The Major Impact of Edwin in Cleveland

Recently, the Cleveland Indians signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion in a bold move to get their formerly middle-of-the-pack offense kick-started.  The deal, which pays $65 million to Encarnacion over three years, can’t be considered a good or bad deal yet — that is still to be determined.  If Edwin, who is, like everybody in the world, constantly getting older, performs like he did for the past two years, then the deal will be a steal for the Indians.  Yet if Edwin begins to show his age at the plate, then the deal will hardly be worthwhile.  Most likely, though, he will accumulate 25-35 (on an overly optimistic side) home runs, while batting for a not noteworthy .280.

Looking over the signing, one can easily come to the assumption that Cleveland will be better with Edwin.  Certainly, any level-headed person wouldn’t consider him to be a minus.  However, nobody has really come out and said that Edwin is the difference between a good team and a great team.  Yet from looking through the depths of Cleveland’s roster, one sees something uncontrollably powerful occurring slowly but surely in Cleveland.  Something that has been in development every since the Indians brought Jason Kipnis to the big leagues in 2011.  And now, with the addition of Edwin Encarnacion, they seem to be done.

What the Indians have done through the past five years is that of a front-office masterpiece.  Last year, they came within a game of winning of the World Series, and this year, they are poised to make a run for the trophy again.  As mentioned before, it all started with the arrival of a noncommittal prospect named Jason Kipnis in 2011.  Kipnis had played well, but definitely not worth a mention in any top-prospect lists.  In the majors, he took a few years to blossom, but he’s been on the rise ever since.  He is now a solid second baseman with speed and power, the second-sacker of every team’s envy.

That same year, Francisco Lindor entered the rookie team of the Indians.  Unlike Kipnis, he became a highly-touted prospect, and his first appearance in the major leagues, in 2015, was widely watched.  And ever since that first game, Lindor has not looked back, joining Kipnis in the ranks of the best middle infielders in the league.

This past year, 2016, was when all the front office’s hard work finally blossomed.  At first, the season did not start out very well.  Stalwart right fielder Michael Brantley got injured early on, and the season’s prospects looked slim.  Yet about a third of the way through the season, something amazing happened.

The Indians were not doing badly, but were definitely not excelling in the season.  So, in a radical move, they decided to see how a prospect would fare in the bigs.  So they summoned Tyler Naquin from the farm system and immediately implanted him in center field.  Thankfully, the lanky Naquin performed above and beyond anyone’s expectations.  He finished the season in the contest for Rookie of the Year, despite missing a good chunk of the season.  Meanwhile, a player who had spent a few years in the bigs yet never really got to play was coming into his own just about the time when Naquin came up.  Jose Ramirez had been drafted by Cleveland after the 2010 season and was called up in 2013.  He didn’t get much playing time, and was sent back down to the minors the next year.  He was called up again in 2015, and played poorly.  However, he wasn’t ready to ruin his big-league career.  At around the time Naquin came up, Ramirez became hot.  He started playing like he hadn’t ever in his career.  Somehow, someway, a switch had been flipped inside him.  Somehow, someway, the Cleveland Indians were in business.

Although the Indians had failed to win the World Series, the season had still been a wild success.  They had built a powerful machine, and with Brantley back in right field for the 2017 season, who knew what could happen?  But still, they seemed to be missing something.  Even with the amazing midseason reinforcements and Cleveland’s powerful lineup (Napoli, Santana, Lindor, Kipnis), the Indians were 18th in the majors in runs scored.  They were getting many runners on base, as their .329 OBP (tied for seventh-best in the MLB) testified.  They just needed one more piece, a guy who could get those many baserunners home.  And although Napoli was big and strong and hit majestic homers, he just wasn’t the guy the Indians needed.  So they signed Encarnacion.  With him on the team and Brantley back, possibilities are boundless.  Their lineup (shown below) will be incredibly potent.

1.  Francisco Lindor;  Shortstop

2.  Jason Kipnis; Second Base

3.  Edwin Encarnacion; DH

4.  Michael Brantley; Right Field

5.  Carlos Santana; First Base

6. Jose Ramirez; Left Field

7.   Lonnie Chisenhall; Third Base

8.  Roberto Perez; Catcher

9.  Tyler Naquin; Center Field

Although the order could be debated on, its potency and presumed consistency are undeniable.  There are only 1.5 holes in the lineup (Roberto Perez=1, Chisenhall=.5), and other than that, the rest of the lineup is stocked with really good players. That’s seven really good players in one lineup.  That is something special.  The lineup is also well-rounded.  There are Lindor, Kipnis, Brantley, and Ramirez providing consistency, while Encarnacion and Santana provide the dingers.  Of course, the four who provide consistency can be relied on to produce at least 15 homers a year.  And although the batting order looks very impressive, the pitching rotation is what really makes the Indians special.  The pitching rotation made it to the World Series minus two of their best pitchers — Salazar and Carrasco — and almost won it!

The addition of Encarnacion will, in my opinion, prove to be great.  The Indians will leap from 18th to fifth in offense in the majors, and they will have a very good regular season.  Again, this is just my opinion, but the Indians do look awfully dangerous come the 2017 season.



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some guy
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some guy

I was going to start by suggesting that Naquin is a hole in the lineup as he posted an unsustainable .411 BABIP. But if you look at his minor league career, he’s posted significantly-higher BABIP in 2 other season with extended exposure – HiA (.351) and AA (.389). So while I’ve been expecting a decline in Naquin’s production, it might not be the 25% drop that comes with a BABIP regression from .400 to .300.

Yan Gomes is going to be the starting catcher. He was hurt most of the year with an MCL sprain and was dinged up in ’15 too. But if you look at ’13 & ’14, he was a stud – top 10 catcher level production. While Perez is the better defensive catcher, there’s not a significant drop-off to Gomes. And Gomes’ upside more than makes up for the difference in defense.

Also, Brantley’s injury is significant. He is unlikely to bat in the 4 spot while Santana’s switch-hitting and Ramirez’s production last year would be negatively impacted by dropping them in the order. I would expect Brantley to drop to #6 (if he even plays) and Santana & Ramirez move up.

Jim
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Naquin will be sent down to the minors in mid-season. Opposing pitchers discovered he could not hit fastballs, and it is doubtful he will be able to adjust.