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Meeting Minutes: Cleveland Indians top focus continues to be first base

Day two of the winter meetings is almost in the books, and the IBI's Tony Lastoria recaps all the news and rumors surrounding the Indians...

Day two of the 2016 Winter Meetings are nearing a close and outside of the big deal that saw Chris Sale get traded to the Red Sox, things were very quiet today as far as trades and free agent signings go. This may be the calm before the storm that could be a very busy final third full day at the meetings on Wednesday before teams leave Thursday morning.

The news on the Indians front was also very scarce as there was little talk about them or any big updates on the Edwin Encarnacion situation. Here is a quick rundown on some of the small bits of news that came out of Washington DC on Tuesday…

No update on Encarnacion

After news from Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com surfaced late Monday night that the Indians were in “serious” discussions with first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, it set off a frenzy among Indians fans and reporters all over the country as they tried to figure out how the Indians could make a deal work and land the prized power hitting slugger.

With a market that has shrunk in recent days, the Indians are clearly looking to capitalize and get a player for much less than he would have cost if the demand were higher – similar to Nick Swisher three years ago but on a much bigger scale due to him impact ability. Also, with draft pick compensation attached to him, the prospects of him becoming a full-time DH in a few years and his cost, there are few teams that are a fit for him – so if the Indians are willing to spend the money and are willing to go the extra mile on the amount of years then they are definitely a potential landing spot for him.

Since the news broke on Monday, several national reporters calmed things down on Tuesday with Buster Olney of ESPN and Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com both saying no deal is imminent and that Encarnacion’s camp is not in “fire sale mode” looking to take an offer right now. At some point there will probably be a heavy suitor that comes out of the woodwork, which is what they are hoping for to intensify talks with the Indians and increase his market. Who that mystery team or teams end up being is tough to predict right now, but I think someone like the Rockies might be a fit or even the Mariners who have an opening at first base with Adam Lind hitting free agency. The Orioles might even be an option if they wish to replace Pedro Alvarez and lose out on Mark Trumbo.

Right now, though, the Indians still look like the best fit for Encarnacion. The question is whether the Indians can get creative enough with a contract that works for him and if he can get to a price that is more comfortable for the Indians. One thing of note, Dan O’Dowd of MLB Network was on the network today and said that Encarnacion is a perfect fit for the Indians and “takes them to the next level” and said he believes he will end up in Cleveland. That’s his opinion, but obviously an insightful one as a former GM with obvious ties in the industry who he speaks to on a regular basis. We shall see.

Indians, Napoli talk

According to Jordan Bastian of Indians.com, the Indians and representatives for Mike Napoli met on Monday to discuss the free agent slugger. Napoli reportedly still wants a three year deal while the Indians are adamant on it being limited to only a one year deal. There is even the belief that if the Indians were to offer a two year deal that he would already be re-signed.

My take on this is the Indians may eventually go to two years with Napoli, but for now they are limiting it to a one year deal in order to 1.) show they have interest in retaining him but 2.) be able to check in on the market at other options before considering going that second year. A two year deal for a reasonable per year amount would make sense, but judging by what the Indians are doing in the free agent first base market they are not ready to aggressively do that with him until they “exhaust” all options. Napoli could be on a pecking order behind the likes of Edwin Encarnacion where if a deal for him falls through, then the Indians may intensify their efforts to resign Napoli and potentially go that second year to get a deal done.

Moreland was on the radar

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Indians were in the mix for free agent first baseman Mitch Moreland. The Red Sox were also very interested in him and they ended up signing him this evening for one year, $5 million.

Moreland was interesting in that he would maybe provide some better defense at first base, but would have been a significant step back offensively for the Indians. He’s been a below 1.0 WAR player every year of his career except for 2015 when he had a career year offensively (.278 AVG, 23 HR, 85 RBI, .812 OPS), but for his career he is just a .254 hitter with a .753 OPS and his defense may be over-rated considering it has a negative value per Fangraphs in every year in the big leagues.

I would have been very underwhelmed had the Indians signed Moreland as a replacement for Napoli, and to me, he was simply a fallback option in the event they couldn’t resign Napoli or strike gold on Encarnacion. I would expect now that Moreland is off the board that the Indians will be attached to a few new first base options as fallback plans – someone like Adam Lind or even Chris Carter.

Ross could fit Indians

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Indians may be a team on right-hander Tyson Ross’ radar. The Padres made a surprising move last week when they non-tendered Ross and made him a free agent. The move was a business decision as he would have commanded closed to $10 million in arbitration even though he is expected to miss a large portion of the 2017 season as he recovers from thoracic outlet surgery performed this past October.

Ross missed almost all of the 2016 season because of persistent shoulder issues and ended up having the surgery after the season. The timetable for a return from the surgery is generally four to six months, so while it is possible he could be ready for the start of the 2017 season, he likely will have to open the season on the disabled list and be given time to show he is 100% recovered and pitch in some rehab games in the minors before going back to the big leagues.

Ross makes a lot of sense for a team looking for a low risk and low cost depth starting option with Major League experience and has the upside to be more. One of the Indians biggest needs this offseason is to acquire more depth for the rotation, so a pitcher like Ross makes sense as they have the medical staff and history of rehabilitation that he covets and he may have the minimal risk contract the Indians would be interested in for such a depth starter. Clubs will prefer a minor league deal to really minimize the risk, but considering he could be back in May or June, chances are he gets a one year guaranteed deal for a few million. A return to the Padres appears most likely, but don’t rule out a team like the Indians.

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