Baltimore Orioles: Time to step up for Encarnacion

Oct 14, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning in game one of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion hits a single against the Cleveland Indians in the third inning in game one of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

With the market drying up, the Baltimore Orioles must step up and sign Edwin Encarnacion.

One by one, the older or cheaper designated hitters have signed short-term deals, taking away potential suitors for Edwin Encarnacion. According to various reports, the only teams left with even passing interest in landing the three-time All-Star and 2016 AL RBI King are the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. All other teams linked to him — Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies — are only speculative at this point. The Baltimore Orioles also fall into that speculative category.

The Toronto Blue Jays seemingly took themselves out of the running for Encarnacion by offering him four years and $80 million in the first days of the offseason While that looks like a very competitive offer now, making it so early on, pulling it, all while full well knowing that the first baseman/DH wanted to test the waters, shows that the Jays were not that serious. Almost immediately after taking the offer off the table, Kendrys Morales was signed to a three-year deal. The Blue Jays are said to be maintaining contact with Encarnacion, but his market would have to take a serious hit to envision even the slightest shot at a reunion.

The Orioles made a well-documented push to re-sign Mark Trumbo at the Winter Meetings, offering four years and between $50-55 million. The sides met twice, and it remains unclear whether or not the Orioles upped their initial offer into the $60-million range. Trumbo was seeking over $70 million. If Dan Duquette is serious about fielding a contending team in 2017 and 2018 before his roster goes POOF! and evaporates, he must take his Trumbo money and offer it to Encarnacion.

With the signing of Welington Castillo for $6 million next year, the Baltimore Orioles will enter 2017 with unprecedented payroll. Arbitration raises for Manny Machado, Brad Brach, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton will eat up most of the money saved at catcher.

The Angelos family is finding out in a hurry that paying a roster for a team that has been to the playoffs three times in six years is very, very expensive. The Orioles have All-Stars at first base, shortstop, third base, center field, closer, setup man (times two), and in the rotation. They would like at least one more past All-Star to play right field or DH. Assuming the Orioles have between $15-20 million left to spend this offseason, is Trumbo the right move? Should Encarnacion be the target instead?

After the 2014 season, the Orioles balked at Nelson Cruz‘s contract demands and lost him to Seattle. Cruz has gone on to do nothing but hit, conquering Safeco Field much more easily than anyone could have imagined. The Orioles wasted the 2015 season by playing Travis Snider, Delmon Young, Alejandro De Aza, and Gerardo Parra in right field. The Orioles cannot afford a repeat of that offseason. The Red Sox are getting better, the Blue Jays are keeping their stellar rotation in tact with or without Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays will be much more competitive next year.

Baltimore cannot enter 2017 without re-signing Trumbo or a comparable replacement. More importantly, the replacement should not be some high-strikeout clone like Chris Carter. The Orioles have too much of that in their lineup to begin with. Encarnacion is the perfect hitter for the Orioles. He draws walks, strikes out infrequently, and fits well in the ballpark. He enters his age-34 season with five straight years of an OBP higher than .350. For reference, Machado led the Orioles last year in on-base percentage at .343.

Encarnacion’s age may scare the Orioles off, just as Cruz’s age did two years ago. However, it’s not like they would have to commit to a seven-year deal to land him. The longest contract offer that is likely to materialize is a four-year deal, which the Orioles should be able to handle. Duquette could even offset some of his downside risk by offering an opt-out clause after two years. Encarnacion has no history of major medical issues, and should not slow down over the next two years. The opt-out after two years would give the Orioles some flexibility in addressing their roster Armageddon. There is also more flexibility coming after the three pitchers (who shall remain nameless) making over $30 million combined come off the books next year. The Orioles must view their lemons in the rotation as a sunk cost and spend through the mistakes.

Let’s assume the Orioles are willing to spend $60 million total to sign one player to fill out their DH spot next year. Trumbo would take four years, Encarnacion would take three years. There is inherently less risk in signing a player for three years at an extra $5 million per year. Paying Encarnacion $20 million per year, compared to $15 million for Trumbo is not going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes time to at least try and sign Manny Machado for 12 years and $360 million.

For the Baltimore Orioles, signing Edwin Encarnacion would also serve the dual purpose of keeping him away from contenders like the Rangers or Indians. Cleveland should have an easy enough path back to the playoffs with three teams in their division in various stages of rebuild. The Rangers have a more difficult path back to the playoffs, just like the Orioles. In their current window of contention, the O’s have not made the postseason in back-to-back years. As has been the case every year, the analysts do not love the Orioles’ chances to begin with.

Next: Orioles Sign Welington Castillo

Three teams made it to the postseason out of the AL East last year, and the same thing can happen in 2017 if everything breaks right. As their roster currently stands, the Baltimore Orioles will not be one of those teams. There has been every indication that the front office has the budget to add one big bat. Encarnacion is the correct choice, and as his market lingers, Duquette must step up and bring him to Baltimore. That’s a move even the biggest Blue Jays hating O’s fan would welcome with open arms.