There could be a number of factors delaying Edwin Encarnacion's decision on where to sign. The biggest one would be the fact that the market for first basemen or designated-hitter types has diminished quickly. That could put Encarnacion and others in a situation where they may need to strongly consider a shorter-term contract instead of the kind of blockbuster deal they had hoped to get this offseason.
From the Indians' perspective, waiting out the market is the best approach. Encarnacion reportedly turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from the Blue Jays. Ian Desmond reportedly signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Rockies to play first base. Cleveland does not usually operate in that kind of financial range. The Tribe's approach will be waiting to see if Encarnacion, or one of the other big-ticket sluggers, is willing to agree to a shorter pact with the reigning American League champions.
In light of the Desmond deal, though, it doesn't seem surprising that Encarnacion's camp is in no rush to sign for a short-term deal. Marquee free agents tend to get paid, so holding out until the right offer comes along makes sense from their side.
In the meantime, I'd expect Cleveland to continue to stay in touch with free agent Mike Napoli. The first baseman is coming off a career year with the Indians. He thrived under manager Terry Francona, stayed on the field with the help of Cleveland's training staff and became a leader in the clubhouse. He is hoping for a two-year deal. The Indians would prefer to stick to a one-year contract. Perhaps some creativity and openmindness on either side will help get something done.
The Indians' front office has not revealed a specific dollar amount when it comes to how much it has to spend this offseason. What we know is Cleveland's payroll projects to be north of $100 million, even before any additions. That includes $10 million to pay the remainder of Chris Johnson's contract as part of the trade that removed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn from the roster. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said at the Winter Meetings that the team has some flexibility, but the resources are hardly unlimited.
So can Cleveland make a realistic play on a free-agent slugger like Encarnacion? Only if his asking price in terms of both dollars and years comes down to the Indians' range. This is not a case of Cleveland trying to win a bidding war. For all of these reasons, it remains more realistic that the Tribe re-signs Napoli or tries to solve its need for another hitter via a mid-tier option.
I don't think a free-agent signing would preclude the Indians from exploring long-term extensions for Ramirez or Lindor. Keep in mind that Ramirez does not project to hit arbitration until 2018 and Lindor until '19. Extensions for players in that category are more about controlling cost through the arbitration years and potentially buying out the first year or two of free agency. If the Tribe adds a free agent like Encarnacion, there would likely be little overlap with years in which Ramirez or Lindor begin to make serious money.
@MLBastian will they try to sign Cody Allen since he is only under control through 2018 #Indiansinbox Matt Z Mentor
There have been rumblings about the Indians looking into an extension for Cody Allen for a few years now. While it's not a bad idea, there are a few obstacles. First of all, it is hard to project what a reliever will do from year to year. On top of that, investing long-term in Allen could be risky due to his heavy workload over the past four seasons. From Allen's side, there is no doubt his agent is keeping a close eye on the free-agent contracts that have been given to late-inning arms this offseason and the past few. Allen could be looking at a big payday on the open market. If the Indians can't match what the closer might make in his first year or two of free agency, his camp may not be willing to go the extension route.
@MLBastian How will Francona and Callaway approach spring training for Kluber, Miller, etc. Playoffs taxed arms heavily. #Indiansinbox
As we get closer to Spring Training, this will be something we'll get more details on from manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. During the Winter Meetings, Antonetti noted that Callaway has already started formulating individual plans for the pitchers for the spring. We don't know specifics yet, but the Indians are going to be very cognizant of the extra pitches and innings logged in 2016 as they plan for the '17 campaign.
@MLBastian About that bullpen. Is there a chance Manship isback? Can they afford a vet. matchup lefty or only Milner? What about Armstrong?
Right now, the bullpen projects to include Allen, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister. That leaves two or three spots available, depending on how many arms Francona wants for Opening Day. Righty Shawn Armstrong will certainly be in the mix for a job. Cleveland would be willing to bring Jeff Manship back, but probably only on a Minor League deal, considering he was non-tendered. The Indians added Hoby Milner in the Rule 5 Draft as a candidate for the lefty specialist role, but yes, the team is still looking to add to its lefty depth before the season begins. It is also worth noting that Austin Adams and Edwin Escobar will be competing for jobs this spring with no Minor League options available to the Tribe.
@MLBastian#indiansinbox If Brantley isn't ready for regular season could Yandy with a solid spring be the opening day LFer.
Yandy Diaz was being considered for the 40-man roster for the final month of the 2016 season, but Cleveland instead traded for veteran Coco Crisp. This winter, Diaz hit .357 with a .924 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League. He will come into camp with a shot at a bench job. Michael Brantley (right biceps surgery in August) is expected to be ready for Spring Training and the regular season. That said, if he has any setbacks, it would seemingly give Diaz a better shot at making the team. In that situation, though, I would think Francona would go with some sort of rotation in left field. The Indians are also still looking to add some insurance to its outfield. Re-signing Rajai Davis has not been ruled out.
@MLBastian What are the chances Milner and Santander stick with their new respective clubs?
The Tribe will take a close look at Milner this spring. He lowered his arm slot last season and had good results in the Phillies' system. That lefty specialist job could be his. As for outfielder Anthony Santander, whom the Orioles selected from the Indians in the Rule 5 Draft, it will be interesting to see how the O's handle his season. Santander hit .290 with 20 homers, 42 doubles, 95 RBIs and an .862 OPS for Class A Advanced Lynchburg last year, but he had offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Baltimore will get a better read on his health situation this spring. Santander can be placed on the Major League disabled list, but Rule 5 guidelines necessitate that he be on the active roster for a minimum of 90 days next season. If a player can't reach 90 days due to a legitimate extended injury, the remaining days become obligated at the beginning of the next season.
There was an incorrect report out there during the Winter Meetings claiming that Cleveland took home an estimated $48 million from its deep postseason run. I've been told that the figure is closer to the $10 million to $15 million range.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.