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IBI Inbox: When will the Indians start making moves?

The Indians have been hot and heavy for a big bat at first base this offseason, but have yet to sign anyone. The IBI's Tony Lastoria provides some insight and Dave Roberts provides his thoughts for a double take on what is taking so long and answer many other questions in today's IBI Inbox...

Here is part two of this weekend’s IBI Inbox. Today we answer some more questions pertaining to the big league team. To view our answers to questions submitted in part one, check out our IBI Inbox piece which posted on Sunday.

If you have a question on anything involving the Cleveland Indians from the minors to the big leagues that you would like answered in a future inbox, feel free to contact us. We also pull questions from Twitter, so you can post your questions there as well by tweeting at @TonyIBI or @history_dreamer.

Tomorrow we will post part three (yes three parts!) with a focus on the minors.

To the IBI Inbox we go.....

Zack Wild (?@real_deal_2): When do you think the Indians will start making moves? Do the Indians have a better chance at Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo?

Tony’s insight: The signing process for a lot of free agents has been slower than normal this offseason. There are many reasons for that, though the CBA negotiations delayed a lot of the dealings between teams and players and an over-saturated hitter’s market has a lot of teams patiently waiting the market out to see if they can get a very good productive bat on the cheap. While I agree that it can be frustrating to sit and wait for the team to make a move, I believe they are playing their cards right here and they appear to be in a good spot to end up with a good player once the market starts to move.

Right now, the Indians are really focused on adding a big bat in a first base-DH role. Whether that is a return of Mike Napoli on a one year deal, or the signing of someone like Mark Trumbo or Edwin Encarnacion on a multi-year deal remains to be seen – but the Indians look to have a good shot to sign one of them. Trumbo will probably be the toughest one to sign as he has a much bigger market because of his ability to play in the outfield and first base, which brings a lot of teams into the mix in both leagues. He should get a deal close to market value which should push the Indians out of the mix. Things are different with Napoli as he is seen as an American League only player where he will need to DH to keep him healthy and productive, and while Encarnacion can surely handle first base everyday he is viewed as someone who in two or three years is a DH-only guy which is why his market is limited in the National League.

I wrote about it many times over the past week, but Encarnacion is someone I think they have a good shot to land. The saturation of first base-DH types in the free agent market really worked to the Indians advantage and with him being tied to draft pick compensation it really cuts many potential suitors out of the mix. Right now, outside of the Rangers, there is no better fit for him than in Cleveland. I believe there is a 50-50 chance he can be signed and it will just come down to whether the Rangers or a mystery team finally jumps into the fray and aggressively pursues him. If he continues to get lukewarm interest from other teams and the Rangers stay away, I think he ends up with the Indians. My biggest fear though is he ends up signing a pillow contract with someone willing to overspend on him with an inflated short-term contract that allows him to opt out after one year deal. In such a scenario, he would be a fit for a few other teams in addition to the Indians.

Dave’s take: The Indians have never been a team to rush into anything and I think their hope this offseason is that waiting towards the end of the offseason fray will help a big free agent fall into their laps at a discount. That seems to be working as big boppers Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo are both still standing as free agents with a majority of the big market teams expressing their disinterest in spending more.

The market might be slightly smaller for Trumbo, 30, as while he is younger than Encarnacion, 33, his track record for his marvelous offensive numbers from 2016 is not as long. Secondly, Encarnacion seems to possess the better bat overall. For comparison, here are their 2016 numbers:

Encarnacion: .263/.357/.529, 42 HR, 127 RBI, 87 BB, 138 K
Trumbo: .256/.316/.533, 47 HR, 108 RBI, 51 BB, 170 K

The market will certainly favor Encarnacion considering his numbers in comparison though I imagine they will command similar deals, especially considering their limited defensive ability. Considering this, I’d much rather if the Indians did want to dip into the coffers for a big free agent splash it be Encarnacion over Trumbo.

Jeff ?(@JeffreyRLove): Fans are waiting patiently for the front office to finally make a splash and sign Edwin Encarnacion.  Is this just lip service or a possibility?

Tony’s insight: It’s certainly a possibility and not just something that is being drummed up in a fictional matter just to make it appear they are doing something. To add what I already said above, I get that coming off of a World Series that fans are hoping for a big splash to put them over the top to go back and win the World Series. The Indians were one run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 from a memorable walk off series win. They came that close even without their best hitter Michael Brantley and two of their three best starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. One can say that the big splash for them this offseason will simply be getting that three players back healthy next season. And really, their “splash” was probably at the trade deadline when they acquired Andrew Miller. That was not just a move for last season, but one for the next two years.

It appears the Indians will make some sort of splash this offseason at first base. Their preference is to sign Encarnacion and he would represent one of the biggest splashes they have ever made in free agency – maybe only second to the signing of Roberto Alomar. But even if they fall short and miss out on him, I believe Plan B is to bring back Napoli which won’t be as big a splash but a pretty good one still. I do want to caution the fans that this Encarnacion stuff is a unique situation and that it doesn’t mean they are now open for business in free agency in coming years. They will continue to be opportunistic in free agency and look for short-term deals and players that are good rebound candidates. That is how it will always be for them considering the situation with their market thanks to poor attendance and a bad local TV deal. The new minority investor will help, but that’s a short term influx of cash and probably won’t change much long term. The key for them will be to continue to develop their stars like Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and others from within, find undervalued near ready Major League players like Corey Kluber, Michael Clevinger and others in trades, and make astute one-year free agent signings on players that fit a need and who they believe are capable of more than what they did their previous season.

Dave’s take: The rumors have been plenty but Indians GM Chris Antonetti did mention the talks in a multi-year deal with Encarnacion. The Indians front office has always seemed tight lipped about transactions so the fact that Antonetti did comment on it tells me there’s a real chance. Whether a deal happens or not is entirely a different story, though I think the Indians could make it happen. Encarnacion apparently rejected a 4 year, $80 million contract from the Jays but that was before his market shrunk. While $20 million a year is a lot, the Indians do have the benefit of the postseason surplus that could ease the financial burden that could punch their ticket to another deep run into October.

Mike (@MikePUSNavy): My dream scenario...sign Encarnacion and trade for Billy Hamilton. What pieces do you think it would take to get Hamilton?

Tony’s insight: Hamilton is an interesting player because of the speed and defensive component he provides that would surely impact this team. He would impact a little more than speedster Rajai Davis did on the bases and would be a much better defensive option in center field, so he would be an upgrade in both of those regards over Davis. On the other hand, Hamilton is a poor hitter with some questionable plate discipline skills. He has almost no power (.086 career ISO), lacks much patience (6.5 career BB%, 18.7 career K%), has had poor success getting on base (.297 career on-base percentage) and has been a well below average offensive performer overall (72 career wRC+). From a baserunning and defensive standpoint, he would be exactly what the Indians need, but I would have great pause giving up anything much of value for a player who probably hits ninth in the lineup and may have to be limited some in a platoon. Even though he’s a lower tier player, his three years of control, low financial commitment and good defense and baserunning profile would probably require the Indians to part with two of their top 20 prospects – though none of their top five prospects and maybe not anyone in their top 10.

I don’t think the Reds are in a position to deal him (yet) as they still have three years of control on him, but he could be someone who if he finally turns things around offensively this season and begins to show some consistency who I could see being a second tier center field option teams look at around the trade deadline or even this time next offseason. So for now, I pass. I think a better fit is Jarrod Dyson because he has the same skillset as Hamilton and he is actually available, though obviously the Royals would have little interest in trading him to a division rival.

Dave’s take: I like your wish list Mike. While Encarnacion seems to have at least a decent possibility of happening, I’m not sure what the odds are for Billy Hamilton. While the Reds have certainly begun a rebuild, Hamilton, 26, isn’t a free agent until 2020 so there isn’t as much incentive to trade him. In that case, it would probably take a sparkling package to wow the Reds into making a deal. I imagine the deal would have to contain an Indians top prospect and then at least one major league ready player. I imagine the Reds would put an emphasis on pitching help to bring Hamilton to Cleveland.

Derrick Ebersole (?@DerrickEbersole): With the lack of market for Justin Turner is he a fit for the Indians?

Tony’s insight: All indications are that Turner will return to the Dodgers. It seems that both parties have a mutual interest to have him return, though the fact he hasn’t signed yet shows that his demands are too high for what the Dodgers are offering right now. While it is possible a team like the Indians could jump into the mix, I actually think Turner ends up with a contract in more total money and an extra year or two than what the Indians are looking to sign Edwin Encarnacion. Again, as I mentioned last week, the reason for the Encarnacion interest is the Indians may get him on a two or three year deal. There is no way I see them committing to him or any other free agent for four or more years – and rightfully so. I expect Turner to get a deal for four or more years, so I think there is almost no chance he signs with the Indians – and there has really been no connection of him with the Indians.

While it would make some sense to sign Turner, I rather like Jose Ramirez at third base as it gives him a place to play every day. The Indians single biggest need not just this year, but for the next few years, is at first base as they have nothing there for the next two or so seasons. Carlos Santana is a free agent after next season and probably won’t be retained, so the Indians need to try and take advantage of a repressed market to get someone like Encarnacion or a player similar to him to fill a position of need in the short term. Now, Turner can play first base, so he might be a fit there too, but aside from this past season, he doesn’t possess the scary power bat that the Indians need. Also, remember, he has a choice where to go and chances are he prefers to sign with a team that will play him at third base.

Dave’s take: While it has been interesting that Justin Turner, 32, hasn’t signed, I still think the Dodgers will resign the hard-swinging third basemen - especially if Kenley Jansen signs somewhere else. But the signing of Turner to play third would move Ramirez to a roving player which would give the Indians bench a huge boost. Turner has played some first in his career but he has primarily been a third baseman and as such I’ll assume his value is highest there. Just the same, the Indians more than likely only have money for one major free agent signing and I’d like to see it for a first baseman.

Gina Blackburn ?(@Figmentfan0724): Any news on re-signing Rajai Davis?

Tony’s insight: All is quiet on the Davis front, though this is not a surprise as he’s not a top free agent focus for teams right now. While teams have surely had dialogue with him – including the Indians – the bigger dominos need to fall in the free agent and trade market for things to start to heat up with the middle tier free agents. Most teams have a limited budget to work with, so they will go after their big signings now and then see what they have left for secondary deals later this offseason. The Indians are very focused on adding a power right-handed bat, so I would not expect they commit any guaranteed money to a free agent until that situation is resolved.

Davis could be someone they bring back later this offseason. Once they land that big bat they will be able to reassess their financial situation. Also, a big key in this will be the health of Michael Brantley and by early January they will have some good reports on how things are going in his hitting program that starts up later this month. They will have a better feel for how things are going with him and also his chances of not only suiting up for them next season but just how effective he may be. All of that really won’t be known until he reports to spring training and gets into the daily grind of baseball and is playing games, but they should get enough information to know whether they need to sign a veteran outfielder on a one year deal as insurance. They did it last year with Davis and might do it again. I would prefer the Indians go out and sign or acquire an outfielder who is a defensive upgrade in center field, but I would have no problem bringing Davis back on a one year deal for $3-5 million because of the impact he can have on the bases, his decent bat and some comfort he brings with knowing what he brings and how he fits in the clubhouse and accepts his role as a platoon outfielder on the team.

Dave’s take: I haven’t heard any news about Rajai Davis so far this offseason. Of course, he is more than likely waiting his turn as higher market value outfielders like Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond sign big contracts before he seeks out his ideal contract and fit. While Davis will go down in Indians lore for his late inning heroics to tie the game against the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series and he led the league in steals for the first time in his career, I have to wonder when his most valuable trait, his legs, finally give out on him. At 36 years old, he certainly keeps himself in peak shape, so I’m sure he’ll still have value in 2017 and I’d be interested in resigning him at the right price.

Parker Marshall (?@parkercmarshall): Would the Indians ever consider trading Trevor Bauer?

Tony’s insight: I provided some thoughts on this last week, but will reiterate that of all the Indians starters he would be the one they would be most comfortable with trading. He brings a lot of value in that the Indians still have four years of control of him, he doesn’t cost a lot financially and he may be on the verge of a breakout going into his third full season next year. So he has value to other teams just as much as he does to the Indians. I will say that the Indians may eventually grow weary of handling him as he’s an interesting personality. He’s a special case in that they have to constantly monitor what he is doing and saying. They would prefer he take the foot off the gas a little on social media and he’s so smart that at times it can lead to distractions that impact his play on the field (i.e. building drones, etc). He’s hardly a head case and he works well with the coaching staff and organization, but he has quirkiness to him and is not one of their top three starters, so he’s hardly untouchable and could be had in the right deal.

Dave’s take: We covered this in last week’s inbox, but I think in this pitching starved market the Indians will most definitely listen. He is young at 25 and controllable for four more seasons with clearly talented stuff so teams are without a doubt calling about him. The Indians front office understands the value of pitching and for the right price I imagine they would trade the righty, but they also understand how important he is to the Indians starting rotation.

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