KC Royals rival Cleveland Indians won the American League Central division with 94 regular-season victories. The Indians added around two to three more wins by replacing DH/1B Mike Napoli with former Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
The Kansas City Royals front office had to look on with horror as free agent Edwin Encarnacion signed with division rival Cleveland, rather than AL West suitors Texas Rangers or Oakland A’s. Encarnacion is one of the best sluggers in major-league baseball, slamming 163 home runs in the last five seasons.
Encarnacion turned down a four-year, $80 million deal to remain with the Toronto Blue Jays before free-agency began. However, on Thursday, the 34-year-old Encarnacion agreed to a mere three-year, $60 million deal with a team option for a fourth season. If the Indians pick up the age 37 option in year four, it will add another $15 million to the overall value of the deal.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law called it a colossal coup at that price. Who knew that Encarnacion’s market would collapse like that? Certainly not the Blue Jays.
Not only are the Indians replacing a 1.0 bWAR player in Mike Napoli with a 3.7 bWAR player in Encarnacion, they will get back outfielder Michael Brantley who missed all of 2016. Cleveland also made a World Series run despite missing starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in the last month of the regular season. Those four additions to the team that took the Cubs to seven games in the 2016 World Series figure to make the Indians more formidable in 2017.
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That’s bad news for the KC Royals’ championship hopes in 2017. Kansas City will not only have to make up 13 games on the Indians, they also will have to run down an improved club.
What The KC Royals Will Need In 2017 To Compete With Cleveland
Yes, the Kansas City Royals suffered from sub-par seasons from Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas in 2016 due to injury. Prime years from those three players would put a considerable dent in last season’s deficit. But, the KC Royals will need more. Eric Hosmer has to bounce back from a 1.0 bWAR season in 2016, in which his bat disappeared in a tough second half. Royals manager Ned Yost will have to find some way to rest catcher Salvador Perez to prevent his typical second-half slide.
Beyond those events, the Royals will need young pitchers like Matt Strahm, Josh Staumont, or the perpetually-injured Kyle Zimmer to replace lost bullpen arms Greg Holland and Wade Davis. Either Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy will need a true ace season. More likely, winning an AL Central title over the Indians will require big years from BOTH players. However, a full season from Jason Vargas will help after he missed most of 2016 with a torn UCL. Finally, Kansas City will need to stay a whole lot healthier than they did in 2016.
That’s a long list of things that need to break KC’s way.
However, the news isn’t all bad. Encarnacion’s price drop suggests that the market might be falling into the Royals range as Spring Training draws near. If Dayton Moore can move Jarrod Dyson and extend Danny Duffy, he could be able to add bullpen help or a left-handed DH.