Today, the Cleveland Indians will announce the signing of free agent 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion to the largest contract in club history.
We have all been waiting for the official signing because the news has been out there since the weekend before Christmas, and the Tribe fans have been excited about the move for two weeks.
And the contract has paid immediate dividends as even more season ticket packages were sold after the announcement that Encarnacion, arguably the most consistent slugger in the game over the last five years, was joining the team.
Thus, a new era for the Indians is here. They are legitimate contenders to win a World Series. That’s what happens when you get to the seventh game of the Fall Classic the prior year.
Unlike the last times the Indians made the post-season, in 2007 and 2013, they haven’t stood pat. They improved the ballclub. Make no mistake, no matter how important Mike Napoli was to the 2016 Tribe, Edwin Encarnacion is a better hitter. No question about it.
With the departure of Rajai Davis as a free agent, the current outfield set up looks to be a platoon of Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte in centerfield, another platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in rightfield, and hopefully Michael Brantley in left.
However, until we see Brantley swing the bat effectively in spring training, there is a lingering doubt that he can return to the form he exhibited in 2014 and 2015.
If he can, the Tribe offense should be even better than it was last year, and remember, they ranked second in the AL in runs scored last season.
What if Brantley isn’t ready or he is not as effective as in the past, what can the Indians do?
When you are a contender, you can’t rely totally on rookies. They may be able to do the job ultimately, but you need to have a backup plan.
Preferably, they would sign another veteran bat who could play in left if Brantley isn’t healthy and may be able to slide over to centerfield if Naquin’s end of the year struggles continue into 2017.
We like several young players currently in the Cleveland farm system, particularly Yandy Diaz, who can play the outfield and 3B, and Bradley Zimmer or Greg Allen, both of whom could be candidates to play CF before the end of 2017.
However, it is tough to depend on rookies when you are chasing a ring. You have to have a backup plan if they don’t hit or need more experience.
Which is why it seems at times that Terry Francona would rather go with a veteran. When your expectation is winning the division there is no time to go through the growing pains of a rookie.
In our opinion, that’s why we would rather start the year with a rookie and if the player isn’t working out, you have the veteran in reserve. However, neither Diaz, Zimmer, or Allen have any major league experience and none of the three have spent an entire year in AAA, although Diaz spent most of ’16 there.
Another alternative would be moving Jose Ramirez to LF and look at using Giovanny Urshela at third.
We have confidence the Tribe front office will bring in a low risk, high reward veteran outfielder as insurance for Brantley.
It’s part of the new philosophy at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. The philosophy of a team trying to bring a title to Cleveland.