The Cleveland Indians agreed to sign designated hitter and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday.
Encarnacion and Cleveland reach have reached a three-year, $55 million contract with an option for 2020 valued at $25 million with a $5 million buyout. In theory, Encarnacion is guaranteed at least $60 million with the opportunity to earn $80 million.
It has been a long offseason for Encarnacion, who allegedly wanted to return to the Toronto Blue Jays but rejected a four-year, $80 million deal from them in November. Then, his suitors continued to dwindle as time went on, but the Indians recognzied the need and ponied up the money on an apparently reduced price tag in order to make the splash.
Cleveland got good production out of Mike Napoli at the designated hitter spot last season, but with him becoming a free agent this offseason, Encarnacion fits an obvious hole.
Now, the team is able to plug him in the middle of their order at either designated hitter or first base (with Carlos Santana presumably playing the other spot). Michael Brantley, who missed most of last season due to injury, can move back to the outfield, and the overall lineup becomes even more lethal.
In 2016, the Indians' offense was already among the best in baseball. Cleveland position players posted the second-highest fWAR and fourth-highest wRC+ in the American League. And that was with a 113 wRC+ season from Mike Napoli, something Encarncaion has beaten by at least 20 points in each of the last five seasons. So, he not only fills a need, but he's an upgrade.
The deal on the whole makes Cleveland an automatic contender to win the American League once again next season. The Boston Red Sox, who they swept in the ALDS, appear to be their biggest competition after getting Chris Sale, but Encarnacion could be the big piece that gives them the edge once again. Not to mention, they will be getting Brantley, arguably their best player in 2014, back from injury, as well as Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
The Indians, in the contract, showed that they are willing to spend money to go for the World Series. Already estimated to have their biggest payroll at least since 2000, Cleveland adds another approximate $20 million per season to get one of the best bats on the market.
As for Encarnacion, he may have fallen short of the mark on the total guarantee, but he will have the opportunity to potentially earn exactly what the Jays gave him (which appears to have been his highest offer to date) and win a World Series. MLBTradeRumors.com projected Encarnacion to earn $92 million before the offseason started.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old Encarnacion is one of the best pure hitters in Major League Baseball.
He slashed .263/.357/.529 last season with 42 home runs and 127 RBI over 702 plate appearances last season, posting a 134 wRC+. He was worth 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. The former 9th round pick has been a phenomenal hitter since joining the Blue Jays in 2010.
Other than the Indians, the Blue Jays, Rockies, Athletics and Rangers also showed varying degrees of interest in Encarnacion throughout the offseason.
FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman was the first to report that Encarnacion was heading to the Indians.