NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The case of free-agent first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is getting curiouser and curiouser.
His suitors keep disappearing.
*The Astros reached agreement with Carlos Beltran to be an outfielder/DH and currently plan to play Yuli Gurriel at first base.
*The Yankees reached agreement with Matt Holliday to be their DH and expect to go with younger players at first.
*The Red Sox did not beat the Astros’ offer for Beltran and seemingly want a less expensive replacement for David Ortiz.
*The Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales to be their DH and just addressed their need at first, agreeing to a two-year, $12.5 million deal with Steve Pearce, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
Where does that leave Encarnacion?
Talk already is circulating at the winter meetings that Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, overplayed his hand after rejecting the Blue Jays’ initial four-year, $80 million offer.
Kinzer, though, represents a player who over the last five seasons is second to homers in Chris Davis, second in RBIs to Miguel Cabrera and sixth in the majors overall in OPS — albeit one who turns 34 on Jan. 7.
Encarnacion played 160 games last season and last was on the disabled list in 2014. He is not a clubhouse problem; quite the contrary. His teammates respect him greatly.
So, what gives?
Part of it is that the market is flooded with hitters. Part of it also is that the Jays made Encarnacion a qualifying offer, attaching him to a first-round pick for all but the top 10 teams of the draft — and under the new collective-bargaining agreement, teams cannot lose first rounders after this off-season.
New teams could jump in as Encarnacion’s market dwindles, or previous suitors could re-emerge. The Astros, for example, still could sign Encarnacion to play first, use Beltran strictly as a DH and move Gurriel to left. The Rockies could divert their attention from Mark Trumbo and push for Encarnacion, a better hitter. The Rangers could grow more interested.
Will Encarnacion land the four- or five-year contract he is seeking? At this point, it seems doubtful. A shorter term at a high average annual value might be more realistic — and securing even that type of contract won’t be easy.