Significant Hurdles Remain in Cleveland Indians’ Pursuit of Edwin Encarnacion

Jays play Cleveland in game 4 of the ALCS in Toronto
Carlos Osorio-Getty Images

Let’s be honest – when you heard the Cleveland Indians had “checked in” on free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion yesterday, you had your doubts about anything actually materializing. If you follow the Tribe, you almost surely felt like it was a pipe dream.

This would be completely understandable, especially given the typical offseason behavior of Cleveland’s front office. Breaking the bank for a player who tied for the most RBIs in the AL last season? Yeah, the Indians don’t really do that. Normally the Tribe goes bargain shopping for affordable vets to plug in to a roster already well-filled with core players.

This isn’t to knock the team’s usual winter M.O., it’s merely to explain why I struggled to get too optimistic when the Encarnacion rumors started up.

However, things took a turn when team beat writer Paul Hoynes claimed the talks between Cleveland and the former Toronto Blue Jay are indeed serious. Per Hoynes, a multi-year deal is being discussed, which certainly indicates the Indians didn’t merely send a text to Encarnacion’s agent that just said “Cleveland?”

There hasn’t been much in terms of developments since, with the player’s agent claiming there’s no hurry to get a deal done. That said, despite there being more momentum here than initially expected, there are still more than a few things to get around before picturing Encarnacion in a Tribe uniform.

The reasons for going after him are plainly obvious.The Indians were one run away from winning a World Series, and have a hole to fill at first base. Their window to contend is wide open, and they’ve also always been on the lookout for a middle of the lineup power bat.

To say Encarnacion would fill this void is an understatement. Coming off a year in which he set a career high with 127 RBIs, while also averaging around 38 home runs a season over the past five years, he’d be the kind of addition which could make an already solid lineup one of the league’s best. This, plus the anticipated return of outfielder Michael Brantley would turn Cleveland into an offensive powerhouse.

With all of this said, it’s important to note the hurdles which stand in the way of this acquisition actually taking place, because they’re quite significant.

The most obvious is money. Encarnacion was reportedly seeking somewhere around a four-year, $92 million deal at the start of free agency. The amount of potential suitors appears to be dwindling, which certainly helps Cleveland’s cause in terms of negotiating. Still, that’s the kind of contract the Indians would balk at.

Financially, the dollar amount exceeds what you’d expect a team from this market-size. While the World Series run has certainly helped the front office’s checkbooks, was it enough to meet or even come close enough to Encarnacion’s demands?

The length of the contract would also potentially hamstring the Indians when it comes to re-signing their own. Carlos Santana will be a free agent at the end of next season, while Brantley will have an option for $11 million should the team pick it up next winter. If Cleveland gives Encarnacion more than two years on a contract, it could make bringing these core members back tricky.

Lastly, signing Encarnacion means parting with next June’s first-round draft pick. Though it wouldn’t be an incredibly high selection – 27th overall – it’s still a significant price to pay, and one management will take seriously.

But, hey, I didn’t think these rumors would go any farther than “checking in on.” Who’s to say a deal can’t get done? The shrinking market for Encarnacion definitely helps Cleveland, and could grease the wheels on his agent lowering the demands.

As it stands, this will definitely have to happen if the Indians plan on acquiring him. It’s incredibly difficult to believe they’re willing to meet Encarnacion’s initial requests, and if he can’t be talked down by much, this incredible signing may not end up materializing.


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