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Meeting Minutes: Edwin Encarnacion more fantasy than reality at this point

The IBI's Tony Lastoria provides a flash take on the Indians "checking in" on Edwin Encarnacion as well as a few other items of note from the winter meetings in Washington DC on Monday...

Day one of the 2016 Winter Meetings in Washington DC is almost in the books. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the rumors connected to the Indians so far.

“Checking in” on Encarnacion

My email inbox and twitter feed exploded earlier this morning when Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports said the Indians have “checked in” on Blue Jays free agent first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion, who turns 34-years old in January, has seen his market drop considerably in the past few days with Matt Holiday signing with the Yankees, Carlos Beltran signing with the Astros and Steven Pearce and Kendrys Morales signing with the Blue Jays. Also, while the Red Sox need a DH, they are reportedly looking for a cheaper alternative because of luxury tax concerns with a payroll already around $190 million.

That’s a significant shift in his market with four potential suitors seemingly out of the mix, so it makes sense for the Indians to “check in” and get an update from his agent on his demands. While there is always a chance he could still be brought in and fit onto the roster of any of those teams, it appears unlikely at this point, which means a fit will need to be found elsewhere. Finding a fit is tough because he is mostly viewed as a DH who can handle occasional duties at first base, which should really limit the interest any National League club may have in him outside of maybe the Rockies.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden called the Indians a “sleeper” destination for Encarnacion. There is little doubt that his bat would be a perfect fit for the Indians lineup and a significant upgrade over the departed Mike Napoli. In 160 games this past season he hit .263 with 42 HR, 127 RBI and .886 OPS, and was 3.9 WAR player with a 134 wRC+. On the flip side, Napoli hit .239 with 34 HR, 101 RBI and .800 OPS, and was a 1.0 WAR player with a 113 wRC+. Those numbers may appear close, but it is the ability to make consistent contact (16.2 career K% for Encarnacion, 26.9 K% for Napoli) and maintain his production against better pitching that makes Encarnacion one of the most dangerous bats in baseball – and something Indians fans witnessed firsthand with the disappearance of Napoli’s bat down the stretch as the pitching he faced got better.

Inserting Encarnacion into the Indians lineup would fill a significant need and really bring together what is already a rather good lineup. Imagine for a moment Encarnacion hitting cleanup with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana hitting around him somewhere in the top six spots of the lineup next year. That’s as strong a one through six as any in baseball if everyone is healthy.

But at the moment the thought of Encarnacion signing with the Indians is much more fantasy than anything. They have never been a team to sign big name free agents at this stage of the offseason and at the moment they do not have much wiggle room in the budget with a payroll already north of $100 million this season even with Napoli and Rajai Davis off the books. Any significant spending in past offseasons has offseason come after the winter meetings when the cost of some good players had dropped to a more affordable and comfortable level.

Also, Encarnacion is attached to draft pick compensation since he was given a qualifying offer by the Blue Jays and turned it down, which means any team not picking in the top 10 that signs him will have to forfeit their first round draft pick. Teams value their first round picks immensely because it provides them the opportunity to not only draft a good player but also gives them much more money in their bonus pool to be creative and take some risks on players later in the draft. Without that first round pick it really handicaps a team’s ability to be creative with their approach to the draft. One thing to consider, though, is the Indians first round pick is near the end of the first round (#27 overall), so since it is close to a second round pick they may be inclined to part with it for the right player.

It bears watching to see what happens with Encarnacion’s market. He probably won’t be signed at the Winter Meetings and is starting to look like a bat that may fall through the cracks because of his lack of positional versatility, age and draft pick compensation attached to him. If his market continues to dwindle with more suitors falling by the wayside after making other moves in the coming days and weeks, and his price goes down in years and dollars, the Indians interest may increase. For now, my take is they are just doing their due diligence to see what his demands are and if there would be any interest in signing with them if they were to intensify their efforts at a later date.

Random Notes

- According to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports, the Indians are looking for a lefty for the pen. hile he did not attach any specific names the Indians have been linked to, he threw names like Mike Dunn, Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins into the conversation. Aside from a right-handed middle of the order bat and maybe a defensive upgrade in center field, the only other really big need for the Indians this offseason is a proven second lefty in the pen. Kyle Crockett may turn it around at some point and Edwin Escobar is interesting, but both are very inconsistent and at this point should only be viewed as depth options. The Indians need a proven lefty to help add some length to the bullpen so they can matchup in the middle innings and create more versatility to their pen. Logan has been a solid reliever over his career with the ability to get a strikeout though has always had some command issues. Blevins and Dunn have been a little more consistent and would make more sense, though will probably also be more costly in years and dollars. Marc Rzepczynski just signed a 2-year, $11 million deal with the Mariners, and he was arguably of lower quality than the other three lefties listed, so I would be surprised if the Indians end up with any notable lefty reliever in free agency. I think they will try to load up on some upside veterans on minor league deals and maybe look at the trade route to fill that need.

- Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports noted the Indians pursued both Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday before they signed deals elsewhere. Joel Sherman of the NY Post said that they were not comfortable with spending $16 million on Beltran or $13 million on Holiday. Two things can be gleaned from this. First, if the Indians are not going to pay Beltran or Holliday $13 million or more for one year, it seems that would also apply to Napoli. Secondly, with them being in talks with so many bats, it is clear their biggest area of focus in free agency will be to add a bat. Like last year, the Indians may not make a signing at the winter meetings and instead use this time as nothing more than an info gathering session to find potential fits for them in their budget.

- Heyman says a mystery team that has not been publicly mentioned is in talks with the Pirates for Andrew McCutchen. The Nationals and Rangers are the two most aggressive suitors at the moment, but perhaps that mystery team is the Indians? Even if they are, I am not sure there is a match unless the Pirates lower their demands considerably. They have been asking for the likes of Lucas Giolito from the Nationals, which obviously is something the Nationals are not interested in doing – and is a player the Indians do not have anything close to in their system. 

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