Posted on December 23, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
After weeks of speculation and uncertainty, slugger Edwin Encarnacion has a new team. Several outlets are reporting that Encarnacion has reached an agreement with the Cleveland Indians. The deal is reportedly for three years at $20 million per season. There is also an option for a fourth year at $20 million, with a buyout of $5 million, ensuring Encarnacion will make at least $65 million during his time in Cleveland. The contract does not include an opt-out clause, so barring a trade, Encarnacion will spend at least the next three seasons with the Indians.
Encarnacion began the offseason as one of the most coveted players on the free agent market. After declining a four-year, $80 million offer to return to the Toronto Blue Jays early in the offseason, Encarnacion did not find the interest on the open market that he was expecting. He saw a multitude of teams add a first baseman/DH, mostly on short-term deals, giving little consideration to a player like Encarnacion who had his sites set on a long-term deal.
This led to an interesting scenario in which several small-market, low-budget teams were able to enter the competition to sign Encarnacion. In the end, the Indians and the Oakland A’s appeared to be the two teams making the hardest push to sign him, with Cleveland ultimately winning the bidding process after the A’s reportedly decline to guarantee Encarnacion a third season.
The Indians took a rather unique route to signing Encarnacion. It was reported that in recent days the Indians made offers to many of the power hitters left on the free agent market, including Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli, and Chris Carter, hoping to land one of them. In the end, they were able to get their top choice by promising Encarnacion $20 million per season, a rather high amount for a team with Cleveland’s budget. The Indians will also lose the 27th overall pick in next year’s draft after signing a player who received a qualifying offer from his previous team.
With the Indians, Encarnacion figures to fill the role that Napoli played for the reigning American League champions in 2016. Encarnacion will split time between first base and DH with Carlos Santana. Encarnacion started 74 games at first base last season, while Santana started 62 games at first base, so it’s likely that both will have to play in the field more frequently in 2017.
Offensively, Encarnacion will be in the middle of Cleveland’s order alongside Santana, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis. He will help replace the team-high 34 home runs Napoli hit for the Indians in 2016. The Indians are also hopeful that Michael Brantley will be able to return to the lineup after missing most of 2016 with a shoulder injury. If Brantley is able to re-join a lineup that features Encarnacion, Santana, Lindor, and Kipnis, the Indians may be better offensively in 2017 than last season when they were just one win away from a world championship.
At the start of the offseason, Encarnacion ending up with the Indians would have seemed like a long shot. But when the market developed in an unexpected way, Cleveland was able to take advantage and land one of the best offensive players on the free agent market this winter. As a result, the Indians are set up to improve on offense in 2017 and remain one of the best teams in the American League.