Some thoughts on the Indians signing of Edwin Encarnacion
BY JUSTIN LADA
The Cleveland Indians came within two runs of winning their first World Series since 1948. They did that without their best position player from 2014 and 2015, without their second best starting pitching, getting garbage time innings from their third best starting pitching in the World Series but not in the first two rounds.
Then they went ahead and added essentially the 2nd best power hitter in the American League since 2014 in terms of homers for an unprecedented amount of money for their organization in Edwin Encarnacion. A lot of factors were in play with this decision. But, essentially, the Indians upgrade Napoli to Encarnacion, should get Brantley back in the lineup, which would be adding two All-Star level hitters.
How did we get here?
Yeah, it’s that philosophical of a question. It was a long winding road to sign a player like Encarnacion for the kind of money it took.
First, Encarnacion said that he likely wouldn’t have signed in Cleveland had they not made the World Series. So, working backwards, here are some key factors that ended up going into it.
Without the trade of Andrew Miller, the Indians probably don’t get to the World Series
The Indians would have been likely to split Jonathan Lucroy between C/1B/DH if he had accepted the trade with Carlos Santana/Roberto Perez/Yan Gomes. He would have been cheaper but maybe not as good and created the same buzz.
Minority owner John Sherman helped make this deal possible. Talk about good timing for everyone involved.
Playoff revenue - without it, this deal is highly unlikely. Without those games, the Indians probably view themselves farther away than adding Encarnacion.
Signing young players to affordable contracts (i.e Kluber, Carrasco, Kipnis, Brantley, Santana) More later
Not developing a first basemen. They haven’t been able to do it for years.
Good drafting/trades to fill needs and being one piece away
Indians and big deals
Because of inflation, this is the largest deal the Indians have handed out. They have made big deals before.
They signed Roberto Alomar to 3 years/$21 million in the 1998/1999 offseason, Juan Gonzalez to a 1 year/$10 million during the 2000/2001 offseason, Ellis Burks to a 3 years/$19 million deal in the 2000/2001 offseason. They’ve also re-signed their own players to bigger deals such as Jake Westbrook to a 3 year/$30 million deal and Travis Hafner to a 4 year/$57 million deal.
Then add in the 4 year/$56 million to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to a 4 year/$48 million deal.
Three of those contracts were wins for the Indians, the Westbrook, Hafner, Swisher and Bourn deals were not via injuries and decline.
Encarnacion’s situation falls more in line with the former three and not the latter four. Alomar, Gonzalez and Burks were added as final pieces to a roster firmly in playoff and World Series contention. Westbrook and Hafner were holdovers from a contending roster but was beginning to lose other key pieces. Swisher and Bourn were signings to try to turn around a dismal period in the franchise’s history. Encarnacion is a final big piece of a championship puzzle.
No, the Indians won’t suddenly become the Los Angeles Dodgers east and they won’t even be the Detroit Tigers in terms of a window of spending. The Tigers will soon be deciding an uncertain future of a highly paid, aging roster. Much like the Indians were faced with in 2001. Unless revenue and attendance hits a sudden three or four year surge, this is the only big contract the Indians will be doling out for a player not drafted or developed in house until it’s officially off their books.
But, that’s not much different from the Dick Jacobs owned Indians. Jacobs gets a lot of credit for the winning seasons while he owned the team and “spending,” but that’s not entirely accurate.
Yes, Jacobs should be credited for essentially saving baseball in Cleveland. However, without Hank Peters, John Hart and Dan O’Dowd, the Indians aren’t set up to succeed. They drafted Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez,Jim Thome and Charles Nagy. They shrewdly traded for Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel. They supplemented that core by signing older veterans like Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser and Eddie Murrary.
View the 2016 Indians - drafted Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, Cody Allen, Josh Tomlin, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. They developed Danny Salazar and Jose Ramirez from international signings. They traded for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. They supplemented this core with Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli.
On Jacobs’ watch, Belle, Ramirez and Thome all moved onto greener pastures.
Under the Dolans, the Indians traded C.C Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez. Unpopular, but those trades gave the Indians back more than what they got for Belle, Ramirez and Thome.
Jacobs had the benefit of 455 straight sellouts. Attendance in the new park was booming and the team was built brilliantly because Jacobs first invested in the draft and player development. They also signed their players early on to team friendly deals by giving them more money than they’d get early on and getting them to stay an extra year before hitting free agency. This is a practice the Indians continue to utilize.
Jacobs knew when things were headed in a new direction. Baseball had signed a new big TV deal, the roster was aging, the Browns were back in Cleveland and inflation was hitting. He got out like a smart business man. But Jacobs didn’t spend any more money than he was getting from the business. Great attendance drove signings like Roberto Alomar, Gonzalez and Burks.
The Dolans don’t even have the guarantee of attendance, that’s why there’s an attendance clause in Encarnacion’s contract for if they hit certain figures. They haven’t drawn 2 million fans since 2008 despite now two playoff appearances and having the American League’s best record since 2013. Attendance declined in 2014 after the Wild Card appearance and the big signings of Swisher and Bourn.
This year, that shouldn’t be an issue but they’re counting on it to make this deal work financially.
Encarnacion is 34. He’s had a great track record since figuring out his swing in 2012. He’s never been on the DL and has been productive. The same could have been said about Swisher when he signed. Father time is undefeated. Swisher had a decent amount of power and patience at the plate - skills that generally age well in baseball. Those are the same skills Encarnacion possesses however at a more elite level. Just the realities - father time never loses, he’s only delayed at best.
Getting Encarnacion for three years is brilliant and lucky that it worked out. For two years, there’s a good chance he’s near what he’s produced throughout his career. Even in decline, by the third year he’s still likely an above average power hitter. If they win the World Series in the next two years and he’s just an average power hitter at age 37, it’s probably worth stomaching.
Where should he hit?
I don’t agree with the premise that Encarnacion has to hit fourth where Napoli did. He’s a much better hitter than Napoli. Also, let’s say Encarnacion hits fourth and plays 160 games like he did in 2016. An average of 3.4 at bats per game, that’s 544 at bats. At third, he should get four at bats a game and at 160 games that’s 640 plate appearances, so almost 100 more times at the plate. If Encarnacion is your best hitter, wouldn’t it make sense to get him 100 more at bats if you could?
With Santana and possibly Lindor or Kipnis in front of him at two, plenty of chances to hit with runners on base and get more at bats all season long. He’s a patient enough hitter with power to warrant those extra at bats. Napoli’s high strikeout tendencies were a better fit in cleanup with other guys in front of him.
Lineup construction is so important, so to maximize on base skills and production, this looks like a winner:
Carlos Santana 1B/DH
Francisco Lindor SS
Edwin Encarnacion 1B/DH
Michael Brantley LF
Jose Ramirez 3B
Jason Kipnis 2B
Lonnie Chisenhall/Brandon Guyer RF
Tyler Naquin/Abraham Almonte CF
Roberto Perez/Yan Gomes C
POSTED 01/10/2017 13:56