During the postseason, I had a conversation with one of the folks sitting near us about Edwin Encarnacion. I was completely convinced that he would end up in Boston with the Red Sox during the offseason, while this person swore up and down he would end up staying in Toronto. I guess both of us were wrong, as he’s heading to Cleveland on a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year. I discussed the possibility of an Encarnacion signing earlier this month, and allowed myself to daydream about the slugger joining the Indians. Even though he was arguably one of the best players available on the thin free agent market this winter, his market seemed to tumble quickly this offseason. That, coupled with the extra money the Indians brought in during the postseason, created a perfect situation for an Encarnacion signing. I keep joking about it in terms of Jose Bautista’s famous “circumstances” comment from the ALCS, but it really was a perfect set of circumstances for the Indians.
As I pointed out earlier this month, based on their 2016 numbers Encarnacion would be a huge improvement over Mike Napoli (who had a fairly solid season outside of September and October). While the Indians will reportedly pay Encarnacion $20 million per year (quite a jump from Napoli’s $7 million base salary for 2016), it’s only a three-year deal. While there’s always risk with any big signing, at least three years minimizes some of that risk. The fourth year option is also for $20 million, with a $5 million buyout. What is crazy about this deal is the fact that Toronto initially offered Encarnacion four years, $80 million at the beginning of the offseason. He turned it down and went onto the free market, fully expecting to get a better deal. While he’ll end up with the same $20 million per season, the fourth year in Cleveland isn’t guaranteed.
And that is where I tip my cap to Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff, as well as the Dolan family. For years, Indians fans have complained “Dolanz cheap” but they’re forking over some serious cash in the hope that Encarnacion can put the Indians over the top and finally bring the city an elusive World Series title. For years, the Indians took the conservative route as far as bold moves go. They were never ones to surrender highly-touted prospects, or to go out and make a big splash on the free agent market. The closest they probably came in recent years was when they hired Terry Francona and signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn during the 2012-2013 offseason. But this summer Antonetti and Chernoff traded four prospects, including two first round picks in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, for reliever Andrew Miller. And that turned out to be a key addition to the 2016 Indians; they may not have made it to Game 7 of the World Series without him. They’ve made another bold move in signing Encarnacion; one that will cost them a draft pick. This is the kind of risk that I’m not sure the Indians take during the Mark Shapiro years. (And it feels kind of odd saying that, since they essentially took Encarnacion away from Shapiro’s new team). Antonetti and Chernoff were never really in a bidding war with Shapiro, since it seems like Toronto moved on pretty quickly from their long-time star early in the offseason. I would’ve rather had Encarnacion over Kendrys Morales though, so maybe the Blue Jays moved on a bit too quickly. Their loss is our gain.
The Indians could have stayed put this offseason and still had a solid roster heading into spring training. But now they’ll add one of the best free agent sluggers available this winter to the mix. Get your parrot references and memes ready in time for the start of spring training in February. (Read up on the parrot, if you’re unfamiliar) Pitchers and catchers report in less than two months!