Posted on December 16, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The biggest fish that remains on the free agent market this winter is undoubtedly first baseman and DH Edwin Encarnacion. To the surprise of many, he remains unsigned long after the end of the Winter Meetings. At this point, it’s unclear where Encarnacion will end up, or even what teams are the current favorites to sign him. The latest rumors, according to Jon Heyman, indicate that the Oakland Athletics are considering taking a shot at trying to sign Encarnacion, adding an unexpected twist to the proceedings.
Oakland signing Encarnacion would obviously be out of character for the small-market, money-ball A’s, but not unprecedented. With Encarnacion’s free agency dragging on, it has allowed small-market teams to enter the fray, believing the price on him has dropped far enough for them to make a competitive bid without breaking the bank. How high the A’s would be willing to go for Encarnacion isn’t clear, but the fact that they could be involved is telling.
Coming off back-to-back last place finishes in the AL West, the A’s are far from being able to compete in what could be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball next season. However, there’s certainly room for Encarnacion in Oakland’s lineup. With Yonder Alonso at first base, Encarnacion would not be expected to play the field very often. On top of that, a middle of the order that includes Encarnacion, Alonso, Stephen Vogt, and Khris Davis doesn’t look too bad on paper.
Of course, the A’s are far from the only suitor in the running for Encarnacion. However, several teams have been all but ruled out of the running, including the Toronto Blue Jays, who all but gave up on Encarnacion when they signed Steve Pearce after signing Kendrys Morales earlier in the offseason.
Among the teams in big markets, the Texas Rangers may be the team to watch for Encarnacion. They have reportedly kept in touch with agent Paul Kinzer to gauge the price on Encarnacion. While the Rangers have players like Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo, and Jurickson Profar to handle first base and serve as a DH, they would certainly be willing to make room for Encarnacion if he falls within their price range, although GM Jon Daniels appears hesitant to make a big signing this winter.
The Cleveland Indians are another small market team that has checked in with Encarnacion, believing they may be able to afford him. The Indians also retain interest in Mike Napoli, but Encarnacion would also fill their need for a first baseman/DH with power. Cleveland, however, may need his price to drop considerably in order to make a competitive offer.
One more team to watch is the St. Louis Cardinals. Like the Indians and the A’s, the Cardinals are not an obvious choice for Encarnacion, but there has been some speculation that St. Louis could keep spending this winter even after spending a lot to sign Dexter Fowler. Encarnacion could be one of their potential targets, allowing them to shift Matt Carpenter to third base.
This leaves us with little clarity as to where Encarnacion will end up, opening the door for teams like the A’s and Indians to surprise people and take their shot. One interesting x-factor could be the draft-pick compensation that seems to be hurting Encarnacion would not apply to Oakland, as they have a protected pick. That could be a unique advantage that gives the A’s a chance to land Encarnacion, which would be the biggest shock of the offseason.