The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH
Bats: Right -- Throws: Right -- Entering his age-34 season
Contract: In the first year of a 3-year, $60 million deal with a $25 million team option for 2020 ($13 million, plus $5 million in bonuses in 2017)
2016 In Review: Encarnacion had a career year in his final season with Toronto as he set a career high (and led the league) in RBI's with 127 driven in along with new personal bests in hits (158), runs scored (99) and walks (87). The veteran slugger also matched a career high in home runs with 42. As far as advanced statistics go, Encarnacion posted a 3.9 WAR and 139 wRC+. Power is his primary tool, as evidenced in his walk-off home run against the Orioles in the Wild Card Game, and he was one of the best in baseball from a pure slugging standpoint with a .266 ISO, which was among the top 10 in the majors for 2016 and better than current and former MVP's Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson and Miguel Cabrera.
Versus Right-handers: Probably the best part about Encarnacion's game is that while he is right-handed, his career splits are actually pretty even with a .265 batting mark against right-handed pitching and a .268 average against southpaws. Most of his 310 home runs have come against right-handers, but his career slugging percentage against righties is .496 versus a .505 mark against lefties. Last season, the Dominican native hit better against right-handers (.268 versus .242), but his OPS was higher against lefties (.902 versus .881).
Versus Left-handers: For years, Tribe fans have clamored for a right-handed power bat that can be a true difference-maker in the middle of the lineup. The Tribe has tried and had marginal success with Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss, but neither proved to be the long-term answer. Mike Napoli proved to be the most impactful of the group last season, but his flaws were still an issue, particularly in the playoffs. Encarnacion brings that right-handed power and a career .880 OPS against lefties, but as mentioned above he is more of a professional hitter with even splits against both right and left-handed pitching and should finally give the Indians a legitimate threat in the middle of the lineup all season and postseason long.
On Defense: Encarnacion will most likely serve as the designated hitter for the majority of games in the upcoming season with Carlos Santana playing first base primarily. However, he can play first base if needed and provide average defense. Over the last couple seasons in 134 combined games at first, the 33-year-old has had zero DRS and a positive UZR of 1.7. That's not great, but he won't hurt you on defense. In his career, though, Encarnacion has -13 DRS and a -13.1 UZR at first base.
Fantasy Impact: Edwin Encarnacion is clearly one of the game's best sluggers and coming to Cleveland, he will be inserted into a lineup where he'll have the likes of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez hitting around him, so he should get plenty of protection, especially if Brantley is healthy and productive. Steamer is currently projecting the veteran slugger to hit 32 homers and drive in 97 while posting a 2.2 WAR and 123 wRC+, which is significantly less than his 2016 numbers, but projections are often conservative. At age 34, however, regression is always something worth keeping in mind, but as someone who primarily is a DH, hopefully his decline won't be too drastic whenever it starts.
Summary: The Indians have done themselves a huge service by adding Encarnacion as this was a team that previously was built mostly on pitching. Even then, they were still second in the American League in runs scored with 777, and that was without arguably their best hitter in Michael Brantley. Now you add a game-changer in Encarnacion, who should effectively replace Mike Napoli's production and then some, and hopefully a healthy Brantley and the new heights that this offense can reach is hard to fathom. The Indians are now set to enter 2017 with arguably their most complete roster (on paper) and should no-doubt be considered favorites to not only repeat as division champs, but potentially as league champions.