CLEVELAND — The Indians already own one of the American League’s best pitching staffs. Now, with the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion, they may have one of the league’s best offenses, too.
That’s a pretty good place to be for a team that fell a win away from capturing the World Series last year.
“Everybody knows that Cleveland has one of the best teams in the American League and the best chance to win the World Series,” said Encarnacion, whose signing of a three-year contract worth $65 million was officially announced Thursday morning during a news conference at Progressive Field. “I believe in this team. We can win the World Series. I believe in the talent that we have.
“I know that I’m the perfect fit for this team and I know that we can win.”
The small-market Indians, who went well above their comfort zone to sign a marquee player to the largest deal in franchise history, clearly felt the same.
“He’s the perfect fit for our team,” team president Chris Antonetti said. “He’s established himself as one of the most productive offensive players in baseball over the last five years. He’s been remarkably consistent and we feel he’ll impact our team both with his power and the quality of his at-bats.”
Encarnacion, 33, batted .263 last year, matching a career-high with 42 home runs and reaching a career best in RBIs (127) — a total that led the AL.
An All-Star three of the past five seasons in Toronto, Encarnacion has hit at least 34 homers while driving in over 100 runs four times in that span. The lone season he didn’t reach the century mark in RBIs was 2014, when he was limited to 128 games and still drove in 98.
Encarnacion’s production and status made it an unlikely signing for the Indians, especially after the free agent turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from his former team.
The Indians were listed as one of a number of clubs involved in talks with Encarnacion at the Winter Meetings in early December — something that surprised many, including the player himself.
Negotiations between the Indians and Encarnacion’s agent, Paul Kinzer, continued until Cleveland was the last team standing.
Indians manager Terry Francona may have played a part.
Encarnacion said he had yet to make a decision when he spoke to Francona, the reigning AL Manager of the Year, during the negotiating period.
“I was thinking about it and when you talk to a guy like Francona, a lot of things can happen,” Encarnacion said.
As he has for much of his career, Encarnacion will likely split time at first base and designated hitter and is expected to fill the cleanup spot held last year by Mike Napoli, who the Indians decided not to re-sign.
He will be surrounded by a talented Indians lineup that includes two-time All-Star Jason Kipnis, All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, who had a breakout season in 2016, Carlos Santana, who reached career highs in homers (34) and RBIs (87) last year and possibly Michael Brantley, an MVP finalist in 2014 who missed nearly all of 2016 with a problematic right shoulder.
“I don’t have too many games (at Progressive Field) but I like this stadium to hit,” said Encarnacion, who owns a lifetime .275 batting average with two homers and 11 RBIs in 22 games at Cleveland’s home park. “If I hit cleanup, it’s up to the manager. The manager is going to make that decision and I’m going to be ready for it.”
Encarnacion’s contract includes a unique clause. He can reach bonuses based on the team’s attendance. Though the Indians ranked third-to-last in regular-season attendance last year, Kinzer is confident the bonus will be paid, feeling as though his client and new fan base have something in common.
“He’s not a flashy guy, that’s not him,” Kinzer said. “But the fans in Toronto loved him. He’s just a quiet guy that goes out and grinds every single day, and I think Cleveland will really love him because this is a blue-collar town and he’s a blue-collar guy.”
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