Willing to increase payroll, the Astros are in on free agent Edwin Encarnacion and could look to acquire Miguel Cabrera via trade according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Following a disappointing 2016 campaign and years of preconceived mediocrity to help build a winner, Jeff Luhnow and the rest of the front office finally seem ready to invest in a larger payroll to help build a sustained winner.
Encarnacion, who just became a free agent, is considered to be one of the best bats on the market at the moment. The 33-year-old slugger just tied his personal best for home runs in a season with 42—a total he matched in 2012. Somewhat troublingly, Encarnacion’s strikeout rate climbed by four percentage points on the previous two seasons though.
The designated hitter is said to be seeking a five-year deal worth $125 million, and is capable of playing first base as well. Over the past five seasons, Encarnacion has been worth more than $30 million per year by FanGraphs’ $/WAR estimations. So, while a $125 million contract is a large commitment for a player that may not play a position and would be pushing 39-years-old by the time the contract expires, Encarnacion has produced more than enough value to command that contract on the free market.
Cabrera on the other-hand was recently rumored to be available via trade as the Tigers may look to trade away some veteran pieces this offseason. Cabrera is signed through the next seven seasons at least, and is owed $212 million over that time frame. There are two vesting options tagged on for the 2024 and 2025 seasons—when Cabrera would be 41-years-old and 42-years-old respectively—that are automatically picked up if the All-Star first baseman finishes in the top-10 in MVP voting in the previous year. Cabrera has a full no-trade clause included in his contract, but may still welcome a trade.
The 33-year-old slugger is coming off of an astonishingly-similar season to Encarnacion. While Cabrera finished with just four fewer home runs, he finished with a walk rate just one percentage point better and a strikeout rate that was just over two percentage points better. Even further, both finished with roughly the same value defensively at first base by Ultimate Zone Rating, though Defensive Runs Saved preferred Encarnacion.
Both Encarnacion and Cabrera would represent substantial payroll increases for the Astros who began the 2016 season with less than $100 million in contract commitments. While the team won the AL Wild Card game in 2015, the Astros were likely looking to take a step forward in 2016. Instead though, a 7-17 start in April proved insurmountable by season’s end, and the team failed to make the postseason at all while the Rangers posted the best record in the American League.
The Astros have significant pieces to build a perennial contender around, and showing a willingness to add payroll would be an appropriate step for a team with so much young, controllable talent.