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A look at Edwin Encarnacion, a Christmas gift and now a key piece in the middle of the Indians’ line

By Ryan Lewis Published: December 23, 2016

Last Christmas, Indians fans received the practical gifts—the baseball equivalent of some nice socks, a pair of needed dress slacks—in the form of Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, both of whom were reasonably priced free agents who filled two needs on the roster on one-year, lower-risk deals.

As they often had done, the Indians shied away from the big-name free agents and looked for bargains to fill out the roster.

This year, the Indians gave their fans that new Lexus with the big red bow.

Primed with a legitimate opportunity to bring Cleveland its first World Series since 1948, the Indians’ front office has been flexing its muscles since last July, when they acquired one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and a couple of outfielders en route to a run to Game 7.  

And on Thursday, the Indians gave their fans a Christmas present substantial to the point that many fans wouldn’t have dared to even realistically expect it in the first place, signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a reported three-year, $60 million deal that includes a club option and $5 million buyout for the 2020 season.

Napoli gave the Indians a solid return on investment in his one year in Cleveland, though by the numbers Encarnacion stands as a significant upgrade as one of the top hitters in the game in the last five seasons.

Since 2012, Encarnacion is second in baseball in both home runs (193) and RBI (550). His wRC+ of 146, in that time, ranks him seventh in the game, per FanGraphs. He had a wRC+ of 134 in 2016, which would have been the best mark in the Indians’ lineup. He’s hit at least 34 home runs and driven in at least 98 RBI in each of the past five seasons, and has ranked no lower than 18th in WRC+ in any year since 2012.

Napoli belted 34 home runs for the Indians in 2016, though it was only the second time in his career he eclipsed the 30-home run plateau. His absence made designated hitter/first base the Indians’ biggest need, and they found a sizable—and costly—upgrade.

The Indians being able to attach a club option does help with the deal’s value, though $20 million a year and the loss of their first-round pick in the 2017 draft in June will be felt by a club with a smaller market like Cleveland. But few hitters have been as productive as Encarnacion, and it’s clear the Indians were the recipients of a solid value compared to what a hitter of that quality normally fetches on the open market.

Though, giving that kind of money to a slugger entering his age-34 season will always come with some inherent risks. The Indians’ competitive window in the next 2-4 years, the addition of minority owner, Encarnacion’s perfect fit on the roster and his lowered price tag combined with some added revenue from the World Series run were just enough for the club to outweigh those risks and pull the trigger. There could be some positive signs in that Encarnacion’s batted ball statistics have remained solid. Per FanGraphs, Encarnacion had his second-best line-drive percentage in the past 10 years at 20.4 percent in 2016. And his hard-hit percentage of 37.6 was the second-best mark in his career.

Encarnacion takes Napoli’s place on the roster, though it remains to be seen how he and Carlos Santana will split time at first base and at designated hitter. Last year, Encarnacion split time at first base but as he turns 34, could be headed toward a closer split as an everyday DH. In his career, per FanGraphs, Encarnacion has been either average or below-average at first base, with a career UZR/150 of of -6 and -17 defensive runs saved. Santana has been in that same ballpark, earning -8 DRS and a career UZR/150 of -0.4, just under league average. Santana has also shown an openness to playing in the field more often or, at least, whenever needed.

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Marla Ridenour: With Indians' commitment to Edwin Encarnacion, joy takes up residence in Believeland

By Marla Ridenour Published: December 22, 2016
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Signing slugger Edwin Encarnacion makes so much sense for the Indians, and yet I still can't believe it.

Perhaps years of talk about the small market and declining attendance and payroll restrictions under the Dolans' ownership lulled me into thinking the franchise was in a rut that felt like prison.

Maybe until LeBron James returned, I never saw Cleveland as a desirable free agent destination for any of its three professional teams.

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Indians, slugger Edwin Encarnacion reportedly agree to multiyear deal

By Ryan Lewis Published: December 22, 2016

These aren’t the same old Indians clubs, ones that have been accused of being cheap or too passive. That argument, popular among fans since the turn of the century, would be a hard sell now.

On Thursday night, the Indians reportedly reached an agreement with Edwin Encarnacion, one of the game’s premiere sluggers and the top free agent on the market.

The deal, first reported by Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and MLB Network, is reportedly for three years and $60-65 million and includes a club option for a fourth year. It’s the largest free-agent signing in club history. The signing also comes a more than just a financial cost, as the Indians will lose their first-round pick in the upcoming amateur draft. The Toronto Blue Jays offered Encarnacion a qualifying offer, which he declined.

It signals an aggressive move by the normally cautious Indians, who showed last season that when the time is right, they would be willing to pull the trigger despite high costs. They added Andrew Miller, one of the top relievers in the game and a huge asset in the postseason, as well as outfielder Brandon Guyer, at last year’s trade deadline. Now, they’ve added a key bat to the middle of their lineup.

Encarnacion last season slugged 42 home runs and drove in an American League-leading 127 runs while hitting .263 and posting an .886 OPS. He’s totaled at least 34 home runs, 98 RBI and an .886 OPS in each of the last five seasons, putting him near the top of the list among the game’s power hitters.

Encarnacion fills the biggest need on the roster and stands as an upgrade over Mike Napoli, who was still connected to discussions with the Indians this week but on a shorter, cheaper deal.

Encarnacion likely take over a primary designated hitter role and will surely hit in the middle of the Indians’ lineup. Carlos Santana, who had his option for 2017 picked up by the Indians, could see his time at first base increased.

This signing was made possible in part by a perfect storm of circumstances. Encarnacion was thought to be looking at a much more lucrative deal when this offseason started, but a saturated market and the draft pick compensation tied to him lowered his price tag. The Indians, meanwhile, not only were a perfect fit as a landing spot, but also had additional means thanks to the addition of a minority investor and the extra revenue from their postseason run.

The Indians’ addition of Encarnacion also lines up well with their current competitive window. The Indians are built to be sustainable, with much of their current core under club control through at least the 2020 season and almost all of it staying in Cleveland through 2018.

Along with the possible addition of a healthy Michael Brantley, the Indians are looking at a lineup in 2017 with some added punch. And, it appears they’ve shredded any notion of letting this window to the World Series close any time soon.

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Indians invite 1B/OF Chris Colabello to spring training, complete trade with NYY for RHP Nick Goody

By Ryan Lewis Published: December 20, 2016

The Indians have signed former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman and outfielder Chris Colabello to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training camp.

Colabello, 33, in 2015 hit .321 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI but was then suspended 80 games starting last April for failing a drug test that revealed a performance-enhancing substance. He spent the rest of the 2016 season in the Blue Jays’ minor-league system after completing his suspension and struggled, hitting .180 with a .536 OPS for Triple-A Buffalo.

Colabello gives the Indians a low-risk option and potentially some security as a first baseman/designated hitter who can also provide depth in left field relative to Michael Brantley’s health.

The Indians also continue to be reportedly tied to free agent first basemen Edwin Encarnacion, Mike Napoli and Chris Carter and first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo. One of those four—or another target on the free-agent market—would be paired with Carlos Santana at the first base/designated hitter spot, similar to the role Napoli filled.

Encarnacion remains the most sought-after and most expensive prize of that group. He’s put together five consecutive seasons of at least 34 home runs, 98 RBI and an OPS of at least .886. He belted 42 home runs and drove in an American-League leading 142 runs in 2016.

Encarnacion, who received a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays and already had draft pick compensation attached to his name, has seen his stock additionally drop over the last month as a saturated market for first basemen and a dwindling number of potential landing spots has left one of the biggest names on the free agent market without much leverage.

Napoli has reportedly been seeking a three-year deal, while the Indians have preferred to bring him back on a one-year contract. He hit 34 home runs and drove in 101 runs for the Indians in 2016 but also seemingly ran out of gas down the stretch.

Carter slugged 41 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016 but hit just .222 and provided little value elsewhere and was non-tendered. Trumbo led the AL with 47 home runs and drove in 108 runs with an .850 OPS.

With those four and others still available and many teams needing a first baseman having already filled that hole on their roster, the Indians and other clubs are seeking a bargain, whether it be a lighter one-year deal or a multi-year contract that could come at a smaller price
than originally expected back in early November.

Goody trade

The Indians on Tuesday also completed a deal with the New York Yankees to acquire right-handed relief pitcher Nick Goody.

The Indians will be sending the Yankees either a player to be named later or cash considerations by May 5.

Goody, 25, last season owned a 4.66 ERA and 1.448 WHIP at the major-league level. He also stuck out more than a better an inning (34 strikeouts in 29 innings) in part thanks to a slider that’s thrown nearly as often as his fastball, per FanGraphs. He also posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.686 WHIP in 23 1/3 innings last season at Triple-A. Goody was then designated for assignment by the Yankees on Dec. 15 to make room on the 40-man roster for closer Aroldis Chapman.

With the deal, the Indians’ 40-man roster is full.

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Indians receiving perfect set of circumstances to make a run at Edwin Encarnacion

By Ryan Lewis Published: December 8, 2016

For the Indians to make a truly big splash financially, they require a perfect storm of circumstances.

It happened in 2013, when qualifying offers and the draft-pick compensation attached to them, a dwindling market and the club’s draft position cooked up the right situation for the Indians to sign Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to contracts well below what they were projected to make at the beginning of that offseason. Multiple pieces to the free-agent puzzle fell in just the right places for the Indians to be in a rare position to enter that financial stratosphere.

It happened again at last year’s trade deadline, when the front office recognized they had a potentially special opportunity and sent two top prospects to the New York Yankees in a four-player package for Andrew Miller, thus taking on his $9 million salary through 2018. They were also willing to send four prospects to Milwaukee to acquire Jonathan Lucroy before he vetoed the deal.

That perfect storm could be forming again, and it’s possible that one of the game’s premiere power hitters is just beginning to enter the Indians’ airspace as an obtainable target.

Edwin Encarnacion, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, entered the offseason as one of two top-shelf sluggers available on the free-agent market. Yoenis Cespedes, the other, has since returned to the New York Mets on a four-year, $110 million deal.

Encarnacion, 33, belted 42 home runs and drove in 127 RBI last season with an .886 OPS. He’s hit at least 34 home runs and driven in at least 98 RBI in each of the past five seasons in Toronto, owning an OPS of .900 or greater in four of them.

And as it pertains to the Indians’ chances of signing him, Encarnacion’s number of possible landing spots is shrinking. Several teams once connected to Encarnacion have taken advantage of a saturated first-basemen market, instead choosing a cheaper option. The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. The Boston Red Sox acquired Mitch Moreland. The Houston Astros added Carlos Beltran. The Yankees brought in Matt Holliday.

Power hitters such as Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli are still available as free agents as well, creating a supply-and-demand issue for Encarnacion, who will be 34 during the 2017 season and could be nearing the point of exclusively acting as a team’s everyday designated hitter.

All of this is possibly dragging Encarnacion’s price tag far below what many expected it would be a month ago, when he turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays to test the market. It backfired. Current reports indicate his price tag is likely dropping to around $60 million.

Meanwhile, the Indians have a clear need on the roster for a first baseman/designated hitter in the middle of their lineup due to the current loss of Napoli, who still remains a possible return candidate. Encarnacion certainly fits that description. They also have the right competitive window and some added financial opportunities that could make it all possible.

The Indians were successful in finding a minority owner and investor when they brought in Missouri-based entrepreneur John Sherman as vice chairman, which helped owner Paul Dolan with the club’s payroll. They also received some financial gains thanks to the run to the World Series, which included eight additional home games, and the playoff revenue that comes with it. It’s unclear exactly how much affect that could have on the club’s spending abilities, but per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, one rival executive believes that run generated $15-20 million. The front office can look to the fact that they reached Game 7 of the World Series with a roster that, for the most part, is under club control for the foreseeable future—in most cases through the 2018 season and in many cases through at least 2020. A long-term deal, while risky as always, fits that window as well.

The Indians all last year raved about Napoli, who had a strong season in the middle of the lineup and who reportedly has received one-year offers but is looking for a multi-year deal. Production-wise, Encarnacion would certainly make for an upgrade as one of the best power bats in the league and a near-perfect fit in the lineup. Add the potential return of a healthy Michael Brantley, and the Indians would have some added punch to the middle of the order that was absent during their postseason run.

The free-agent market. The dwindling landing spots. A lowered price tag. The Indians’ competitive window and a reason to be aggressive. A seamless fit on the roster. Some added financial help through a minority owner and postseason run. All of it was needed to even put the Indians in a position to make a serious run at Encarnacion, but the dominoes have fallen in order thus far.

Signing Encarnacion, who would most likely become the primary designated hitter while also sharing time with Carlos Santana at first base, would represent another aggressive, costly move to push the Indians clear out of their financial comfort zone. It doesn’t mean it can easily happen. But once again, due to a swirling set of circumstances, the Indians could be in a position to strike.

Rule 5

The Indians on Thursday addressed a need in the bullpen, selecting left-handed reliever Hoby Milner in the Rule 5 Draft.

Milner will have to remain on the active 25-man roster for the duration of the 2017 season. Otherwise, he has to be offered back to his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Milner offers the Indians another left-handed option aside from Miller. Last season, he split his time between Double-A and Triple-A and finished with a 5-4 record, 2.49 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched.

The Indians also had an additional spot available in the bullpen after Jeff Manship was not tendered a contract, the lone arbitration-eligible player to not receive an offer from the club.

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