Winter Report Card: Indians ace off-season with Edwin Encarnacion signing
Before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season, acknowledging that there’s still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2016. Next up: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
94–67 (.584), first place in the AL Central
LF Coco Crisp*, CF Rajai Davis, RHP Jeff Manship, 1B Mike Napoli
DH Edwin Encarnacion, LHP Boone Logan
Off-season In Review
Despite Cleveland's World Series loss to the Cubs, the feeling around baseball as soon as Game 7 ended was that the Indians were fairly well positioned for 2017. Cleveland president of baseball operations, Chris Antonetti, seems to have agreed. The team got the best deal of the off-season and otherwise stayed put. With DH Edwin Encarnacion on board for the bargain price of three years, $60 million with a $25 million fourth-year club option, the Indians are among the favorites in the American League to get back to the Fall Classic again this year.
Encarnacion was expected to cost much more than that—he reportedly dismissed a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays earlier in the off-season—but his market cratered as some teams that might have been good fits pursued lower-priced options instead. Cleveland had to forfeit the No. 25 pick in this year’s draft, and Encarnacion will be 34 years old this season, but make no mistake: This was a steal. Encarnacion is the only player in the majors with at least 30 home runs in each of the last five seasons, which is a good fit for the Indians, who had the second fewest home runs among the 10 clubs that reached the playoffs last year.
Cleveland’s window is now, as core contributors like catcher Yan Gomes, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Francisco Lindor, third baseman Jose Ramirez and starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are under club control through at least 2019. In adding Encarnacion to that group, Antonetti doubled down, pushing the team's payroll to a franchise record $117 million.
In addition to Encarnacion Cleveland added lefthanded reliever Boone Logan on a one-year, $6.5 million deal, shoring up a bullpen that kept the team afloat in the postseason last year but needed another trustworthy arm. Logan, who had a 3.69 ERA and 11.1 K/9 playing home games at Coors Field, will give manager Terry Francona another option alongside his three-headed monster of lefty Andrew Miller, righty Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen.
And, of course, the Indians made the most delightful signing of the off-season after, reportedly at Encarnacion’s request, they watched Wily Mo Pena work out in the Dominican Republic and inked him to a minor league deal. Pena, who hit 84 home runs—many of them absolute bombs—and didn’t do much else in eight big league seasons (the last in 2011), most recently spent four years playing in Japan.
This team is basically good to go. Another outfielder wouldn’t hurt; Michael Brantley in leftfield, Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right, with Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte coming off the bench comprise a more than adequate group if all remain healthy, but Brantley was limited to 11 games last year in his return from shoulder surgery. Top prospect Bradley Zimmer is due up either this season or next, so the club may prefer to let him fill in as needed.
Preliminary Grade: A+
The Indians made it to extra innings of the seventh game of the World Series missing their starting leftfielder and two thirds of their rotation, then added the best bat on the market. A return to the postseason, at minimum, seems like a very real possibility.