encarnacion would actually be a great fit for the Indians, the kind of move that makes almost too much sense if they could pull it off. It obviously would mean that Mike Napoli’s party would not return for 2017, but Encarnacion would be an upgrade over Napoli.
|Mike Napoli||Edwin Encarnacion|
|Age (opening day 2017)||35||34|
While Napoli put up a solid offensive season for the Tribe in 2016 (outside of September and October), Encarnacion still bests him in almost every category. While Encarnacion isn’t an amazing defender at first, he’s essentially league average; Napoli took a step backward as far as defense was concerned last season.
I mean, just allow me to dream for a minute here. Even though I still don’t think the Indians end up getting a deal complete with Encarnacion, here’s a potential 2017 Indians lineup:
Carlos Santana, DH/1B
Jason Kipnis, 2B
Francisco Lindor, SS
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH
Michael Brantley, LF
Jose Ramirez, 3B
Yan Gomes, C
Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
Tyler Naquin, CF
Now this lineup presumes that Michael Brantley is finally back and healthy, and also makes us hope that Yan Gomes has improved over his miserable 2016. There could obviously be slight changes in the outfield – Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte will still be there (especially if Naquin can’t reproduce his 2016 season) and Bradley Zimmer could be up by the summer as well.
The Indians are still in pretty decent shape going into 2017 even without Encarnacion, especially if they manage to avoid their bad luck with injuries in 2016. While Mike Napoli has said he wants a 3-year deal, that’s obviously unlikely to happen…the Indians may still be able to get him back on a one-year deal with incentives. Even though Napoli’s production declined in September and October, it’s possible that he was still recovering from his sleep apnea surgery from the 2014-2015 offseason. This was really the first season since the procedure that he had a normal offseason and regular season.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether we get a new slugger in our stockings this holiday season, or if the Indians will continue to search the market as the winter progresses. Even though Encarnacion’s market has diminished somewhat, he still has several suitors and it doesn’t seem like he’s itching to make a quick deal.
Encarnacion said in “wait and see” mode. Not rushing. Rox, tribe, many more have called. Nothing close yet.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 6, 2016