CLEVELAND — It is being described as the perfect fit. The Indians craved right-handed power, and Edwin Encarnacion 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.”
• Hot Stove Tracker
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, signed Kendrys Morales and later added Steve Pearce. The Astros, who also had an offer turned down early in the winter, signed Carlos Beltran. 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 …