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Yankees 2017 Potential Free Agent Target: Edwin Encarnacion

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The Yankees will be short on power next season, with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez retired and Brian McCann in Houston. Luckily, Edwin Encarnacion has enough pop in his bat to make up for the losses, and then some.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Statistics: .263/.357/.529, 42 HR, 127 RBI, 134 wRC+, 3.9 fWAR

Age on Opening Day 2017: 34

Position: 1B/DH

Sometimes, timing is everything. In this case, the difference of less than a week changed the complexion of this article from "don't sign Edwin Encarnacion" to "well, it's worth thinking about." If I had written this article before last Thursday's trade of Brian McCann to the Houston Astros, there would have been little reason to sign Edwin Encarnacion. With designated hitter and first base in good (if slightly uncertain) hands between the shifting crew of Greg Bird, Tyler Austin, and McCann, locking up a first baseman in Encarnacion would have been a misallocation of resources. McCann represented steady production, while Austin and Bird were upside plays that weren't guarantees of success, but combined should have provided solid enough value with room for much more.

Instead, McCann is gone and the reliability has been taken out of the Yankees' lineup. Counting on a rookie who was a non-prospect just a season ago and a sophomore who hasn't touched the field in a full season after a significant shoulder injury is tempting fate, and the Yankees would be wise to sign a player who can provide steady power from either first base or DH. While the market is flush with hitters who fit this definition (Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Mark Trumbo, Matt Holliday, and Pedro Alvarez, to name a few), the best of the best is undoubtedly the previously mentioned Edwin Encarnacion.

Since hitting his stride with the Blue Jays in 2012, E5 (if you want to know the origination of that nickname, look at his ‘highlights' as a third baseman) has ranked right up there with the league's premier power hitters, mashing the second most home runs (averaging 39 per year), fifth highest slugging percentage (.544), seventh highest wRC+ (146), and third best isolated power mark (.273). Encarnacion didn't let up last season, either, playing a career high 160 games and mashing 42 home runs to go with a .263/.357/.529 line.

The biggest red flag with the first baseman/DH is that, well, he's a first baseman/DH. Long-term contracts shelled out to that type of player rarely work out well, and the past six examples of said contract type aren't all that promising.

Year

Name

Contract

WARP/yr

2008

Mark Teixeira

8 years, $180M

1.79

2010

Adam Dunn

4 years, $56M

0.98

2011

Albert Pujols

10 years, $250M

1.69*

2011

Prince Fielder

9 years, $214M

0.86

2014

Hanley Ramirez

4 years, $88M

0.23*

2015

Chris Davis

7 years, $161M

0.7*

*Future performance is estimated by Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA

Considering Encarnacion will be 34 on Opening Day and often been banged up (though he's avoided missing significant time due to injuries), there's substantial risk in this contract. Add in the fact that his strikeout rate crossed the 16% threshold (all the way up to 19.7%) for the first time since 2010, and there's plenty of reason to worry about Encarnacion being yet another free agent first base bust.

Then again, the former Blue Jay's age may work in favor of the Yankees. The collective market, despite being awfully generous right now, probably won't be willing to offer more than five years, which lowers the risk of him being a long-lasting black hole on the payroll in the case of rapid decline.

Still, Encarnacion is a big risk. His power is likely to decline with age, and with it will go his value. He should be able to supply another year or two of elite offensive production, but Encarnacion also had his lowest wRC+ since 2011 last season and his bat could continue to slide over the next few seasons. So, while it makes sense for the Yankees to add a power bat to replace Brian McCann (as well as Mark Texieria and Alex Rodriguez), New York may be better off searching for a cheaper option. That said, Encarnacion does offer elite power, something the Yankees could certainly use, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him in pinstripes next season.