Encarnacion Signs With Cleveland – What It Means For the Texas Rangers
As reported by many media outlets last night, Edwin Encarnacion has agreed to a deal with the Cleveland Indians, reported to be three years at $60M with a $5 Mil buyout.
At this point, we do not know the details of the Rangers offer to Encarnacion’s camp. Before you react by saying the Rangers owners didn’t pony-up the necessary dollars to land Encarnacion, you have to give the thought that all things being equal, Encarnacion may have just preferred to play in Cleveland. The Indians are coming off of a World Series berth and have an easier division path to the postseason in 2017 than do the Rangers. It’s also arguable that the Indians also have a clearer hole at 1B/DH than do the Rangers, especially after the 2017 season. Understanding that there are more factors involved than the contract offered is important, especially with how Encarnacion’s market has evolved this off-season. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if Jon Daniels and Co. were never seriously involved in Encarnacion discussions yet, with their attention focused elsewhere – thinking that they would get involved if February rolled around and EE was still un-signed.
When the Rangers’ season ended, my personal hope for the Rangers’ off-season plan (not including depth moves) contained a three-step process:
- Re-sign Carlos Gomez
- Sign Edwin Encarnacion
- Trade for a #3-#4 type starter
While my plan (and fellow writer Jeff Cooperstein’s wish) is obvious de-railed with Encarnacion signing with the Indians, I do not think Rangers fans should be panicked. The question for the Rangers now becomes, what can the Rangers do with the supposed $65 Mil that would have left for signing Encarnacion? This coming 2017 season will be an important one for the Rangers with several big names hitting free agency after the season (Yu Darvish, Jonathan Lucroy).
The most obvious reaction to Encarnacion signing elsewhere is, “who plays the 1B/DH role in 2017?” There are the internal options of Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar, and eventually Joey Gallo. I believe that the front office is prepared to go into the season with this mix, but may want to add an extra power bat to the mix, one that can play in the middle of the lineup. The logical choice would be a second reunion with Mike Napoli, who just turned 35 years old. Napoli, who is obviously comfortable with Texas and is a fan favorite, posted a .239/.335/.465 slash line with the Indians in 2016. He hit 34 homers and drove in 101 runs, but his K-rate rose from previous years and his defense at 1B was worse than ever. Complicating things worse, Napoli chose Cleveland over the Rangers last year partly over concerns about regular playing time. Although he does not have many other suitors, this is essentially the same predicament with bringing back Napoli to Texas as the last off-season. According to Spotrac.com, Napoli’s current market value is roughly $11.5 Mil per season. Bringing Napoli back to Texas on a one or two year deal would be my top choice if JD goes the free agency route, with other players such as Chris Carter (.222/.321/.499 w/ 41 HR) or Adam Lind (.239/.286/.431 w/ 20 HR in a part-time role) as backup options should Napoli choose to play elsewhere with more guaranteed playing time. These secondary options would likely cost less than $10 Mil over a one-year deal, and would be platoon options for the Rangers with the Rua/Profar/Gallo crowd, should they be on the roster come Opening Day. Another secondary option for this role could be Pedro Alvarez (.249/.322/.504 w/ 22 HR) in lefty a platoon role with the internal options named above. I would not be interested in Mark Trumbo for his current price ($15 Mil AAV over four years plus the loss of a draft pick). Another plus to a Napoli signing is, unlike Encarnacion, he would not cost the Rangers a first-round pick to sign. These are of course less appealing options than landing the big fish of the off-season, but remember that this is a game of how to best allocate resources for now and for the future, and perhaps the front office has other plans.
Ultimately, the chief reason I believe Jon Daniels was not aggressive in his pursuit of Encarnacion is the real possibility of the need to DH Shin-Soo Choo as his contract extends through the 2020 season. If the Rangers signed Encarnacion, and Choo proved to not be able to stay healthy playing the outfield, you would have $40 Mil annually tied up into a DH spot ($20 Mil from Encarnacion + Choo’s $20/21 Mil annual deal through 2020). This would be a massive problem, one that has contributed to other teams’ demise (Angels, Yankees) despite other good players on the roster. Again, this is a game of how to best allocate your resources.
What the Rangers can do with the $65M:
- Trade for an Outfielder
That point leads me to my next that I believe Choo will have to DH for a good portion of the 2017 season in hopes of keeping him healthy and his effective bat in the lineup for prolonged stretches. Now, in order for this to happen, the Rangers would have to trade for an outfielder to replace Choo in the field and allow him to DH for most of the playing time in 2017 and moving forward. This would be a hard pill to swallow given Choo’s salary for the next several years, but probably a necessary one in order to trot out the most competitive team possible. The trade target that makes the most sense given the budgetary constraints is Charlie Blackmon from Colorado – arbitration eligible through 2018. Blackmon would command a heavy prospect return but is one of the best undercover superstars in the game. In 2016, Blackmon boasted a slash line of .324/.381/.552 and is just one season removed from 43 SB. He would be my top target and would be a staple alongside Nomar Mazara in the Ranger outfield for the next two seasons. Other OF trade targets: J.D. Martinez of the Tigers, who would bring average defense but an elite bat to the middle of the Rangers order, signed for just this season at $11.75 Mil. Brett Gardner of the Yankees, an elite corner OF defender who is adequate with the bat and is signed for $52 Mil through the 2019 season, making him likely a tough sell to ownership. Melky Cabrera from the fire-sale White Sox, who had a rebound offensive year in 2016 posting an .800 OPS – also a free agent after 2017. Jarrod Dyson of the Royals, who boasts elite speed and OF defense and is in his last year of arbitration. On the same team but less likely to be dealt, Lorenzo Cain had a down year personally in 2016 but is an All-Star level defender and bat when healthy, signed for $6.5 Mil in 2017 in the final year before free agency. The Royals may be willing to sell off parts given the shift in the division’s power and their long list of impending free agents as a small-market team. Dark house: Kole Calhoun, Angels.
- Rougned Odor Extension/Deal:
As Odor enters his more expensive years of arbitration, it makes sense for the Rangers front office to start thinking about a framework for an Odor deal that would buy out at least his ARB years and perhaps a year or two of free agency. Similar such deals have been in the ballpark of 5-yrs / $35 Mil or so. Money not allocated to Encarnacion can be used to support such deal.
- Jonathan Lucroy Extension/New Deal:
Lucroy’s contract is up after 2017, and Jon Daniels has already stated that he wants to keep Lucroy around past this season. Like Odor, it makes sense for the Rangers front office to start working on an extension that would allow Lucroy to focus on the field in 2017 and not his impending free agency. Money not allocated to Encarnacion can be used to support such an extension. In my opinion, the dollars going to Lucroy in an extension are much more essential than if they were allocated to Encarnacion. As I wrote in detail last spring, a Lucroy extension would be in the ballpark of 5-yrs / $90 Mil. If the deal were for fewer years, expect the AAV to increase from the $18 Mil per season.
For reference, taken from the linked article above:
Recent multi-year catcher contracts signed w/ AAV (Average Annual Value):
2016, Salvador Perez (age 25 season): 5 years/$52.5M contract ($10.5 million AAV), was not a free agent
2015, Russell Martin (age 32 season): 5 years/$82M contract ($16.4 million AAV), was a free agent
2014, Brian McCann (age 30 season): 5 years/$85M contract ($17 million AAV), was a free agent
2013, Buster Posey (age 26 season): 8 years/$167M contract ($20.875 million AAV), was not a free agent
2013, Yadier Molina (age 31 season): 5 years/$75 million contract ($15 million AAV), was not a free agent
- Trade for a Pitcher
The Rangers will target years of control with any pitcher they attempt to acquire via trade. I will not go into detail for each because there are several names that I think should be on JD’s mind. In order of interest personally: Alex Cobb – under-the-radar dominant starter when healthy in his career, missed a season-plus due to Tommy John surgery. Posted ERAs of 2.76 and 2.87 before undergoing TJ. Jake Odorizzi – 26-year-old, former first-round pick pitcher from the Rays who bounced back with a solid year in 2016 after missing 2015, has room to develop even further into a #2 or #3 starter. Controllable through the 2019 season. Anthony DeSclafani – age 26 Reds starter who parlayed a good rookie year in 2015 (4.05 ERA) into an even better sophomore year (3.28 ERA) in 2016. Robbie Ray – young Dbacks starter age 25 who has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter moving forward. Patrick Corbin – Arizona pitcher age 27 who has flashed great stuff but is still rounding into form following a good deal of lost time due to Tommy John surgery. Drew Smyly – age 27 controllable through 2018 coming off of a down year with Tampa Bay. Many of these pitchers either haven’t yet reached their potential or are coming off a mediocre year. Keep in mind that some of these pitchers are the types you have to target if you aren’t going to give up a good chunk of your top-ten prospects for a starter. For instance, what the Cubs did with acquiring Jake Arrieta from the Orioles.
- Eye Towards 2017 Off-season:
There is an interesting free agency class next off-season, headlined potentially by a few current Rangers players (Darvish and Lucroy).