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Heyman: In strange market, after Encarnacion, dozen sluggers remain

Jon Heyman



22 August 2016: Baltimore Orioles right fielder Mark Trumbo (45) is congratulated by designated hitter Pedro Alvarez (24) after hitting a two run home run against the Washington Nationals at Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. (Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
(Photograph by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

If not for the A’s’ surprise late involvement in the Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes, people close to the situation say the Encarnacion derby might well have dragged into January, meaning the best of a bevy of good-to-excellent sluggers would still be on the market as we hit the new year, with spring training in sight.

But as it turned out, Oakland’s stunning generosity helped seal the deal — for the Indians, as it turned out. Before the A’s stepped in, as first reported as a possibility by FanRag Sports, word is that Encarnacion was receiving loads of low-ball offers, in the $16-17 million range, presumably including one by eventual winner in the derby, the Indians, who might have been an even bigger surprise player than Oakland.

Oakland’s offer, said by sources to have been a two-year deal for $50 million and yet another two-year guaranteed deal with a third-year team option that also included a one-year opt-out, forced the negotiations to come to a head. The A’s, with their shocking largesse, helped push the Indians to the $60 million, three-year deal that includes a fourth-year team option and buyout that ultimately won the day, and one of the best hitters in baseball.

Encarnacion, who had originally told friends he wouldn’t even consider a West Coast team due to the lack of proximity to his native Dominican Republic and his extended family, is said to have seriously considered the A’s in the end. However, in the final analysis, Cleveland offered not only proximity but a clubhouse he knew extremely well and a team that came within a run of winning its first World Series since 1948.

But now, even with Encarnacion off the market, there are at least seven sluggers expected to receive starting positions, nine who should get major-league deals and more than that of interest left on the market as we head to the new year. They range from stars like AL home run champ Mark Trumbo and long-time Jays superstar Jose Bautista (aka “Joey Bats”) to quality players like NL home run champ Chris Carter, 30-and-100 man Mike Napoli (“party at Napoli’s) and 20-plus homer men Michael Saunders, Pedro Alvarez and Brandon Moss, plus some very veteran former stars.

It’s a weird year where one-inning pitchers got the two of the three biggest contracts of the winter and proven star sluggers are still left out in the cold. Some, or many, may still do well. But a number of factors have hurt them, including the number of boppers on the market, the proliferation of home runs this year (everyone was hitting at least a few) and even the surprise signing of Eric Thames from Korea and the bigger surprise signing of Ian Desmond as a first baseman (and the Rockies say they mean it).

The Orioles, Blue Jays and Rangers are very likely to land one of these sluggers (or another one in trade; Jay Bruce has been mentioned prominently in trades) while the Rays have been linked to at least Bautista and the Giants, Phillies, White Sox and Angels are said to be eying things from a comfortable distance, with the possibility to jump in.

The Phillies prefer a left-handed hitter (they could also consider infielder Kelly Johnson, though word is they aren’t going the ex-Phillie route of Ryan Howard or Chase Utley), the Rockies are monitoring things, the Giants are talking a lot — at least publicly — about finding an in-house solution to left field and the Chisox and Angels involvement may depend on other moves, such as the trade of an outfielder.

Here’s a rundown of the sluggers still to go on the market …

1. Mark Trumbo

Word is, he turned down a four-year offer early in the marketplace from the Orioles (the belief is that it was something in the range of $50 million-plus), and though they took that bid off the table, they have a history of returning to players after surveying the marketplace, as they did last year with Chris Davis.

However, the marketplace has been established now as difficult for sluggers (for instance, once the Jays returned to talk contract with Encarnacion after removing their original $80 million, four-year bid, they were talking about one-year deals with him — though of course, by then they’d already given a three-year, $33 million deal to Kendrys Morales, which changed their equation).

The Rockies have been suggested to be monitoring the Trumbo situation, and word is, a couple more opportunities may have cropped up. Whoever signs him gets a slugger who made big adjustments last year, can play first base or a corner outfield spot, and is a solid guy.

[graphiq id=”8MgZXOuiajj” title=”Mark Trumbo Career Batting Triple Slash” width=”640″ height=”490″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/8MgZXOuiajj” ]

2. Jose Bautista

There’s been a report that he’d consider going back to the Jays if they beat the $17.2 million qualifying offer they extended and he turned down. But that seems pretty unlikely to happen considering there’s no suggestion the Jays are anxious to bring him back at the expense of the draft choice. If it becomes clear he isn’t signing anywhere by spring training, and perhaps if the draft choice becomes unlikely (it goes away after the June draft) the Jays might think about it.

They beat the Yankees in attendance last year, as Encarnacion, Bautista and others brought considerable excitement. But there’s been a regime change, and that may have altered the equation.  The Jays do have an admitted need in the outfield, though they’d prefer a left-handed hitter. They also have stayed in touch with Saunders, and they’ve looked into Moss, among many others.

It would seem they’d have to sign someone, as they’ve lost 88 home runs without Encarnacion, Bautista and Saunders (though Morales makes up for just over a third of that).

The Rays recently have been connected to him, and he lives in Tampa, so perhaps he’d be more inclined to give them a deal, and one competing agent suggests maybe Tampa could go for $30 million over three years. Let’s not forget what a big star Bautista has been, with a .910 OPS all his years in Toronto (even including the .817 mark he posted last year when he wasn’t always 100 percent). He’s obviously got a few things working against him, such as the draft choice and his age. But he’s a major talent, and from here it appears he’s been hurt by a misread of others. He is a confident, smart and intense guy, and that should be a plus, though some may seen that confidence as arrogance. Another big plus is that he’s willing to do whatever he can to win, including bat leadoff. 

3. Mike Napoli

The Rangers, who have lost nearly as much with the defections of Ian Desmond, Carlos Belran and Mitch Moreland, are the logical team to start the parties at Napoli’s, and T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com called the reunion a “strong possibility” recently. There is said to be the possibility of a “mystery team,” as well, for Napoli, who became a 30-100 man for the first time last year in his fun-filled season in Cleveland. He’s been a consistent winner everywhere he’s gone, making the high salaries he’s received via free agency seem worth it at each and every stop. He’s looking for two years.

4. Chris Carter

The Orioles and Rockies are teams that have been tied to Carter, who tied Nolan Arenado for the NL home run lead (and Arenado had the big Coors Field advantage) but was still cut loose by the Brewers, who feared he’d get $9 million in arbitration and instead signed Eric Thames out of Korea’s KBO to a three-year, $15 million deal. Carter strikes out a lot, and the so-called flaws of these sluggers seem to have been amplified in a market with perhaps too many of them.

5. Michael Saunders

The Orioles are believed to have shown interest, and his old Jays team is in contact with him, as well, as are three or four more teams following a nice All-Star season in which he had 24 home runs and an .815 OPS but fell off in the second half (.638 OPS after the break).

6. Pedro Alvarez

He was a worthwhile late signing by the Orioles last year, and it would seem like Baltimore is a possibility again (along with possibly the Jays, among others). He is a consistent slugger who slugged at a .504 clip last year, but the question with him remains position. The man can rake, however.

[graphiq id=”aQ1AufIqSA5″ title=”Pedro Alvarez Career Home Runs by Season” width=”640″ height=”521″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/aQ1AufIqSA5″ ]

7. Brandon Moss

Philly and Toronto have shown interest in yet another slugger who fell off in the second half (his decline was even steeper than Saunders’, with a disastrous final month in St. Louis). Overall, though, he hit 28 home runs.

8. Trevor Plouffe

He was cut by the Twins. Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reported some interest by the Red Sox, and in this market, that may be his best spot, considering the uncertainty of the slimming Pablo Sandoval (he is down below 250 pounds, according to sources). He could also fit the Marlins or Yankees as a backup, but Boston may be his best spot.

9. Adam Lind

He didn’t have a great year in Seattle, but wasn’t the first one to suffer in Seattle. Not much buzz to this point.

10. Luis Valbuena

He can play first or third so he’d fit in the same spots as Plouffe — Boston, the Bronx and Miami.

11. Ryan Howard

No teams have been connected publicly to this point to the former Phillies superstar, and his most likely scenario may be a minor-league deal, or extremely low base.

12. Justin Morneau

In this market, it won’t be easy. But you have to admire the guy for fighting back after the issues with concussions.

Around the majors…

— There’s a lot of criticism of Encarnacion and agent Paul Kinzer for not immediately jumping on the Jays’ initial $80 million, four-year offer, but the reality is that while that was obviously quite a reasonable bid (and the highest one he’d receive, as it turns out; he also got one for $66 million and three years from the Astros) there is no one who would have taken that at that time.

Everyone, including the Jays, was figuring Encarnacion would easily beat that bid, and the Jays moved quickly to Morales, presumably believing Encarnacion was going well past their price point when they suggested he test the market, which turned out less inviting than predicted and expected by everyone.

One factor: some big-market teams were waiting on the new CBA at that time, and the Red Sox and others decided they didn’t want to go past the new $195 million luxury-tax threshold. While Encarnacion came into the winter preferring to return to Toronto, where he felt comfortable, he is said to have soured a bit on that situation because of the way things went, with the Jays canceling a meeting the first day of the Winter Meetings with him following their surprise signing of Steve Pearce, which further limited their interest in Encarnacion. The Indians were a surprise, but not necessarily a bad one. He is also very close to several Indians players in a very positive Latin-heavy clubhouse.

[graphiq id=”73OvwMsQeKF” title=”Edwin Encarnacion Career Batting Triple Slash” width=”600″ height=”511″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/73OvwMsQeKF” ]

— Credit to Indians ownership for stepping forward after their big World Series year, and spending some of the extra loot they made. Their team looks very formidable going forward.

— Orioles GM Dan Duquette has made hay in recent years with late signings, especially of Nelson Cruz but also of Alvarez and others. Baltimore may do it again. They have been linked to their own Trumbo and Alvarez plus Michael Bourn (and can we rule out Matt Wieters entirely?), plus also Rajai Davis (via Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun), Angel Pagan and Saunders.

— Chase Utley wasn’t included on the slugger list because he doesn’t strictly fit that description, but he did a nice job with the Dodgers last year and could still be a candidate to return if they don’t make a deal for Brian Dozier or another in-his-prime star.

— The Dodgers would seem to remain the favorite to land Dozier, though the Cardinals, Giants and others have been linked to the Twins’ star. The Giants don’t have an obvious fit, though he’d represent an upgrade over current third baseman Eduardo Nunez, assuming they believe he could play third.

Mark Saxon of ESPN St. Louis suggests the Cardinals aren’t “actively” involved at the moment, and they are saying nice things about Kolten Wong, for what that’s worth. Dozier is due to go to Minnesota at the end of January to pick up his Twins MVP trophy and participate in their fanfest. He remains a bargain at $15 million. But it makes sense for a team that won 59 games and lost 90-plus games five of the last six years to move an asset like Dozier while the value is high.

— While the Jays have kicked the tires on Andrew McCutchen, one person said there’s “nothing serious” to those talks at this time. Whoever gets McCutchen is going to be pleased. One scout, predicting a “monster” year for McCutchen, says he’s the “hardest working and most determined” guy in the game.

— The Padres are seriously considering Jered Weaver, who did, after all, lead the Angels in innings and wins (yes, 12 wins still count as an accomplishment even in an era where the win stat has been diminished). Jake Peavy, Colby Lewis and a couple other vets are on their shopping list as well. Peavy would love a return to San Diego, site of his Cy Young and much glory, and he’s only 35. My hunch is both Weaver and Peavy have something left, despite the detractors.

— It’s no surprise that some suggest the Dodgers are being “stingy” with their top prospects in talks for veteran players, as LA values their top minor leaguers high. They made the right calls to keep NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and lefty phenom Julio Urias. But they are willing to part with righty Jose De Leon for Dozier. They are not willing to include top first base prospect Cody Bellinger or top young pitchers Walker Buehler or Yadier Alvarez along with De Leon.

— There was a suggestion Joe Blanton could find a deal soon, but others are finding the relief market “frozen” at the moment. Several fine relievers remain, including Greg Holland, Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, Travis Wood, Jerry Blevins, Boone Logan. J.P. Howell, Neftali Feliz, David Hernandez, Joe Smith, Drew Storen, Fernando Salas and others.

— Good job by the Braves to lock up Ender Inciarte, a winning player, to a $30.525 million, five-year deal, and Inciarte is said to be “thrilled.” Not sure if he’s the best center fielder in the game, as they trumpeted upon signing him, but he’s one of the best center fielders, and also one of the best baserunners. Tough to turn that down, though, as he’s not a power hitter or .300 hitter.

So, in recap, for a year of Jason Heyward and two of Jordan Walden, between the two trades (including the one that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona), the Braves got one year of Miller, six years of Dansby Swanson, seven of Inciarte and six of Aaron Blair (plus, they signed Walden back on as a non-roster invite).

— The Phillies’ $35 million, five-year deal with Odubel Herrera is even better, considering the extra power he brings.

— Jason Hammel’s winter agent change sends a bad signal that things aren’t going great, and the new agents at ACES should know that doesn’t help their new client. The Mariners showed early interest, but they are also investigating trades.

Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on FanRagSports.com every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from CBSSports.com, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.