En­car­na­cion gives Cleve­land a lot more clout

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Cleve­land

The Cleve­land In­di­ans swung for the free-agent fences and con­nected on Thurs­day: Ed­win En­car­na­cion is join­ing the AL cham­pi­ons.

Cap­ping a year in which they came within one vic­tory of win­ning the World Se­ries for the first time since 1948, the In­di­ans agreed to terms with the vet­eran slug­ger on a three-year con­tract worth $60 mil­lion.

The deal in­cludes a club op­tion for 2020 that, if ex­er­cised, would make it worth $80 mil­lion over four years.

Score­board

The agree­ment is con­tin­gent upon En­car­na­cion pass­ing a phys­i­cal af­ter the hol­i­days, two sources fa­mil­iar with the ne­go­ti­a­tions told As­so­ci­ated Press.

They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the team had not made an an­nounce­ment.

One of base­ball’s most feared power hit­ters, En­car­na­cion had 42 home runs and 127 RBIs last sea­son for the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost to Cleve­land in the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

Over the past five sea­sons, he’s av­er­aged 39 homers and 110 RBIs in 145 games.

A three-time All-Star, En­car­na­cion tied for the AL lead in RBIs last sea­son and split time between DH and first base.

En­car­na­cion, who turns 34 next month, re­port­edly turned down a four-year of­fer from Toronto worth at least $80 mil­lion be­fore hit­ting the open mar­ket.

The In­di­ans swooped in and worked out a deal to bring in a player that can help put them back in po­si­tion to end their Se­ries drought.

Cleve­land knocked off Bos­ton and Toronto in the play­offs and jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the Se­ries be­fore the Chicago Cubs ral­lied to win in seven games and cap­ture their first ti­tle in 108 years.

The close call con­vinced the In­di­ans the time was right to spend, and they shelled out the money for the big­gest bat on the open mar­ket.

En­car­na­cion’s sign­ing means the In­di­ans will no longer pur­sue free agent first base­man Mike Napoli, who signed with Cleve­land last win­ter and was a ma­jor part of the team’s run to its first AL Cen­tral ti­tle since 2007.

Napoli reached ca­reer bests in homers (34), RBIs (101) and fi­nally gave Cleve­land a much­needed power bat from the right side.

He also pro­vided club­house lead­er­ship, serv­ing as a men­tor to Cleve­land’s young play­ers. But he strug­gled in the post­sea­son and the In­di­ans were not will­ing to give him a mul­ti­year deal.

En­car­na­cion is an up­grade. His de­par­ture from Toronto af­ter eight sea­sons is a ma­jor move for Cleve­land, which over­came in­juries un­der man­ager Terry Fran­cona to get to the World Se­ries for the first time since 1997.

Al­ready with one of base­ball’s best pitch­ing staffs, the In­di­ans now have a much more dan­ger­ous lineup. They’ve got young stars in sec- ond base­man Ja­son Kip­nis and short­stop Francisco Lin­dor, and if left fielder Michael Brant­ley can bounce back from a shoul­der in­jury that side­lined him for all but 11 games last sea­son, the top of Cleve­land’s or­der is as good as any­one’s.

It’s a bold move by In­di­ans owner Paul Dolan, who has been hes­i­tant to test freeagent wa­ters in re­cent years af­ter ma­jor sign­ings of vet­er­ans like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn didn’t pan out.

But the In­di­ans felt the time was right to act, es­pe­cially with a bump in rev­enue from the 2016 post­sea­son and add- ing new mi­nor­ity owner John Sherman.

Cleve­land’s lag­ging at­ten­dance — the In­di­ans ranked 28th in the ma­jors — will also get a big bump from En­car­na­cion’s sign­ing, which is be­ing greeted by In­di­ans fans as an early Christ­mas present.

Kip­nis, too, views En­car­na­cion as a gift, post­ing: “Thank you Santa! #EE” on his Twit­ter ac­count.

Ed­win En­car­na­cion

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