It has now been three weeks since the Winter Meetings concluded, and many of the best free agents still remain unsigned.
Edwin Encarnacion, for one, has seen his market evolve throughout the entire winter, and it still remains murky even as the new year approaches.
In November, the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly offered Encarnacion a four-year deal worth about $80 million. But, in an apparent attempt to replace the slugger in the event he does return, the team signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. They are far inferior options, yes, but those deal could be what ultimately keeps the Jays from bringing Encarnacion back.
Then, a fake rumor swirled that the Houston Astros reached an agreement with Encarnacion. They, again, had a theoretical fit for Encarnacion, but after the rumor was quickly put out, Carlos Beltran decided to return to H-town. Just like in Toronto, Houston had found their man, and it was not Encarnacion.
At the Winter Meetings, Encarnacion was the biggest fish, and many thought that it would be at National Harbor when agent Paul Kinzer and company found him a contract. The amount of suitors appeared to fluctuate throughout the days of the meetings. One day, he had a million teams in. The next day, though, everyone was out.
Encarnacion is here now, seemingly in a waiting game. The Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, and perhaps the Colorado Rockies all have reportedly expressed interest over the past few days, but nothing has materialized.
It could take a 2016 Yoenis Cespedes-style deal before teams begin to come around on Encarnacion.
Last January, Cespedes struck a three-year, $75 million deal with the Mets with an opt-out after one season, betting on himself to earn a larger contract the next year. In theory, it was a one-year, $27.5 million contract with some security if Cespedes drastically declined or suffered a career changing injury.
Cespedes’ 2016 season went as planned, and he opted out at the beginning of this offseason in November. A few weeks later, he got a four-year, $110 million contract to return to the Mets.
If Encarnacion decided to take a route similar to that of Cespedes, it perhaps could get the Blue Jays back in play, who obviously would prefer for him to return. Toronto’s estimated 2017 payroll is currently $143 million, but it remains to be seen whether the team would be willing to let the financial commitments balloon at least another $20 million, even if just for one year.
In this case, the Indians could also become a more likely suitor for Encarnacion. He would cost them a first round draft pick, but if the team wants to take their AL pennant one step further in 2017, Encarnacion could be the answer. Cleveland’s estimated payroll for 2017 is already $106 million, which is easily their highest since the new millennium began.
The Rangers and potentially Rockies (if they are serious about trying to contend) would fit under a contract like this, too.
There’s just one problem with this, though.
When Cespedes signed his short-term contract, he was entering his age-30 season, and he knew that, with a good year, he’d be primed for a long-term deal the next year. Encarnacion? He’s 33 and will be 34 before Opening Day. Getting a long-term contract going into his age-35 season seems farfetched. This offseason could be his only chance to get the long-term deal that every free agent so desires.
Edwin Encarnacion’s free agency has to come to a crossroads, and it seems like he is not close to choosing a route any time soon.