The Edwin Encarnacion Era has come to an abrupt end. Generally expected to be in Cleveland for another year, the Tribe turned Edwin and Yandy Diaz into Jake Bauers and two more years of Carlos Santana on Thursday. There are many complex feelings around this trade. Most all of them will be covered somewhere on this site. But I want to talk about Edwin, and how really, it just never felt right, did it?
It’s not a knock on Edwin, or at least it doesn’t mean to be. He was a fine player for the Indians. He did about everything expected of him. It was just so out of character for them to even sign him. Like, prior to him a “big free agent signing” was Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn after he’d overvalued himself. So watching the Indians go and drop some $60 million on him was amazing and a bit baffling at the same time. It made you question what was real. It was for less money and years than he was searching for - he wanted $80 million over 4 years, he ended with 3/60 and an option year - and it seemed like, as MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian wrote at the time, a perfect fit.
But at the same time, it just seemed so… off. Out of sync with reality. Not in a bad way you understand, but the Indians are not the team to go out and spend money. It’s one of the traditions of the offseason when you follow the team - complaining about the Dolans being cheap. We get to do it this year because they’re supposed to be shedding salary. But with Edwin, suddenly they were signing the big bat. Which was strange, ill-fitting, even if it was kind of cool. He had a role to fill as Mike Napoli - who somehow fit right in, probably the Tito connection, maybe the big bushy beard - departed, and he did that and more at that and more at the plate. But something was missing.
And that was the thing with Edwin as a whole. He was a good, solid player for the Indians. In his two years in Cleveland he posted basically his career averages, popped 70 homers and was a central part of the offense. Not the keystone like in Toronto, but he played an important role. It could be that it was the camera work or bad timing, or just how he expresses himself, but when the broadcast cut to him I rarely got the sense he was “part” of the team. Not like Kipnis or Lindor or Ramirez or Brantley, not like the guys who we’ve watched flourish in an Indians uniform. There wasn’t the fiddling about in the dugout. Maybe that’s not him, I don’t know. He was a hired gun at the very base of it all, as embraced by the fanbase as one can be when they launch baseballs into the scoreboard, but it never felt or looked cohesive.
Luckily for everyone, baseball doesn’t need cohesion. You can have a team where everyone hates everyone and they can win a million games, just as you can assemble the most kumbaya clubhouse in the majors and watch as they fall to the bottom of the league. With Encarnacion on the team the Indians won 102 games and took 22 straight and it was amazing. During that stretch Edwin posted a .909 OPS and popped 5 home runs. Which is good, though not otherworldly. It was a bit better than his season numbers - .881 OPS, and 5 homers in 22 games works out to 36 over 162 - So he was who he was at the pinnacle of the Tribe season. He was dreadful in October - when he got to play - but the whole team was, so who really cares? Even that didn’t draw that much ire, especially with how guys like Jose Ramirez struggled. It’s like expectations weren’t that high, which for a supposedly big free agent signing is strange in itself.
This was a beloved player in Toronto. For the parrot,for the dingers, for the camaraderie with Jose Bautista, and his leaving was heartbreaking to a lot of Jays fans. For the same reason Carlos Santana leaving was for Indians fans. This was a player they saw turn from a young kid into an absolute behemoth, and he was all theirs. And then he left. Cleveland fans have lived that story all too many times, so being on the other side of it was strange.
Things have reverted, at least in Tribe Town. Edwin is starting the usual path of the aging slugger, wending his way through the cheap teams trying to eke another solid year or two out of him as his powers erode. He’ll of course be missed in Cleveland. That inside-the-park homer in Anaheim was amazing, so were all the moonshots that nearly knocked John Adams out. But it’s not a painful exit, for so many reasons. Hopefully he helps Seattle, or Tampa, or whoever, and has another season of tape measure shots. I won’t really be looking in, not like I did with Santana or probably even will with Diaz. Now that’s a player I’ve barely even seen play baseball, and yet seeing him go is a tiny gut punch.
Edwin was a nice surprise, like a free cookie. But like that tasty chocolate chip, you enjoy it for what it is, and move on. There will be other cookies. The Indians have one right now. This analogy has gone too far. But it’ll be an era looked back on with something resembling fondness, though it won’t be him at the center of those memories. It’s a strange way to view a player of his stature. But that’s just the way it is.