There was a space of about two days, last mid-December, when I thought Mike Napoli was going to join us at last year’s book release party, even though he’d signed with Cleveland about a week earlier.
Napoli won’t be at the party tonight, either, even though he’s no longer an Indian and, perhaps more than arguably, could play his next baseball for Texas.
Edwin Encarnacion will also be somewhere tonight other than Bedford Ice House, I’m reasonably sure.
But there are a lot of national writers wondering why he isn’t in town, somewhere.
On Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) wrote that “[t]he pending free agency of righthander Yu Darvish is one reason that rival clubs believe that the Rangers ultimately will step up for Edwin Encarnacion — they need to put together their best possible club in Darvish’s walk year.”
Rosenthal, who came away from the Winter Meetings a couple weeks ago reporting like many that Daniels characterizes “the signing of a major free agent such as Encarnacion [as] unlikely,” added yesterday that “[s]ome team is going to make a mistake on [Encarnacion] — and not the team that signs him. No, the team that blows it on EE will be the one that gets too cute, drives too hard a bargain and comes up empty-handed. In fact, it won’t be just one team that lands in that predicament. No, it will be multiple teams fretting over their lost opportunity, saying, ‘Oh man, we could have had him.’”
As for Texas, Rosenthal asks: “What are the Rangers going to do [in Darvish’s last season before free agency], punt?”
Jayson Stark (ESPN) weighs in, noting that it’s “[a]mazing how many people in MLB predict Edwin Encarnacion will end up in Texas despite denials from the Rangers. Guess is $51–55 million with front-loaded money and a first-year opt-out. Sounds like Yoenis Cespedes template from last winter!”
In other words, Encarnacion isn’t staring at an Ian Desmond-esque pillow deal.
According to Stark’s ESPN colleague Jerry Crasnick, the Rangers “are lurking on Encarnacion. Jon Daniels [is] always willing to be patient and wait out [the] market.”
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) reported at the end of the day yesterday that Cleveland, Texas, Houston, Oakland, and Toronto — according to sources from each club — have all presented multi-year offers to Encarnacion, with a “few” offering him the one-year opt-out. Bowden suggests “[n]egotiations are continuing at a rapid pace for two of the teams,” whom he did not identify but implied they are pennant contenders, which would tend to eliminate the A’s.
Encarnacion hit .263/.357/.529 in 702 plate appearances last year, blasting 42 balls out of the park and driving in a league-leading 127 runs at age 33.
In 2013, Nelson Cruz hit .266/.327/.506 in 456 plate appearances (missing 50 games due to a PED suspension) — extrapolated to the same 702 trips, he would have hit 42 home runs and driven in 117 runs. He turned 33 at mid-season that year.
That winter, Cruz — a good guy in the clubhouse with monster power but offering mediocre defense and advancing age — couldn’t find a contract befitting of what he felt his value to be, and he took one year at $8 million from Baltimore late in February, betting on himself to reenter the market the next winter and earn a much bigger deal.
That was Desmond-esque.
Both the pillow deal, and the successful bet.
Cruz (who eventually landed four years at $57 million from Seattle) was much more a model for Desmond, who took the one-year, $8 million contract from Texas and rehabilitated his value in a majestic way, earning five years and $70 million (that could be six years and $83 million) from Colorado, than for Encarnacion, even though he’s closer to Cruz in age and profile. It’s been a slow market for Encarnacion, but he isn’t going to have to wait until late in February to settle in with possibly his third team — and fifth organization, since his stint with Texas out of the ninth round of the 2009 draft peaked in Low A and his run with Oakland in 2010 lasted just 20 days . . . in November and December.
I love the idea of Encarnacion here. Aside from doing tremendous damage from the right side, he will work the count and take a walk and, by all accounts, is good in the room. He would step in as the Rangers’ most dangerous offensive weapon, the equivalent of adding Chris Archer or Jose Quintana to the rotation. He’d cost Texas its first-round pick, but that pick is at the end of the round (while the club is picking up a supplemental first just a few slots later for the loss of Desmond).
But there’s a greater risk.
Yes, this is Darvish’s walk year, and there’s no question that that prescribes a go-for-it mode.
But if you sign Encarnacion to anything other than a one-year deal — even a multi-year with an opt-out — you are basically acknowledging that this is Darvish’s final year in Texas.
Would it also possibly make 2017 Jonathan Lucroy’s final season as a Ranger? He’s going to get $12–16 million per year next winter, for probably four years, give or take.
Yes, that kind of raise on its own is tolerable and reasonable and shouldn’t rule out an impact addition like Encarnacion.
But next winter is also Rougned Odor’s first to avail himself of the arbitration process.
Carlos Gomez will be a free agent, too, as will Andrew Cashner.
Maybe you move on from them — certainly ridiculously too soon to speculate on that — but if you do, you’re going to be looking for another veteran outfielder, most likely, as well as another impact-level starting pitcher, if not two, given Darvish’s likely departure. At $11.5 million (Gomez) and $10 million (Cashner), it’s not as if the club will be shedding anchor contracts and able to find core replacements at much lower amounts.
And I’m going to say it, reluctantly:
Adrian Beltre will play this year at age 38. He’s isn’t going to be an .880 OPS guy forever.
Will he be worth $18 million in 2017 and $18 million in 2018?
I think he’s earned a “you bet your ass” response.
But it’s not a lock.
Darvish is here for one more year, and that’s probably all.
There is what appears to be an obvious opportunity for a corner bat to be added.
Houston has gotten better this winter, and their best returning players are going to get better.
There are all kinds of reasons to think of 2017 as a year to go all in, and the idea of Edwin Encarnacion returning to the Rangers, at the (non-monetary) cost of a late first-rounder, feeds the concept in a way that not even Napoli’s return would promise.
But what it would mean for the Rangers beyond that one season, the residual damage from a payroll standpoint, could be Pyrrhic in proportions, and is likely a big reason that the slugger who will turn 34 in a couple weeks hasn’t signed here and hasn’t signed in Cleveland and hasn’t in Houston or returned to Toronto.
The risk of bringing Encarnacion to Texas is nothing like the Mavericks trading for Rajon Rondo — which happened during our book release party two years ago — instead, the risk is that, unless he’s willing to take a one-year deal that he doesn’t have the ability to lock into three or more (if 2017 goes poorly for him), his arrival could increase the odds of a season that goes deep into October but also serve to start breaking it up sooner and to a greater degree than any of us would like going forward thereafter.
Then again, Rosenthal and others are confident that, like Cruz three years ago and Desmond last year, Encarnacion is going to devastate not the team that signs him, but the ones that don’t, and I’ve got to be honest: As expensive as it would be and as legit as I think the Rangers’ payroll commitment already is, and as comfortable as I’d be with a much more affordable Napoli (Ever After) reunion, I would love to see Texas bring Encarnacion back on a Cespedes-like deal, one that I’m confident would go well enough in 2017 that the Rangers would be able to regroup next winter and decide, along with 29 other teams, whether to negotiate with Encarnacion again, just as they did after one really good year of Ian Desmond.
Maybe it’s time to undo Ruben Mateo/Rob Bell deal — neither of them will be there tonight, either — and get Edwin Encarnacion back here.