The Cleveland Indians finally got involved with the offseason free agency parade on Thursday night, reportedly inking DH Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal that contains an option for a fourth season that can push the total value of the deal to $80 million.
Happy Festivus, Tribe fans!
The 33-year old Encarnacion, who will turn 34 in January, had another strong year for the Toronto Blue Jays. In a career-high 160 games, Encarnacion hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers (tied for a career high), 99 runs scored (a career high), and 127 RBI (also a career high). Encarnacion also started 74 games at first base for the Jays in 2016, meaning that the Indians can use both him and incumbent Carlos Santana at the position, much like they did in 2016 with Santana and Mike Napoli.
Slotting Encarnacion in the lineup instead of Napoli improves Cleveland’s offense. Napoli, signed on a one-year deal prior to the 2016 season, hit .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers in 150 games.
Encarnacion clearly benefited from playing his home games at Rogers Centre. In 2016, he hit an astounding .282/.373/.570 at home. But he wasn’t a slouch on the road, slashing .246/.342/.492 and actually hit 22 homers compared to 20 at home.
He’ll slide right into an Indians lineup that hasn’t lost any firepower from a year ago, and will (in theory) be strong with a full year of Michael Brantley in the outfield and (hopefully) a resurgent, healthy Yan Gomes behind the dish. Cleveland also returns their entire rotation, and will hopefully get full, healthy seasons from Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Oh, and they’re going to have Andrew Miller in the bullpen all season instead of for just the last two months of the year. Yeah, I think you can pencil Cleveland in at the top of a weak AL Central.
And then, there’s the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto seemingly moved on from Encarnacion by signing Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million deal early in the offseason. Morales is a worse player than Encarnacion, coming off a year in which he hit .263/.327/.468 with 30 homers and played just 53 innings in the field. Their offense is damaged with the loss of Encarnacion and the presumed loss of Jose Bautista, as Morales and some form of Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce, and Melvin Upton will take over for those two in the lineup. Justin Smoak, after a .217/.314/.391 season, is in line to get all of the reps at first base.
Yes, they still have Josh Donaldson and their excellent starting rotation, but the team is clearly worse off in 2017 – and that doesn’t even take into account how much the Red Sox improved this winter with the acquisition of Chris Sale. It’s looking like there will be a battle royale for the two Wild Card spots in the American League, with the Jays, Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Astros, Mariners, and maybe the Orioles all waging war for two spots alongside Boston, Cleveland, and whichever team of Houston, Seattle, and Texas claims the AL West.