CLEVELAND (AP) — With his
family watching proudly, Edwin Encarnacion stood in front of his new
locker inside Cleveland’s clubhouse, pulled on a fitted cap and slowly
buttoned the front of his white No. 10 jersey.
Once finished, he pointed to the “Indians” logo on his chest and flashed a huge smile as cameras clicked.
It felt seamless.
“He’s a perfect fit for our team,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said Thursday.
In so many ways.
Indians, accustomed to being outspent for high-priced free agents
winter and winter, introduced Encarnacion, a premium player for the
middle of their lineup who will boost attendance and maybe help them win
the World Series.
One of baseball’s most productive hitters over
the past five years, Encarnacion finalized a $60 million, three-year
contract — the richest in Cleveland history — with a team that got to
Game 7 of the Series last season.
Encarnacion’s deal would be
worth $80 million over four years if the Indians exercise a $25 million
option for 2020 that includes a $5 million buyout. There are also
attendances bonuses built in as both the Indians and Encarnacion’s
agent, Paul Kinzer, recognized the three-time All-Star’s ability to spin
“He’s a quiet guy that just goes out and grinds every
day,” Kinzer said. “This is a blue-collar town and he’s a blue-collar
guy. Cleveland is going to love him.”
Encarnacion averaged 39
homers and 110 RBIs over the past five seasons with Toronto, which made
it to the AL Championship Series last season only to be eliminated in
five games by the Indians. Encarnacion, who turns 34 on Saturday,
watched Cleveland’s players celebrate at Rogers Centre that day in
October not ever imagining he would be joining them a little over two
But while he figured to land with Boston or Texas or in another major market, Cleveland’s pitch was the most persistent.
although he could have made more money elsewhere, Encarnacion wanted to
join a winner and the Indians, with one of the majors’ best pitching
staffs and a lineup featuring young stars in Francisco Lindor and Jason
Kipnis, are positioned to contend for years.
“That’s why I came here,” he said. “I believe in this team and I know we can win the World Series with the talent that we have.”
Indians’ courtship of Encarnacion began with owner Paul Dolan’s
commitment to building on the momentum created by the team’s first AL
Central title and Series appearance since 1997. Cleveland was boosted by
cleanup hitter Mike Napoli, who set career highs in homers and RBIs
during his one season with the Indians.
There were better options
available and after deciding not to re-sign Napoli, the Indians focused
on Encarnacion, who hit 42 homers and drove in 127 runs last season.
Antonetti didn’t have to sell Dolan on Encarnacion’s obvious talents.
The challenge was convincing him that the three-time All-Star was worth a
long-term financial obligation.
“It took a lot of work to make
that happen, both compromises from our side and compromises from Edwin’s
side to make this fit and be the right fit for both teams,” Antonetti
said. “And it took a great leap of faith by ownership to make that
It also took some clever negotiating.
the sides were nearing a deal, Oakland made a $50 million, two-year
offer that caused the Indians to counter. Kinzer proposed an attendance
clause, a suggestion Antonetti initially wasn’t sure was possible.
was a way to bridge the gap,” Kinzer said. “When Edwin went on that run
five years ago, Toronto was at 1.9 (million) in attendance. Now,
they’re at 3.4. Well, if Edwin contributes to that, then we should be
rewarded for it.”
The Indians agreed, and although Antonetti
wouldn’t divulge specifics of the attendance perks, the team has sold
over $1 million in season tickets since Encarnacion agreed to the deal
on Dec. 22.
Once the deal’s parameters were settled, Antonetti and Kinzer then had to maneuver around some family holiday obligations.
they neared an agreement, Kinzer was at Six Flags Amusement Park in
Atlanta with his grandchildren to see Santa Claus, while Antonetti was
attending a performance of “The Little Mermaid” with his wife and two
Antonetti ducked in and out of the theater’s auditorium
before closing the biggest deal in team history during a break between
two songs from the musical.
“We were somewhere between ‘Under the Sea’ and ‘Part of Your World,’” he said with a smile. “It was a great performance.”
The Indians can take a bow for theirs, as well.