Edwin: Indians have 'best chance' to win WS

New Cleveland slugger unveiled at press conference Thursday

January 3rd, 2017

CLEVELAND -- It is being described as the perfect fit. The Indians craved right-handed power, and offered that in surplus. Encarnacion wants to win, and he watched Cleveland take down his former Blue Jays last October to clinch a spot in the World Series.

On Thursday, Encarnacion officially joined the Tribe on a three-year contract. Standing in front of his new locker at Progressive Field, he donned a white Indians jersey, pulled on a Cleveland cap, smiled wide and raised both arms in celebration. The uniform fit just fine, and Encarnacion's bat will fit perfectly into the heart of Cleveland's lineup as the club attempts to defend its American League crown.

"Here we go. We're here," said Encarnacion, who had a host of family members at his side. "Everybody knows that Cleveland has one of the best teams in the American League and the best chance to win the World Series. So I'm happy to be here."

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How this blockbuster free-agent signing came together, however, was a complicated puzzle that took time to assemble.

"There were a lot of twists and turns," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "Quite frankly, at the start of the offseason, we didn't think that this would be possible because of the economic commitment that it would take to sign Edwin."

Encarnacion's deal with the Indians is worth $60 million in guaranteed salary, which includes a $5 million buyout for a $25 million team option for the 2020 season. The first baseman is slated to earn $13 million in '17, $17 million in '18 and $20 million in '19, and his contract came with a $5 million signing bonus. If Cleveland picks up Encarnacion's fourth-year option, the pact would have a maximum value of $80 million.

During the General Managers Meetings, Encarnacion's camp turned down a four-year, $80 million offer from Toronto. The Blue Jays moved on quickly, signing Kendrys Morales and later adding Steve Pearce. The Astros, who also had an offer turned down early in the winter, signed . As Encarnacion's options dwindled, the Indians and Rangers kept in touch.

The Indians were in talks with Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer, throughout the offseason, but the negotiations gained swift momentum on Dec. 22, when the A's surprisingly made a strong push. Oakland came calling with a unique and lucrative offer. Encarnacion could earn $50 million over two years, but the A's also offered an opt-out clause after one season and an option for a third year.

Edwin meets Cleveland at the Cavs game

"That opened his eyes," Kinzer said of Encarnacion's reaction to Oakland's offer. "A big part of it was [A's general manager Billy Beane] told us, 'This isn't a sign-and-trade. I want to sign him and help us get to the next level quicker.'"

Kinzer called Encarnacion, who was intrigued by Oakland's overtures. That then prompted the agent to reach out to Antonetti, who was attending a "Little Mermaid" play with his family at the time. Kinzer, as it happened, was at Six Flags Over Georgia with his family. In New Jersey, general manager Mike Chernoff's wife was kind enough to handle bedtime for their kids, so he could get on the phone, too.

Antonetti had to step out multiple times to call Kinzer, who was sending texts and making calls between rides at Six Flags. The Indians president quipped that the deal came to fruition between renditions of "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World."

"I think it was halfway through the second [act], my battery died on my phone," Antonetti said. "I was done. That was it. At that point, all that I had left was the performance."

The deal to land Encarnacion represents the largest contract given out by the Indians in terms of guaranteed dollars. Cleveland gave Travis Hafner a four-year, $57 million extension in 2007 and signed free agent Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal prior to the '13 season. Reeling in big-money free agents does not usually fit the Indians' modus operandi, but this situation was different.

By adding Encarnacion, the Indians are continuing to try to seize their moment. Cleveland heads into the 2017 campaign as the reigning AL Central and AL champions. At the non-waiver Trade Deadline last summer, the Tribe reeled in relief ace in a huge trade with the Yankees. Miller was named the MVP of the ALCS, during which the Indians defeated the Blue Jays in five games.

It took four prospects to land Miller. Cleveland will also forfeit its first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft (No. 25 overall) due to signing Encarnacion. That is a heavy cost, both in terms of dollars and future talent, but the Indians know they have a chance to capitalize on their current contention window.

"As we headed into the offseason, we didn't expect to have these types of resources," Chernoff said. "Ownership has always stepped up in situations when it seems like the right investment to make. At the Trade Deadline, we didn't expect to be able to acquire Andrew Miller, and we were able to do that. We've always had faith that ownership would be willing to support us in the right moment. This is one of those moments."

The reaction from fans has been encouraging, too.

Since the news broke that Encarnacion had agreed to sign with Cleveland, the Indians have sold more than $1 million in season tickets. There has been a 50-percent increase in new sales, compared to the entire offseason last year. Along those lines, Kinzer even had an attendance clause added to Encarnaction's contract. If the Indians hit certain attendance milestones, the slugger can receive bonuses. The specifics of that aspect are not immediately known.

"That was a way to bridge the gap [in negotiations]," Kinzer said. "If Edwin contributes to that, then we should be rewarded for it."

Encarnacion, who will turn 34 on Saturday, hit .263 with 42 home runs, 34 doubles, 87 walks, 99 runs and 127 RBIs last season for the Blue Jays. The first baseman and designated hitter has spent parts of the past eight years with Toronto, developing into one of the elite right-handed sluggers in the game.

Over the 2012-16 seasons, Encarnacion (193 homers and 550 RBIs) ranked second to only Chris Davis (197) in home runs and (569) in RBIs. Encarnacion's .273 isolated power in that span ranked first among batters with a minimum of 2,300 at-bats. Among that same sample of hitters, Encarnacion also ranked first in at-bats per home runs (13.9). His .544 slugging percentage ranked third behind only Cabrera (.574) and (.564).

"If you look at his consistency, he's remarkably consistent," Antonetti said. "He not only brings an element of power, but he commands the strike zone extremely well also," Antonetti said. "That kind of hitter can have a big impact on our team and make the players around him better. All he has to do is be himself."

With the Indians, Encarnacion would split time between first and DH with , who had his $12 million team option picked up for '17. Last season, Mike Napoli filled that role for Cleveland and launched 34 homers with a team-high 101 RBIs. Adding Encarnacion effectively ends what was a memorable one-year run with the Tribe for Napoli.

"That was the most difficult part of that process," Antonetti said, "because we all know what he meant to our team both on the field and in the clubhouse."

Napoli was a favorite among fans, who embraced the "Party at Napoli's" slogan last year. Of course, Encarnacion can easily win fans over with the kind of power displays he put on for the Blue Jays. His home runs also come with the "Edwing" trot, during which the slugger raises his right arm while rounding the bases like he is carrying an invisible parrot.

Encarnacion laughed when asked if the parrot was also coming to Cleveland.

"We've got to ask immigration and see," he joked.