The Oakland Athletics are in the middle of a rebuild, but with potential suitors for the services of Edwin Encarnacion going in other directions, the A’s are now contemplating making a run at one of the most feared sluggers on the free agent market.
The Oakland Athletics are typically one of the few teams in the lower echelons of team payroll in MLB, but with Lew Wolff out and Dave Kaval in, the A’s may be looking to make a splash on the free agent market to show that they are indeed moving in a new direction. One major way to send that message would be to write a big check to Edwin Encarnacion this winter.
Encarnacion smashed 42 homers and drove in 117 RBI with the Toronto Blue Jays last year in his age 33 season. The current first baseman in Oakland is Yonder Alonso, who could retain that job while Edwin is the team’s primary DH. Oakland’s DH stats from 2016 are skewed since both a league average Billy Butler and breakout star Khris Davis are both lumped together at the position on FanGraphs. Either way, Encarnacion’s 134 wRC+ would be an upgrade for the A’s.
The A’s could even give Alonso the day off when facing lefties, who he struggled mightily against last season, compiling a.227 batting average and a 68 wRC+, while Encarnacion’s splits were about equal against both righties and lefties. He just mashes.
Just yesterday, Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse wrote that the A’s could take a page out of the Giants playbook in rebuilding the fan base while waiting for a new ballpark solution, mentioning that the Giants signed the most valued free agent on the market in Barry Bonds to help bring fans back. In a weak free agent class, Encarnacion is certainly near the top, if not at the top of the market.
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It’s tough to say how far the market would have to fall for this pipe dream to become a reality. The A’s aren’t expected to compete in 2017, and certainly aren’t going have some of the finest ballpark amenities to offer players, but they could have a better pitch than the Colorado Rockies (aside from the ball that you hit will go really, really far at Coors) who are also rumored to be in on the slugger. The Rockies and A’s are both rebuilding, although Colorado may be a bit closer to contending, but the A’s have more history. Texas and St. Louis are also reportedly in, but they have more financial constraints than Oakland, and all three teams would lose a draft pick with the qualifying offer that is attached to Edwin. Oakland has plenty of space until they hit the luxury tax, and have a protected pick, giving them more incentive to make a splash.
If those are the only four teams, the A’s could make a pitch saying that they have some pitching depth, and if a couple of things break right, a big bat in the middle of their lineup would be a big boost to turning around their fortunes.
The A’s would probably top out around four years, $60M, which would be just shy of the team’s largest contract ever handed out. That was given to Eric Chavez back in 2004–a deal that was six years and $66M. They could certainly up that figure if need be, but likely not to the $80M figure that he was reportedly offered with the Blue Jays before. The A’s still have to be smart about spending their money. Signing Sonny Gray to an extension would have at least the same amount of impact on the fan base that signing a big free agent would.
As an A’s fan, dreaming of Davis and Encarnacion back-to-back in the lineup is something to get pretty darn excited about. The problem here is that adding Encarnacion still doesn’t give the A’s a centerfielder, and doesn’t help the team’s defense at all. It would be a nice big splash to make, and may help the A’s win a few more games, but it doesn’t fix some of the club’s more pressing needs. I’d still jump for joy if it happened though, because it’d be a sign that times are a changin’ in Oakland.