Cleveland would come within one game of winning the 2016 World Series. They would do so despite not having Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco starting their postseason games. Against the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs, that’s no small feat. Oh, and remember Michael Brantley? The outfielder would put up MVP-like numbers in 2014, and follow-up with a very similar 2015. Yeah, well, he saw the field just 11 times in 2016.
But sports are a results business, and in the end one win away is one win away. So what would Cleveland do? Wait. Be patient. Sure they would talk about bringing Mike Napoli back, but other names were out there and the market was hardly moving. A market that still included Edwin EncarnaciA?n.
For several weeks, Cleveland appeared to be succumbing to penny-pinching. It was quite odd for a club who had just made the World Series. Perhaps there was a plan in place, such as re-signing Napoli or looking into Mark Trumbo. If they were truly pinching pennies, they could have given Chris Carter a call. (Remember when Brewers fans were scared he would receive ~$10 million?) Eventually though, EncarnaciA?n was just too good a player to pass up.
And here we are.
Earlier in the offseason, EncarnaciA?n would turn down a four-year deal worth $80 million from Toronto. Ultimately, he would end up settling for three years at $60 milliona��reportedly. He would even turn down a bigger offer (again, reportedly) from the Oakland Athletics before signing on with the AL champs. All things considered, it’s not difficult to see why. Oakland is a train wreck comparatively. So, what does EncarnaciA?n bring to Cleveland?
We talked about the former Toronto DH/1B quite recently in this space. To reiterate, he has been worth 4.1 fWAR per season since 2012. And over those five seasons, his numbers would reflect a triple-slash of .272/.367/.544 (.912 OPS) to go along with an average wRC+ of 146. EncarnaciA?n would strike out a little more often this past season (19.7 percenta��up from 15.7 percent in 2015) but his power would remain. Plenty of it.
EncarnaciA?n turns 34 in January, so yes, of course there’s risk involved here. Isn’t there always? But we’re not talking about a seven- or eight-year deal here. We’re not even talking about a five-year deal. Instead, just three. Perhaps the last three years EncarnaciA?n will end up being all that valuable. And really, it’s a deal Cleveland had to make.
Again, they would be without Brantley for most of ’16. Of course, that means he didn’t participate in the postseason either. They would make due, but their offense throughout the ALCS and World Series was lacking. Factoring in the absence of Carrasco (again) along with Salazar only pitching sporadically out of the pen, their most recent journey really is all the more impressive.
Now not everything lines up the same way each year, but imagine a full-strength Cleveland club next season. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar atop their rotation. Brantley re-joining an offense that would rank fifth in the league in runs scored (second in the AL). An offense that, while ranking 18th in home runs across the league, would still slug the second-most among AL sides.
On paper, Cleveland’s only weaknesses in the lineup were in left and at catcher. Offensively, anyway. Don’t expect much production at the plate out of their catchers going forward, but Brantley is going to be back in left. Brantley and his .319/.384/.494/.876 along with a 142 wRC+ over the past two seasons.
Now you’re adding EncarnaciA?n to this offense? Mike Napoli was fun and all, but there’s no comparison between the two. EncarnaciA?n’s bat is more consistent, more productive, and can change the complexion of a ballgame in an instant.
The market slowly progressed and teams kept waiting. Meanwhile, asking prices would keep falling. The Boston Red Sox had made their big moves. The New York Yankees had already signed their DH. The Baltimore Orioles were (and still are) considering bringing back Mark Trumbo. The Blue Jays thought paying Kendrys Morales less money to make their team worse was the right call.
So in waltzed Cleveland, the club that should more or less run away with the AL Central. Championships are not won in the offseason, but this is a move Cleveland had to make. And apparently, all they needed to do was wait a little while until it fell into place.