At the winter meetings this week, many major league teams spent their time trying to acquire a quality starting pitcher.
The Indians have three or four of them.
Other teams spent their time trying to acquire a closer.
The Indians have two of them.
Four teams showed up with brand new managers.
The Indians’ manager was the American League Manager of the Year in two of the last four years.
Some teams came to the meetings hoping to improve their ability to score runs or prevent them.
In 2016, only one American League team scored more runs than the Indians and only one team allowed fewer runs than the Indians.
So to summarize: A lot of teams showed up at the meetings with a lot of problems.
The Indians showed up with almost none.
There’s a reason why the Indians are the American League champions, and lots of reasons why they should be even better next year. This, therefore, should not be a high stress offseason for Cleveland’s American League Baseball Club.
It is, however, a very important one for the franchise, because the window of opportunity is wide open, yawning with potential for what could be produced by an astutely executed offseason, all of which makes the Indians, at this moment in time, The Most Interesting Team in the Major Leagues.
That’s right, it’s the Indians, not the Red Sox, who traded for uber lefty Chris Sale this week. Sale joins a rotation that already includes Cy Young Award winners Rick Porcello and David Price, which prompted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to label the Red Sox “the Golden State Warriors of baseball.”
Such gamesmanship probably drew a chuckle from the Indians, who have no reason to fear the top of the Boston rotation. Sale’s career ERA is a run and a half higher vs. the Indians (4.07) than against all other teams (2.88), and his .417 (5-7) career winning percentage against the Indians is by far his lowest vs. any other team.
Meanwhile, Price and Porcello, in 12 career postseason starts, have a combined record of 0-10 and a 5.82 ERA. So let’s hold off on the coronation.
Of greater interest to the Indians, and Indians watchers, is how they will proceed in this offseason. They have three choices:
Do a lot.
Do a little.
This is a franchise, remember, that in each of its last two trips to the World Series lost in extra innings in Game 7. You can’t come any closer to winning the World Series, without winning it, than that.
So let’s eliminate the “do nothing” option. Let’s also eliminate “do a lot.” The Indians need to do something, but they don’t need to do a lot. Doing a little should suffice — preferably a big “little.”
Signing Edwin Encarnacion would be a big little. Maybe even a big big.
The Indians’ ascension into the major league elite, and the availability of the scarily consistent Encarnacion, who in the last five years has averaged 39 home runs and 110 RBIs, comes at an opportune time for both.
The Indians are coming off a wildly successful 2016, with the potential of doing the same again in 2017. Encarnacion’s free agent options seem to be diminishing by the day.
After turning down Toronto’s reported offer of four years $80 million and declining to accept the club’s $17.2 qualifying offer, Encarnacion entered the free agent mosh pit with dollar signs in his eyes. Later, that same slam dance, Encarnacion remains unsigned and is clearly experiencing some severe sticker shock.
Teams have been signing players who do what Encarnacion can do for a fraction of the money Encarnacion seeks.
Enter the Indians.
It’s possible that the waltz between the Indians and Encarnacion is the Indians’ way of negotiating with Mike Napoli, who they would probably still prefer since Napoli would be a cheaper signing, and he knows where the parties are.
There would be nothing wrong with bringing back Napoli. But maybe the tweak the Indians need to get over that Game 7 hump is a slightly bigger, more potent bat in the middle of the lineup. Encarnacion’s, for example.
He won’t come cheap, but consider that Carlos Santana is a free agent after next year, meaning his $12 million 2017 salary will come off the books in 2018. That could make Encarnacion’s salary slightly more palatable moving forward.
The future is now for the Indians. They will be all in again in 2017, and adding Encarnacion would emphasize the point. They are also at the stage now where the Cavs were after their loss to the Warriors in the Finals two years ago.
Everything they did in the following offseason was predicated on “Will this help us beat Golden State?” The Indians this winter must do whatever gives them a better chance to beat the Cubs and, for that matter, the Red Sox.
This post has been edited to reflect the following correction: Terry Francona won American League Manager of the Year twice in the past four years.
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