The Cleveland Indians were one of the teams who were inactive in terms of moves at this past week’s winter meetings in Washington.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t busy, it just means they didn’t get anything done before the annual get together ended yesterday.
The rumors about Edwin Encarnacion are still out there, and at least a few national pundits have the Tribe being the favorite to sign the right-handed hitting slugger.
At the very least, the Indians know they have openings in the 1B/DH role served by Mike Napoli and an outfield slot manned by Rajai Davis in 2016.
Both of those players were huge contributors for the American League champions. Napoli hit a career high 34 home runs and his best offensive season since 2013, and was a tremendous clubhouse presence.
Davis hit the game tying home run in game seven of the Fall Classic, but had his worst season since 2013.
Both players are beyond their prime years though. Napoli will play the 2017 season at age 35, while Davis is now 36 years old.
In reality, if the front office brought both back in the same roles as last season, what would be the odds both will be as productive as they were in 2016?
Spoiler alert! The answer would be slim or none.
Both players were probably overexposed due to the injury of Michael Brantley, but we can definitely see a scenario where both players return and disappoint, more due to the expectations of the fans and management.
That’s why Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff are pursuing Encarnacion, who is a year younger than Napoli and whose production is much more consistent.
Over the last five seasons, last season might be the slugger’s worst, and even then, he belted 42 home runs and knocked in 127, to lead the AL.
If he declines slightly in 2017, what are you looking at? Probably 30-35 dingers and around 100 RBI, which is what Napoli provided last season.
Yes, Encarnacion wants a three or four year deal, but his production over the last five years merits that. It is a huge gamble to give a two or three year deal with Napoli based on his recent past.
We understand the emotional part of this would say to bring back these two heroes from a World Series season, but Antonetti and Chernoff can’t think with their hearts, they have to use cold, hard logic.
While we are still skeptical of the Tribe signing a player like Encarnacion, who is probably the best hitter on the market, the fact remains they have to resign Napoli, or replace him with someone else.
The same is true with Davis.
The front office realizes that, and we are sure they are working diligently to get something done.
So, we would anticipate a couple of moves to address those areas in the next couple of weeks. And we expect a free agent signing or trade because we doubt the Indians will trust either opening to a rookie like Yandy Diaz or Bradley Zimmer, nor should they.
They aren’t in a player development mode right now. Of course, this doesn’t mean those two players won’t be contributors in 2017, it just means the Tribe can’t count on them to start a season where they are the defending AL Champions.
Antonetti and Chernoff are waiting for the market to settle before striking. Although it’s frustrating for fans, it’s also smart.