Which team is going to blow it with Edwin Encarnacion?
Some team is going to make a mistake on free-agent first baseman Edwin Encarnacion — and not the team that signs him.
No, the team that blows it on EE will be the one that gets too cute, drives too hard a bargain and comes up empty-handed.
In fact, it won’t be just one team that lands in that predicament. No, it will be multiple teams fretting over their lost opportunity, saying, “Oh man, we could have had him.”
In other words … oops.
Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, told Rogers SportsNet and FanRag Sports on Wednesday that he has fielded three- and four-year offers from at least five teams.
Kinzer did not detail the quality of those offers, mind you. But his message, at least, was clear: Encarnacion is going to be fine.
Agent talk? Perhaps. But the truth eventually will emerge, and no matter what Encarnacion gets, the losing bidders will be left to make excuses, insisting that the “value” they will get on Mark Trumbo or Mike Napoli or Chris Carter will be far better than the “value” that Team X gets from signing Encarnacion.
Yes, EE will play next season at 34. Yes, he is only a part-time first baseman who eventually will be a full-time DH. And yes, he said no to a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays at the start of free agency.
Thing is, though, Encarnacion is far more potent offensively than any of the other right-handed hitting free-agent first basemen — he was second in the majors in homers the past five seasons, second in RBIs, sixth in OPS.
Consider Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement for 2016 (during which Trumbo mostly played right field)
Granted, teams pay for projected and not past wins, and that might help explain Encarnacion’s seeming difficulty in the market. Some of the projection models see Encarnacion falling to the 2.2 to 2.4 WAR range in 2017. Then again, those same models have Trumbo, Napoli and Carter in the 1 WAR range.
Once more I’ll pose the question, though less delicately:
Which teams are going to blow it?
— The Blue Jays may already have blown it. Their four-year, $80 million offer to Encarnacion was essentially take-it-or-leave-it. EE left it, and the Jays immediately jumped on Kendrys Morales, whom they signed to a three-year, $33 million contract. They later added Steve Pearce on a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
The next step for the Jays is to either re-sign right fielder Jose Bautista or replace him. Either way, the potency of their offense will remain an open question. While it’s true that the Jays dropped from 891 runs scored in 2015 to 759 last season with EE and Bautista, the latter total still ranked fifth in the American League.
— The Rangers keep signaling: “We don’t have any money. We don’t have any money. We don’t have any money.” OK, fine. This is right-hander Yu Darvish’s last season before free agency. What are the Rangers going to do, punt?
Napoli figures to be Plan B — he played for the Rangers in 2011-12 and again in ’15. But if you’re Rangers GM Jon Daniels, aren’t you at least a smidge concerned that the Astros could swoop in on Encarnacion and move Yuli Gurriel to left field?
Of course you are.
— The prevailing wisdom on the Astros is that they need a starting pitcher more than a left fielder. But Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron challenged that notion in a recent column, saying the Astros’ top three of Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh should be more than good enough.
Others surely hold a different view, but Cameron is one of the game’s leading analysts, and the Astros are perhaps the club most devoted to analytics. If they’re thinking like Cameron is thinking and willing to spend once more, imagine this potential lineup:
George Springer, R
Jose Altuve, R
Carlos Correa, R
Brian McCann, L
Alex Bregman, R
Josh Reddick, L
Maybe you spread out the right-handed hitters better around Beltran, McCann and Reddick, but let’s not nitpick. That lineup would be ridiculous.
— Then there are the Indians, a mom-and-pop operation compared to the three higher-revenue teams listed above.
Hardly anyone will accuse the Indians of blowing it if they fail to land Encarnacion; the expectation is that they cannot afford him. Then again, if Encarnacion goes for say, three years, $60 million with a one-year opt-out, it will be fair to ask, “The Indians couldn’t have done that?”
This is a golden age for the sport financially. The Indians generated millions in extra revenue by advancing to Game 7 of the World Series. That’s not to say they should do something stupid. But if EE’s price indeed drops, he will at some point be within a reasonable range.
— And now for the rest of the field, in which every team can offer an explanation for avoiding Encarnacion.
NL clubs likely view him as a DH. The Red Sox want to stay under the luxury-tax threshold. The Yankees want to evaluate Greg Bird. The Orioles want a less expensive first baseman, etc.
All acceptable explanations. But certain teams will watch Encarnacion do Encarnacion things next season, perhaps even make the difference in a postseason run, and remember what might have been.
Oh man, they’ll say. We could have had him.