Cleveland Indians Mailbag Preview: Will Encarnacion Earn His Attendance Bonus?

Mar 19, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela (right) congratulates third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) after Encarnacion scored during the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela (right) congratulates third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) after Encarnacion scored during the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Time for another Cleveland Indians mailbag, as the preview continues with Joe Russo, who answers your Tribe questions. Have a question for Joe? Tweet him @NorthCoastJoeR

It’s our third and final part of our Mailbag Preview for 2017. We will have something a little extra in this one, so enjoy our last round of questions ahead of Opening Day.

Does Edwin Encarnacion earn his money this year?

Based on attendance? Maybe. Based on production, absolutely. The Dolan’s picked the right free agent in 2017 instead of making a bad trade in earlier years. Remember how mad everyone was that the Indians didn’t trade for Todd Frazier? Remember the Carlos Carrasco for Jorge Solar deal that was discussed? $20 million each year for 3 years is a solid shorter term investment. He’s a potent right handed bat that has been among the league leaders in many categories for years. He’s a great fit for this offense.

Any glaring defensive liabilities you see?

-Wherever Yandy Diaz plays. Seriously The man can hit, but there’s a reasons there is so much discussion about the extra work needed to be ready to play the infield. After that, first base is an issue. Neither Edwin Encarnacion nor Carlos Santana are “good” first baseman. Tyler Naquin struggled last year, but has a track record of being a good defensive center fielder. Any questions about his defense should be reserved for later in the year.

Do Indians surpass their 94 win total from last year?

Yes. The Indians will win 95 games. One more still counts as more.

How long before Sandy Alomar Jr. gets a skipper job?

2018, especially if the Indians have another great season. He’s earned it.

Does the Chief Wahoo debate intensify?

Can we pass on this question? No? Okay. The debate will intensify because of the Dolan’s decision to move to the “C” logo as the primary logo and reduce the visibility of the Chief Wahoo image. I hate the block C with a passion, but understand the issues with Chief Wahoo. The debate won’t go anywhere anytime soon.

Will the Dolans make another trade mid-season if needed, to go all- in or was Edwin the most cash they were willing to part with?

There’s bound to be some move somewhere along the line, especially if the Tribe is in the title race again. If there is a weakness that Dolans will identify, it will be the catcher position, just like in 2016. They’ll spend shrewdly and do have enough minor league depth to put a solid package together as needed.

What should we expect from the back end of the rotation from Bauer/Tomlin? Do you think they will improve with their post season performances?

Trevor Bauer will be fine and will make a leap in 2017. Josh Tomlin? How much more magic is left in that elbow? He’s one bad pitch away from blowing his arm out again, but has been steady for the last few seasons. There really shouldn’t be much don’t about the rotation, aside from injury, in 2017.

Does Zimmer make it to this show this year?

Maybe in September when the rosters expand, just to rest guys or make a cameo. But if Zimmer sees meaningful time in Cleveland in 2017, the season has gone poorly or every outfielder got hurt.

Will Tribe “fans” come out to actually support their team this year or does it take a pennant chase before they decide to show up?

I certainly hope so. I get that it can be hard to get to games mid-week or dinner and drinks downtown make the trip expensive. But Progressive Field is awesome and the Dolans put their own money into making it a jewel in downtown Cleveland. Attendance might struggle again, but at least radio and television ratings have never been higher.

What is your guess on attendance the game after the opener?

Last attendance question! The Indians will finish in the middle third in the league in attendance. No, you will not get a more exact answer than that.

What do you make of the Kipnis injury?

It’s the first major hurdle of the year as it pushed Jose Ramirez and his brand new extension to second and tosses the lineup into the air. While Kip should be back in May, his injury has two consequences. First, it gives Yandy Diaz a shot to prove his place in the organization.

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If he can handle third, it gives the Indians immediate help if there is another injury. Second, it takes away from what could be the best top of the lineup in the AL. A Santana-Kipnis-Lindor-Encarnacion-Brantley-Ramirez start to the lineup scares a lot of pitchers. Until Diaz proves he can do it at the big league level, the lineup loses a lot of punch.

How many innings can we expect from Danny Salazar, and how does Tito need to use him so we get effective innings from Salazar in October?

Salazar throws 180 innings with some management early in the year.

Biggest question this year is can the pitching staff repeat their 2016 performance and stay healthy, especially in the second half?

It’s a big if when it comes to health. Salazar has looked great in Goodyear and Carrasco should be healed up when it matters. By the second half, the only concern I have is Salazar’s pitch counts causing a flare up in his arm again.

Boone Logan going to be enough to spell Miller all season long in the late innings?

He wasn’t signed to the deal he was to be a one out guy. He’ll throw some innings and hopefully eat up some innings from Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller. Adding a player like Logan is a big boost to keeping the bullpen balanced.

Who fills the 6th “flex” starter role when something goes awry? Clevinger, Merritt, or someone else?

Mike Clevinger will get the first shot despite a rough spring. It does feel good though that the minor league depth in the rotation is starting to come around. In addition to Clevinger and Merritt, Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando have potential. There’s also always Zach McAllister. He’s been allegedly asked to lengthen out so we can use him as a true long man or emergency starter.

What role does Austin Jackson play in 2017?

He’s the only other center field option on the roster, so he will see plenty of time if healthy. Since he made the Opening Day roster, he’s also injury insurance for any outfielder that gets banged up during the season as he has plenty of starting experience in the majors and a lot of that experience in the AL Central.

Related Story: Tribe Roster Preview: OF Revolves Around Brantley

He has the potential to be another bargain free-agent find for this front office.

Lastly, how do the Indians finish up this season?

I cannot and will not predict a World Series win. There’s something about tempting fate that reminds me too much of stealing Jobu’s rum. Instead, I will predict a few things. The Indians will win 95 games and win the AL Central by at least six games. There will be at least three Tribe pitchers that strike out 200 batters. Danny Salazar has a big year and overtakes Corey Kluber as the staff ace by staying healthy all season. Michael Brantley notches another 7 WAR season in left while returning to form.

Next: Are The Experts Picking The Indians?

All in all, it’s going to be a fantastic year on the North Coast as a Tribe fan.