Could the Cleveland Indians actually sign Edwin Encarnacion? What felt like a pipedream just weeks ago is slowly morphing into reality with multi-layered rumors circulating that the Indians are knocking on the door of adding what could be the biggest non-pitching free agent of the entire offseason.
ESPN’s Jim Boweden reports that the Indians are one of five teams with multiyear offers on the table for the power-hitting first baseman with “ngotiations continuing at a rapid pace.” Bowden later reported that of the five teams talking to Encarnacion, it’s the Indians (along with the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics) who are “favorites” to ink the right-hander.
We also have Jon Heyman (who has been all over these negotiations) reporting the Indians are “pulling out all the stops” in their efforts to sign Encarnacion, a player who we have long discussed as the perfect signing for a team looking to return to the World Series, though it would likely mean the end of any discussions with last season’s first baseman, Mike Napoli.
Let’s say Encarnacion could be had at three years, $65 million. Assuming each win-above-replacement player (WAR) is worth $8-9 million on the open market, this contract should still provide surplus value. Even if you assume that due to age (Encarnacion will turn 34 prior to the 2017 season) and other factors (change in park, etc.) Encarnacion averages 2.5-3 WAR per year over the length of the contract, a contract at this level would still provide market value.
Due to his age and the depressed market, Encarnacion is also likely to sign for only three to four years. At only age 34, the age curve is certainly a concern, but similar players have sustained success late into their careers. This shorter contract mitigates the risk to the Indians. Often, it’s the years, not the annual salary that forces the Indians out of the market on 4-win free agents. This is an instance where the shorter contract helps the Indians get out from under the deal if it goes the way of Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn.
Encarnacion has averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBIs over the past five seasons. In 2016 with the Blue Jays, the 33-year-old hit .263 (.886 OPS) with 42 home runs, 127 RBIs, and an fWAR of 3.9.
More WFNY on Encarnacion: