With free agency looming, Edwin Encarnacion managed to put together his most productive campaign at the age of 33. In his 12th major league season, the slugger piled up career highs in runs (99), hits (158), extra-base hits (76), RBI (127) and walks (87) while tying his career-best mark of 42 home runs. His 19.7 percent strikeout rate was his worst mark since 2009, but of the eight players with 40 home runs last year, only Nolan Arenado posted a lower strikeout rate (14.8 percent), so he remains excellent at making contact relative to his contemporaries. Nelson Cruz's move from Baltimore to Seattle serves as a recent example of how the importance of a home ballpark can often be overstated when talking about the elite sluggers in the game. Encarnacion's move to Cleveland in the offseason might provide a similar narrative, as Progressive Field skewed more favorably for both runs and power than Rogers Centre did in 2016.
Indians manager Terry Francona said that he isn't sure whether Encarnacion or Carlos Santana will act as the primary first baseman in 2017, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports. Regardless of where he plays, Encarnacion will be a staple of Cleveland's lineup thanks to his hitting prowess. However, his primary position in 2017 could impact his value moving forward, as being the primary DH could limit his value in leagues that don't have a convenient spot to place designated hitters on the active roster. His power is undeniable and his patience at the plate is extremely commendable, but it would be a boon to Encarnacion's value moving forward if he can amass enough innings at first base to maintain eligibility at that position for the years to come.
Encarnacion agreed to a three-year contract with the Indians on Thursday, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports. The deal will be worth close to $20 million per season and include an option for a fourth year. Encarnacion will replace Mike Napoli at first base for the American League champs and become the primary run-producing force in the heart of the batting order. He hit .263/.357/529 with 42 homers and 127 RBI in his final year with Toronto, earning his third All-Star selection. As he enters his age-34 season, Encarnacion continues to walk at an elite clip and his hard-contact rate has held steady, so there's little reason to expect a dramatic decline in production despite the move to a more pitcher-friendly home park.
The Blue Jays front office has not considered making a one-year contract offer to Encarnacion, Steve Rick Westhead of TSN reports. Encarnacion appears to have overestimated his value on the free-agent market. The slugger has yet to find a team willing to give him the expensive multi-year deal he's seeking. Cleveland and Texas have recently been linked to the Encarnacion sweepstakes, and he continues to (surprisingly) remain in contact with Toronto. In his eighth season as a Blue Jay, Encarnacion posted a .263 average with 42 homers and 127 RBI over 160 games in 2016.
Toronto, where Encarnacion has played since mid-2009, is no longer pursuing the free-agent slugger, Steve Phillips of MLB Network Radio reports. Toronto essentially closed the door on Encarnacion when the team signed Steve Pearce to a two-year deal Monday. The 33-year-old's options appear to be dwindling as Houston is another team that dropped out of the expensive race. Encarnacion is still in talks with the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians, and his agent, Paul Kinzer, expects the power hitter to sign a deal during the winter meetings.
Although the Jays recently signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales, general manager Ross Atkins expressed on Friday that the club is still interested in bringing back Encarnacion, the Toronto Star reports. Atkins admitted the acquisition of Morales does decrease the likelihood of Encarnacion returning to Toronto, but also said it doesn't eliminate the possibility. The slugger has benefited from the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre over the past three years, slashing .279/.369/.575 at home, compared to .260/.353/.513 on the road. Although the talk is exciting for Jays' fans, the team hasn't shown many true signs of pursuing a long-term agreement with Encarnacion.