Edwin Encarnacion's decision to turn down four years and $80 million from the Blue Jays early this offseason is looking like the most massive mistake of this Hot Stove season.
In a market in which Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon easily surpassed $60 million worth of contractual guarantees, Encarnacion has struggled to do the same. When you get right down to it, a DH bat and a reliable closer are both specialists of a certain sort, and in this market one area of specialization was less-readily and, hence, more expensively obtained, while another remains in overabundant supply, less than a week before Christmas.
While there's no denying Encarnacion -- coming off a 42-homer, 127-RBI season -- is an elite bat, he's got a few factors working against him:
- His age (he turns 34 on Jan. 7).
- The Draft pick he's attached to (just one year before signing such players becomes less punitive).
- The glut of first-base/DH types available.
- His lack of defensive value (he's started and completed just 81 games at first base over the last two seasons combined).
Too many teams -- the Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros and Red Sox -- have fulfilled their 1B/DH need elsewhere for EE to sniff that four and $80 mill now, and, though unconfirmed, there have been rumblings that even three and $60 million is in doubt.
But that's part of what makes this particular player's market as fun as "The Edwing" (that homer trot where Encarnacion walks his imaginary parrot) itself.
So here's a handy rundown of every team that could conceivably be in on Edwin at this point and their chances of landing him, on a scale of one to five parrots (more birds, more buzz).
Rangers. Jon Daniels is telling everybody Texas is pretty much tapped. Its payroll will be north of $170 million in '17, a club record. Furthermore, the need to get Shin-Soo Choo more DH days is glaring, and the Rangers value the 27th Draft pick after depleting their system in trades.
That said, we have seen Rangers ownership come through when opportunity presents itself in the past, and this team did lose a lot of offense (Carlos Beltran, Mitch Moreland and Ian Desmond) to free agency. Daniels has his reasons for calling the addition of another big bat in free agency "unlikely," but, then again, how likely was it that in the third week of December, Encarnacion would be this desperate for a new home?
Blue Jays. Toronto signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce and is simply more focused on outfield help, which could perhaps lead to a Jose Bautista reunion.
A's. Rumblings that they might get in on Encarnacion are either a total break from character or somebody's attempt to drive up his market elsewhere. But hey, they do have that protected pick (No. 6), so I guess it's not totally crazy.
Rockies. Signing Desmond for five years and $70 million to make the move to first base seems like a waste, but signing Encarnacion as a full-time first baseman, given his recent games played history, moving Desmond to the outfield and dealing Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez in a trade market flooded with outfielders is kinda complicated. I'm not sure how much sense any of this makes for a franchise with a new-record payroll that ought to maybe consider throwing some cash at Nolan Arenado sometime soon (he's eligible for free agency in three years). But, after the Desmond deal, Encarnacion to Colorado makes so little sense that it starts to make sense. (Does that make sense?)
Orioles. The O's have been more focused on Mark Trumbo, who of course wouldn't cost them a pick. They had a four-year offer on the table to Trumbo at one point, but that was reportedly more in the $50-55 million range. Edwin is older, even less likely to help in the outfield and presumably costlier.
Cardinals. The Cards have cash, and they've already surrendered a first-rounder to sign Dexter Fowler. But bringing in Encarnacion as the full-time first baseman, moving Matt Carpenter back to third and making Jedd Gyorko the utility guy would be a really weird way to improve a defense that so clearly needed improving (and would leave Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams with a lot of time to sit on the bench looking at each other).
Mariners. I've had several people tell me to, in so many words, "watch out" for the M's in the Encarnacion market, especially given EE's close relationship with Robinson Cano. But they've got Nelson Cruz at DH, traded for Danny Valencia to pair with Dan Vogelbach at first and have generally tried to get more flexible under Jerry Dipoto. So it's hard to buy this one, but I liked the conspiratorial whispers in the Winter Meetings lobby enough to bump this up about half a parrot or so.
Marlins. They're going to stick with Justin Bour, who has shown good power when healthy, but what fun is this discussion without some wacky speculation? The Marlins have made about an $80 million push for Jansen that came up empty, and they pivoted toward investing a total of $28 million over two years to Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa. Put those "savings" toward a backloaded Edwin offer, and you've got one of the NL's more dynamic offenses.
Indians. The "Encarnacion is a perfect fit!" notion is great until you remember AL teams are only allowed to start one DH at a time. Carlos Santana is under contract for one more year, and neither player is a defensive asset at first, where Mike Napoli was solid last year. That's before we even get to the value the Indians place on the 25th pick (for the sake of reference, in '14, the Tribe used No. 31 on Justus Sheffield, who became a key part of the Andrew Miller trade) and, most important of all, the attendance/revenue issues that keep this club's payroll in check, AL title or not.
There are also some bad memories here from the last time the Indians had a player "fall into their hands." Michael Bourn was a total bust. (12/22 UPDATE: A report by MLB Network's Jon Heyman says the Indians have been "pulling out all the stops" in their pursuit.)
But simply because of these market conditions, I'm going to put the Indians' odds higher than they reasonably ought to be. There's no doubt he'd give them a fearsome middle of the order.
The "Mystery Team." The Rays have a protected pick, but, well, you know. The Twins, Reds, Padres, Braves, D-backs, Phillies, Brewers and Angels also all have protected picks, but make no sense for one reason or another. The Cubs could sign Encarnacion just in case Anthony Rizzo ever needs a day off, because that's just how deep the Cubs are. But we'll go out on a limb and say that's not happening. The Royals need a DH but don't have room in their budget for him. The Astros could still make it work if they trade Evan Gattis, but, overall, the mystery market looks pretty weak.