It is time to loosen up the purse strings, Jim Crane! The Houston Astros need help!
Free agency is a time for contending clubs like the Houston Astros to improve their roster.
Unlike most contending clubs lately though the Astros have yet to use free agency to improve the club truly. Sure, there has been various free agent signings throughout the recent years. But none of them have truly been the difference maker.
That should change this offseason with current Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
Out of all positions that have been in flux since the rebuild, first base has been the most difficult to fill. The likes of Brett Wallace, Jon Singleton, Marwin Gonzalez, Luis Valbuena, and Chris Carter have been utilized at one point or another with varying levels of success or failure.
Geoff Blum mentioned Encarnacion on last night’s Talking Stros. Blum said that his swing would fit in perfectly with the Crawford Boxes.
The veteran slugger has become one of the league’s most feared hitters since the 2012 season when he burst onto the scene with 42 home runs and a 153 OPS+. Over the course of the past five seasons, the current Blue Jay has averaged a 146 OPS+ and a .272/.367/.544 slash line. That would be without a doubt an upgrade for the Astros in the lineup in need of a boost on offense.
And then there is the possibility of penciling him in as either a first baseman or designated hitter. That flexibility could come in handy as the Astros seem to prefer to utilize the designated hitter role amongst various hitters. But first base is where the team needs help the most.
Even though he isn’t known for being a solid defensive first baseman, the 32-year old isn’t terrible with the glove. His zero DRS won’t inspire much confidence, but he still ranks within the top forty in baseball at the position. But that was only 636.1 innings, so you have to figure that his limited exposure helped his DRS.
The defense though isn’t necessarily a must when the Astros are in need of offense. In fact, THIS kind of offense.
The question now becomes whether the Astros can afford Encarnacion.
Once Toronto’s postseason run ends, the veteran hitter will surely draw plenty of attention from a large field of suitors. Teams from both leagues should be in the running. The cost to acquire Encarnacion services will be the tricky part, though.
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If you examine his numbers, it is easy to see the 32-year old third baseman can demand an annual salary of at least $20 million per season. Encarnacion at the end of the day could conceivably receive a three-to-five year deal for $20-$25 million each season. That is how much teams probably value a bat like his in an overall weak free agent market.
That price tag could easily be outside of the Astros allotted budget this offseason. After all, there has been no past evidence that suggests the team would make such a massive salary commitment. Houston’s highest paid player in 2016 was Colby Rasmus at $15.8 million. And that was via Rasmus agreeing to the qualifying offer last offseason. The closest in terms of annual salary was Dallas Keuchel ($7.25 million) and Doug Fister ($7 million) in 2016.
There is no argument that the Astros could use an offensive upgrade that can also play first base. Encarnacion seems to be the ideal fit for a franchise that is entering its competitive window once again. At the end of the day though it remains a financial commitment issue. That is the unfortunate part.
**Statistics provided by Baseball Reference and Fangraphs**