Travis Hafner ($57-million) and Nick Swisher ($56-million) etched their names in the Cleveland Indians history books with two of the largest contracts in the history of the organization.
Those distant memories of Hafner and Swisher certainly have significance, but both fell short of the Tribe’s latest off-season signing.
The buzz of Major League Baseball was made official on Thursday morning as president Chris Antonetti announced the acquisition of Edwin Encarnacion on a three-year deal worth $60-million, including a $5-million buyout.
In addition, the agreement also entails a $25-million option for a fourth year that would give Encarnacion a max contract valued at $80-million. Encarnacion will donate $100,000 annually for the life of his contract to both Cleveland and Dominican-based organizations.
“This is going to be Spanglish,” said a smiling Encarnacion when introducing himself and talking about his dialect. “Everybody knows that Cleveland has one of the best teams in the whole entire league and the best chance to win the World Series.”
Right from the outset, Encarnacion expressed a humorous manner paralleled by his serious aspirations to help bring a title to Cleveland.
Alongside the club’s translator Anna Bolton, the 34-year-old power bat garnered the respect of the crowd and established a positive first impression on Thursday morning from Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.
“The beginning, yes. But after, I know they want to win and I know I want to win,” Encarnacion said when asked about whether he was surprised to sign with a small-market organization like the Indians. “I know I’m the perfect fit for this team and I know we can do it.”
The unprecedented contract surpasses the previous records held by Hafner and Swisher in what shaped out to be the biggest free agent signing in Tribe history.
“All along we thought Edwin was a really good fit for us,” said Antonetti. “As we started to progress through the winter, as we had continued conversations with ownership, we started to feel that the opportunity to align on value with Edwin was potentially possible so we continued to pursue that.”
As a result of the signing, veteran pieces like Mike Napoli (Texas Rangers) and Rajai Davis (Oakland Athletics) have departed.
“The most difficult part about that process for us honestly was knowing that signing Edwin would mean that we couldn’t bring Nap (Napoli) back,” Antonetti said. “We all know what he meant to our team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. “
Originating at MLB’s Winter Meetings this past December, the rumors circling around Encarnacion heated up and gravitated toward the Indians once the Toronto Blue Jays announced their signing of 1B/DH Kendrys Morales.
Couple Toronto’s newest middle-of-the-order bat with the questionable free agent status of close friend Jose Bautista, and Encarnacion was forced to look below the border for a new team.
“With the collective bargaining agreement, I think it was a surprise,” said Paul Kinzer, Encarnacion’s agent, in response to Toronto’s rather abrupt signing of Morales. “We didn’t know what hand we were playing.”
Encarnacion had declined the Blue Jays opening offer worth $80-million over the course of four years and decided to pursue a deal elsewhere. With Matt Holliday signing with the Yankees and Chris Sale heading to the Red Sox, the Indians and Oakland Athletics stood out as the leading candidates and likely landing spots for the Dominican Republic native.
“Everybody knows I have five, six, seven years with the organization,” said Encarnacion of his former team. “The best memory I have was the walk-off homer in the Wild Card (Game).”
Referring to his laser shot over the left field wall in the 10th inning of the 2016 American League Wild Card Game, Encarnacion has proven his worth as a premier hitter with both the Cincinnati Reds and Blue Jays.
His 11-year MLB tenure has equated to a .266 batting average with 310 home runs and 942 RBIs. Most recently in 2016, Encarnacion appeared in 160 games and set career-highs in home runs (tied, 42) and RBIs (127). Chris Davis is the only major league hitter with more home runs over the last five seasons with a mark of 197 compared to Encarnacion’s 193 bombs.
“I don’t have too many games here, but I like it, I like this stadium,” Encarnacion said when asked about the confines of Progressive Field. “I like to hit cleanup, but I’m not the manager. The manager makes the decision and wherever he puts me I’m going to be ready.”
Encarnacion figures to slot himself amid Francisco Lindor and either Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez or Michael Brantley. There is no blockade to Encarnacion’s playing time as he will split action between the first base and designated hitter positions.
“I know they (the Indians) have great young talented players,” said Encarnacion of his new teammates. “I believe in this team and I know we can win the World Series with the talent that we have.”
Consumed and driven by the prospect of returning to the World Series, Antonetti made the unimaginable move to acquire Encarnacion rather than exploring more affordable options like Mitch Moreland, Chris Carter or Holliday.
“We think we’re capable of potentially doing that again,” Antonetti said of reaching the World Series. “If we didn’t have that belief in our team then an investment like this doesn’t make quite as much sense. We think Edwin will fit in seamlessly and have a big impact on our team and lineup and hopefully give us a better chance to earn another postseason berth and try to win a World Series.”
February 12th marks the beginning of this undying pursuit of a World Series title when pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, AZ for spring training.
Only one Tribe player named Edwin will retain their active roster status as left-handed pitcher Edwin Escobar was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.null