Edwin gives Tribe best chance to win

Adding slugger to strong core shows Cleveland's commitment

December 23rd, 2016

CLEVELAND -- This is how you seize a moment and a market. This is how you further rid yourself of a reputation, fair or not, for being too timid, too fragile, too cheap to claim a crown.

Just less than five months ago, the Indians raided a well-built farm system to land relief ace , which was stunning enough. But on Thursday night, according to multiple reports, they threw $65 million on the table with a three-year contract to , one of the game's elite bats who, in a stroke of luck and fate for the Tribe, was victimized by Hot Stove circumstance.

• Source: Tribe, Encarnacion agree to three-year deal

The Miller move got the Indians all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.

The Encarnacion move just might get them back.

Now, before we get too hot and bothered here, let's make some obvious, but pertinent points about this deal, which is pending a physical and said to include a fourth-year option for $25 million.

After all, the very things that allowed Encarnacion to become a member of the Indians are the very things that lend a fair share of risk to the equation.

Hot Stove Tracker

Encarnacion, whose home run trot features the lovable "Edwing," will be 34 next season. If he ages as well as his buddy , no worries. But mid-30s sluggers sometimes stop slugging.

(Some parrots, though, can live to be 100, so there's that.)

Though Encarnacion is a fundamentally different player than , the way these events unfolded does bring to mind the way Bourn "fell in the Indians hands" after they had already signed post-2012. Neither player aged particularly well, and the Indians are still paying the price, in the form of $9 million still owed to , the guy acquired and then cut as part of a bad contract swap with the Braves.

The Indians gave up the 25th pick in the Draft for the Encarnacion deal, which, like the Miller trade, is going to have an effect not just on their present, but also their future. The frustration here is that, just one year from now, as a function of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Indians would not have to give up a first-rounder, even for a player of this caliber.

Oh, regarding the CBA: It didn't fundamentally alter lineup constructions. You still have to field a first baseman and can only use one DH at a time. Encarnacion, who has started and finished just 81 games total at first over the last two seasons combined, and , who basically played himself out of every position he manned by the age of 30, will basically be sharing those two spots, and there will be nights when one or the other does something that drives you crazy.

And one last thing: $20 million a year (plus a $5 million buyout if they don't pick up his option) is a lot of money for a relatively low-revenue club that finished with the third-lowest attendance tally in baseball last year.

But those are the negatives that must be navigated in order to arrive at what is ultimately a compelling conclusion: The Indians just added considerable length and credibility to a lineup that provided excellent, but arguably unsustainable output last season.

And with the American League Central clearly there for the taking once again, and a "World Series or bust" vibe inevitable given late-October tease of '16, that's a big, big deal.

This move means the end of the short-lived, but memorable Party at Napoli's. Mike Napoli was a commanding clubhouse presence and run-producer. He gave this organization what amounts to a career year for exactly half of Encarnacion's average annual value, and he stepped up large for a lineup that was without essentially an entire season. Had this deal with Encarnacion not come to fruition, we have every reason to believe Napoli would have been back, possibly on a safe one-year pact.

But Napoli was streaky, and his track record simply pales to that of Double-E. For what it's worth, Napoli was a one-win player via FanGraphs' WAR metric in '16 and projects to be the same in '17. Encarnacion was worth 3.9 and projects to be worth 2.4. Two very different levels of impact.

Forget the visions of sugar plums, Tribe fans. Go to bed thinking about this: Over the last five seasons, only one player --  (197) -- has more home runs than Encarnacion (193). Only five players --  (.980),  (.975),  (.965), Ortiz (.953) and  (.931) -- had higher OPS marks over that span than Encarnacion (.912). Those same players were the only guys ahead of him in runs created per 27 outs (6.91).

Before this signing, the Indians would have been selling the idea that Brantley, after two shoulder surgeries, can quickly return to his 2012-15 norm (.303/.362/.447) and that Napoli could repeat his '16 slash. And hey, maybe both are true. But when Encarnacion's price tag dropped, it allowed the Indians to capture what can only be described as a less-iffy proposition.

As they did when they amplified their 'pen with Miller, the Indians have given themselves their best possible chance to do right by their championship-level core. After the Miller trade, things -- specifically an all-world rotation -- fell apart, but the Tribe got to the Series stage and took a 3-1 lead on the Cubs anyway, riding Miller all the way there. It was a fun ride with a frustrating finish and, like the division-rival Royals of 2014-15, the Indians know these awesome opportunities only come around every so often for small- or mid-market teams.

Whether it ends as it did for the Royals, well, we've got a whole new year to find out.

For now, give team president Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and the Dolan ownership family credit. They know the risks, they know the potential reward, and in the last five months they've shown some serious stones.

This is how you reshape a reputation, this is how you seize a moment.

And maybe, just maybe, this is how you win a title nearly seven decades in the making.