Edwin Encarnacion to the Indians

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Updated: December 23, 2016

One of the last big names in free agency has been acquired as the American League champion Cleveland Indians have signed Edwin Encarnacion to fill their hole at first base/designated hitter. This is a great Christmas gift to Indians fans who saw their team blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

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There is some question as to whether Encarnacion or Carlos Santana will see the bulk of the time at first base, but all that stuff will figure itself out. Both of them are roughly the same level of defensive skill there and both of them have bats that need to be in the lineup. This is a huge upgrade for the Indians.

Many people expected the Indians to hit the bargain bin again this season by possibly re-signing Mike Napoli or bringing in someone like Chris Carter. While this move did make a ton of sense for them, the financial risk involved with it is not something that we expect out of the Indians. Encarnacion is 33 years old and they have him for the next three years with an option for a fourth.

The history of slugging first baseman that perform that well during their age 34-38 seasons is not great, but there are some signs that Encarnacion could be an outlier. That said, $20MM per year for those seasons is a leap for them and we’ve seen this blow up on them before. In 2013, they made two big moves signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to add to their young core. Swisher put up one good season, but then fall off a cliff in 2014. Bourn was more of a questionable signing as his offense was never quite there, but once he signed with Cleveland he stopped being a great defensive player as well and Cleveland’s window was gone.

Still, for 2017 this is a huge move and the Indians should once again take the AL Central. Last season the Indians got 1.0 WAR (Fangraphs) out of Napoli at first while Encarnacion was worth 3.9 WAR to the Blue Jays. When you combine that with the returns of Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes, and the continued success of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez; this could be one of the best offenses in the American League. With better health from the rotation (the Indians lost Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar for their entire playoff run), we could be looking at back-to-back American League champions.

Fangraphs projected standings currently have them at 91 wins which would be the second best team in the American League behind Boston. They are a bit bearish on Encarnacion, only projecting him for 2.4 WAR which would be his lowest in five seasons (by a lot), so anything he does that is closer to his past five seasons should push this team to another level. It’s easy to see a path in which this moves makes the Indians the best team in all of baseball. They’ll have the rotation back at full strength along with a full season of Andrew Miller and a much improved offense with Brantley and Encarnacion in the fold.

The World Series odds at Bovada currently have them at +800 which is just behind the Cubs and Red Sox. That seems just about right, but there is definitely room for a jump there.

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