The days of sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista terrorizing opposing pitchers as part of the same lineup might not be over. Despite general manager Mike Chernoff’s implication earlier this week that the Indians are done making major splashes after signing Encarnacion, they’re still “in touch” with Bautista and other free agents, reports FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
Whether Cleveland will make any other significant moves this offseason will depend on ownership’s willingness to further increase payroll, per Rosenthal. In light of that, it’s perhaps worth noting that the Indians’ run to the World Series last season generated a sizable amount of extra revenue for the franchise.
Should ownership sign off on adding Bautista, whose market has been shockingly quiet this winter, it would reunite him and longtime Toronto teammate Encarnacion and make the reigning American League champions’ lineup even more formidable. The 36-year-old Bautista would likely continue as a right fielder in Cleveland, which already has Carlos Santana and Encarnacion set to occupy designated hitter and first base.
The Indians seem to have a full contingent of outfielders with Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer and Abraham Almonte in the fold, not to mention prospect Bradley Zimmer nearing the majors. Brantley missed nearly all of last season with shoulder issues, though, so Bautista’s presence would provide insurance if he’s unable to bounce back in 2017. And no one else from that group is nearly as established as Bautista, who Rosenthal suggests could bump Chisenhall to center.
Bautista rejected a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays before becoming a free agent, which means signing him could cost any team without a top 10 pick a first-rounder in next summer’s draft. The Indians already punted their top selection to secure Encarnacion, however, so they would only have to surrender a second-rounder – currently No. 64 – to sign Bautista. If they do, a back-loaded, two-year deal could be a possibility, according to Rosenthal, who notes that Santana is scheduled to become a free agent next offseason. Bautista would then take over for Santana at DH/first, which would be a logical step for an aging player who’s not an asset in the outfield. Bautista is certainly a positive at the plate, though; even in a down, injury-shortened 2016, he still slashed a more-than-respectable .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs in 517 plate appearances.
Regardless of whether they reel in Bautista or another corner outfielder, the Indians are also continuing to monitor the corner infield and relief markets, writes Rosenthal. Any further additions would beef up an Opening Day payroll that Jason Martinez of MLBTR and Roster Resource projects for $119MM-plus. The Indians began last season in the $96MM range and ended it one win from a World Series championship.