CLEVELAND -- With a World Series crown in mind, the Indians pulled off a blockbuster deal on Friday night, reeling in Blue Jays star Josh Donaldson. Standing at his locker, Edwin Encarnacion's eyes widened and the Indians' slugger smiled at the mention of his former teammate's name.
Encarnacion knows first-hand the kind of impact Donaldson can have on a team.
"He's a great player, man. He's a great player," Encarnacion said after the Indians' 3-0 win over the Rays. "Everybody's going to be excited to see him here. He's a great guy. He's a great guy."
Cleveland acquired Donaldson and $2.7 million from Toronto in exchange for a player to be named later, meaning the Indians will be responsible for $1 million of the third baseman's $23 million salary for this season. In order to add Donaldson to the 40-man roster, the Indians transferred center fielder Leonys Martin (out for the year) to the 60-day disabled list.
The 32-year-old Donaldson -- currently rehabbing a left calf injury that has sidelined him since late May -- will be eligible for the postseason for the Indians, who are closing in on their third straight American League Central title. Players needed to be dealt prior to 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday night in order to be eligible for the playoffs with the acquiring team. In Donaldson's case, he went unclaimed on waivers before Toronto and Cleveland struck the deal.
Naturally, the Indians and Blue Jays have a four-game series in Toronto, beginning Thursday.
Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said that the club began its push to land Donaldson around 1 p.m. ET, when the third baseman cleared waivers. On Saturday, the third baseman will be active for Cleveland's game against Tampa Bay, but Antonetti and manager Terry Francona will meet with Donaldson to go over the plan for the coming days and week.
"Obviously, this is one of the most dynamic players in the game on both sides of the ball when he's healthy," Antonetti said. "We think there's an opportunity for him to get to a point this month where he'll be playing in games regularly and has a chance to impact us in the postseason. It was not an easy process to work through, complicated by Josh's health status this year and him now just working his way back to full health."
Due to the trade, Donaldson will not be eligible for a Qualifying Offer. The 2015 AL Most Valuable Player will become an unrestricted free agent without Draft-pick compensation tied to his signing.
In Donaldson, the Indians are getting a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger who has finished in the top four in MVP voting three times in his career. Across the 2013-17 seasons between stints with the A's and Blue Jays, Donaldson hit .282 with a .901 OPS, averaging 33 homers, 32 doubles, 98 RBIs and 98 runs scored per season. In that span, he posted a 145 OPS+, indicating he performed 45 percent above league average.
This season has been a different story, though.
Due to a right shoulder issue in April and then left calf problems, Donaldson has been limited to 36 games. In that span, he has hit .234 with five homers, 16 RBIs and a .757 OPS in 159 plate appearances. This week, he went 3-for-5 in two Minor League rehab games for Class A Advanced Dunedin, belting a home run in his most recent game on Thursday.
"We've had a chance to scout him and watch him play in games in Dunedin," Antonetti said. "We're really encouraged by what we saw. ... We'll work through what a plan for him will look like for him to help continue to build his volume and get him back to a point where he can play regularly and impact us."
Antonetti added that Donaldson will play third base for Cleveland, meaning that All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez will slide to second, similar to the Tribe's approach down the stretch last year. That makes it unclear how the Indians will use second baseman Jason Kipnis, who has endured a rough season at the plate. Antonetti said he plans on discussing the situation on Saturday with both Ramirez and Kipnis, who could be an option in the outfield.
"We're still working through that," Antonetti said. "Obviously, this transaction happened very late at night. We have not yet had a chance to talk with Jose or Kip. Those are conversations we'd like to have tomorrow before elaborating too much on that."
Kipnis declined to discuss the trade's potential impact until he had a chance to sit down with Francona.
"I'll wait until I talk to Francona to see what the plan is," Kipnis said.
In the wake of Friday's win, word spread throughout the Indians' clubhouse about the acquisition. While the deal was not official at the time, the players lauded the front office's efforts to make impact deals (both via trade and free agency) in recent years in an effort to halt Cleveland's 70-year World Series drought.
"We're definitely in our window right now," Kipnis said. "They've done nothing but back it up and brought in guys who have made more than a good impact on this organization and on the field. They've continued to do so, and with the right intentions."
Tribe reliever Cody Allen agreed.
"Hats off to them," he said of the front office. "For the last few years, they've done everything in their power to put this team in a position to win baseball games. They haven't failed yet. Pretty much every guy that has stepped foot in this clubhouse at the deadline or in the offseason has come in and produced in big ways."
Two years ago, the Indians sent a package of prospects to the Yankees to net relief ace Andrew Miller, who shouldered a heavy load in October, won the MVP of the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays and helped push the club to the World Series. The following winter, Cleveland surprised the baseball world by giving Encarnacion a hefty contract in free agency.
Last year, the Indians landed outfielder Jay Bruce during the August waiver period, and he immediately gave the lineup a jolt and brought leadership to the clubhouse. Bruce famously delivered a walk-off hit for Cleveland's AL-record 22nd win in a row last September. Prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline earlier this summer, the Tribe traded for All-Star closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber from the Padres.
"[The front office has] definitely done their job," Kipnis said. "That's all you can ask for -- for a front office to be all in -- and then have our back."
While Kipnis praised the front office, he added that he hopes Donaldson can quickly find his form after a season-long battle with injuries.
"Which Josh Donaldson are you going to get?" Kipnis said. "The good one, there's not much you can deny. He's one of the more impactful bats there is around the league. If it is true, hopefully he's healthy and ready to come in and fit in here and make a good impact on us.
"We're coming into September now. This is a playoff team. We don't have time to mess around or goof around. We want him to be locked in if he's ready and go out there and do what he can do."