The offseason can’t, and won’t, always go the Astros way.
It remains to be seen how serious the Astros were in the Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes. Numerous rumors throughout the past two months though seem to indicate that the team was indeed serious.
Regardless, the news broke a couple of nights ago that Encarnacion was signing with the Cleveland Indians. On a great contract, at least from the Indians perspective. And I can’t help but wonder if the Astros missed out on great value to improve the team.
First, the Encarnacion contract with Cleveland is three years, $60 million with an option for a fourth year. That deal at face value is a bargain for the defending AL champions.
For comparison sake, Encarnacion’s WAR converted into dollars via Fangraphs in 2016 was $30.8 million. The year before was $36.0 million. And 2014? $27.3 million. He clearly didn’t match those free agent values with his new contract.
Needless to say, the Indians signing one of the top sluggers in the game in recent memory is a downright coup.
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But why should the Astros feel like they missed out?
First, Houston clearly have a need at first base.
The presumptive internal options, Yulieski Gurriel and A.J. Reed, could be THE guy at first for the Astros. However, neither are guaranteed to provide the same level of production that Encarnacion (123 career wRC+) would in Houston’s lineup. And while his defense at first base isn’t great, it is definitely passable (1.7 UZR in 2016).
If you believe that Encarnacion is more a designated hitter than first baseman, then it makes sense why Jeff Luhnow didn’t pursue him further. Houston already has Gurriel, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann who can DH on any given day. However, Encarnacion is still a likely better option than any of the after-mentioned trio from the batters box.
This level of production, after all, over the past three seasons is something else.
2014: .268/.354/.547, 34 HR, 98 RBI, .279 ISO, 151 wRC+
2015: .277/.372/.557, 39 HR, 111 RBI, .267 ISO, 150 wRC+
2016: .263/.357/.529, 42 HR, 127 RBI, .270 ISO, 134 wRC+
And then we have to consider how favorable Minute Maid Park would’ve played to Encarnacion’s home run hitting prowess.
When you consider the production and the contract that Encarnacion settled for then you can’t help but wonder if Houston did miss out. Even with the loss of a draft pick, the price tag would’ve made the loss more tolerable. But that’s just me. There is much more to a draft pick though in regards to value and future value that is also at play in the Astros front office mind.
Now, we don’t even know how negotiations went between Encarnacion and Houston’s front office. We aren’t privy to the conversations and if there was a genuine interest from both sides. Maybe Houston was concern with any projected fall off when compared to the price and loss of a draft pick? After all, it does take two to tango.
Maybe the interest in Cleveland was just more genuine and vice versa with Encarnacion. Who knows, maybe the new Indians slugger just didn’t want to be an Astro? That was well within his rights as he chose the place to call a professional home for the foreseeable future.
The road to the World Series for Houston becomes even more difficult with Encarnacion joining forces with the Indians. Only time will tell if the Astros were wise to pass on the then-free agent slugger. I guess we will find out next fall.
**Statistics and graphs courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant**