COMMENTARY | While the Cleveland Indians made great strides in 2013, there is still much work to be done for the Tribe.
The Indians won 24 more games this season than they did in 2012, and they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 under first-year manager Terry Francona. While many of the components are in place for Cleveland to be successful over the next few seasons, there is still one major need that needs to be addressed before the Tribe can be considered a legitimate World Series contender.
The Indians signed Mark Reynolds through free agency last winter to fill that void, and, honestly, he was spectacular over the first two months of the season. Unfortunately, though, Reynolds could not sustain his hot start to 2013, and he was released by the Indians on August 12 after hitting just two home runs after May 1.
While Cleveland ended up scoring a reasonable 4.6 runs per game in 2013, its production when Reynolds was delivering the goods far exceeded that. Over their first 46 games this past season, the Indians averaged nearly 5.2 runs per game, and then Reynolds entered the funk he was never able to break out of.
Encarnacion is basically a major upgraded version of Reynolds. Like Reynolds, Encarnacion is 30 years old, and both can switch between playing first base and third base. Their career fielding percentages are eerily similar, so the Tribe would have to live with some not-so-great defensive play out of Encarnacion, but he would more than make up for it in the batter's box.
Encarnacion possesses good power, and he has really come into own over the past two seasons in that area, hitting 78 home runs over that span. He has a .265 career average during his nine-year MLB career, but hasn't hit less than .272 since 2010, and, unlike Reynolds, Encarnacion isn't a threat to strike out every time he steps up to the plate. For his career, Encarnacion has struck out once for every 6.33 plate appearances -- light years better than Reynolds, who fans once every 3.09 plate appearances.
Prying Encarnacion away from the Jays will not easy, though. Encarnacion is under contact with Toronto till 2016, and what he is making right now is not indicative of his value on the open market. Encarnacion pulled in $8 million in 2013, a mere pittance when you consider that the Tribe gave Reynolds $6 million, even though Cleveland knew that he was likely going to hit for a low average and strike out nearly 200 times if he had played a full season.
Who knows if the Blue Jays would even be willing to deal Encarnacion, but it's certainly possible after Toronto's efforts to build a win-now team in 2013 pretty much were a bust. Despite adding the reigning NL Cy Young winner in pitcher R.A. Dickey and a bevy of solid veterans in a November 2012 trade with the Miami Marlins, the Jays stumbled through 2013, finishing in last place in the AL East with a record of 74-88.
I hate the thought of dealing him away, but if the Tribe were to put together a package of youngsters headlined by pitcher Danny Salazar, Toronto's interest in making any deal involving Encarnacion would likely be piqued. I'm not advocating trading away Salazar by any means, but starting pitching was not an issue for the Tribe during the second half of 2013 -- inconsistent offensive performances and poor efforts by closer Chris Perez were the big problems Cleveland ran into down the stretch.
Knowing all this, it's worth it for Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti to at least make an effort to gauge Toronto's interest in dealing Encarnacion, because he could be the missing piece to a championship-winning puzzle.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Indians for over 25 years.
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- Cleveland Indians
- Edwin Encarnacion
- Mark Reynolds
- Toronto Blue Jays