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Edwin Encarnacion Would Propel Indians Toward Another World Series in 2017

The Cleveland Indians left the rest of the American League in their dust in the 2016 MLB playoffs. After winning 94 games in the regular season, they won seven of eight games en route to a near miss in the World Series.      

But since a couple of AL clubs have made key signings since then, clearly the only thing the Indians can do in response is sign the best free agent remaining on the market.

OK, maybe it's not the only thing they can do. But signing Edwin Encarnacion would sure give them a mighty boost. And despite their thrifty reputation, every indication is that it's a realistic possibility.

The Toronto Blue Jays don't seem to have room to bring Encarnacion back after signing Kendrys Morales, and his market outside Toronto is being suppressed by his ties to draft-pick compensation and his bat-only skill set. According to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, Encarnacion once had an $80 million offer on the table. And then Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported during the winter meetings no team was willing to even go to $60 million for him.

However, things could be worse. Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer, told Jeff Blair of Sportsnet 590 on Tuesday (via MLB Trade Rumors) the slugger has gotten three- to four-year offers from six teams.

"Edwin's not in a panic. He still feels like he's in control of the situation," Kinzer said. "He's put up five years of consistent stats. Some people are acting like we're in a panic. Are you kidding me?"

According to Heyman, Cleveland is one of the more aggressive teams in the mix:

At the least, this tells us that Cleveland can see what the rest of us can see: It has an opening for a right-handed slugger who fits at first base and designated hitter.

That was Mike Napoli's job in 2016, and he did it splendidly by posting an .800 OPS and tying Carlos Santana for the team lead with 34 home runs. But he's a free agent now. And while Napoli would come cheaper than Encarnacion, any extra money spent on the latter would be buying a significant upgrade.

This isn't a scorching take, is it? Nah, I don't think so.

Encarnacion has hit 193 home runs since 2012, 77 more than Napoli and only four fewer than league leader Chris Davis. By adjusted OPS+, Encarnacion has also been one of the AL's five best hitters over the last five seasons:

  1. Mike Trout: 173
  2. Miguel Cabrera: 166
  3. David Ortiz: 154
  4. Edwin Encarnacion: 146
  5. Jose Abreu: 143

Beyond Encarnacion's ties to draft-pick compensation and his limited skill set, his red flags are his age (34 in January) and his escalating strikeout rate.

But as long as he's only being weighed against the incumbent Napoli, neither thing is a big concern for Cleveland. Encarnacion is a year younger, and he wouldn't be anything close to the strikeout black hole Napoli was.

Now, if anyone wants to get technical, the Indians don't really need an upgrade as substantial as Encarnacion.

That would imply they don't have an easy road to a playoff spot in 2017. They do. They're part of an MLB landscape that, as Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs highlighted, might not feature any division races. They're projected for 89 wins. The next best team in the AL Central is the Detroit Tigers at 83 wins.

However, Cleveland's unfinished business for 2017 isn't winning the division. It's winning the World Series. 

Two AL teams figure to make that tough. The Boston Red Sox began the winter as a good team and got better after adding Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg. The Houston Astros also began the winter as a good team and got better with Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Charlie Morton. Both the Red Sox (93 wins) and the Astros (90 wins) are projected to win more games than Cleveland.

The evergreen caveat is that these projections aren't gospel. And with healthy versions of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in their starting rotation, a healthy Michael Brantley in their lineup and a full season of Andrew Miller in their bullpen for 2017, the Indians must be considered a World Series contender as is.

Still, having enough to be a World Series contender is one thing. Having everything to be a World Series contender is something else.

Encarnacion would be the difference for Cleveland on a macro level, filling the team's big hole and likely adding a couple of wins to the team's projection. On a micro level, he would be a weapon against Boston's ace lefties (Sale and David Price) and a terror at the bandbox that is Minute Maid Park in any potential postseason matchups.

Encarnacion is less of a fit for Cleveland from a financial perspective. Despite his slow-developing market, he does figure to command at least the three years and $60 million Passan floated earlier in December. The Indians have never spent that much on a free agent.

But if ever there were time for them to do so, it's right now.

For one thing, the club's financials are in better shape than they have been in some time. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, executives estimate their trip to the World Series was worth "tens of millions" of extra dollars. Rosenthal also noted Cleveland "almost certainly" benefited from welcoming Kansas City entrepreneur John Sherman as a minority ownership partner. 

As for Encarnacion's draft-pick compensation, it would be best for the Indians if they had a protected selection in the 2017 draft. But they do have the next best thing: a relatively low first-round pick at No. 25. It's something they can afford to lose.

Of course, this logic also applies to the Texas Rangers, another Encarnacion suitor that could be willing to give up the No. 29 pick. With no clear answer at first base or DH and a lot of money due to come off their books after 2017, they're probably more of a threat to sign Encarnacion than they're letting on.

You know, just in case anyone thought the Indians had the Encarnacion market all to themselves. They're not going to be able to sign him unless they convince themselves they really want him.

For that, all they need to do is look at how he fits and think of how much better it would be to actually win the World Series next time around.     


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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