CLEVELAND — The AL’s best team is set to start the new year with a power surge.
One win from a World Series title last season, the Cleveland Indians are set to finalize a $65 million, three-year contract with free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion, who has averaged 39 homers over the past five seasons, took a physical on Wednesday, one of the final steps to complete a deal agreed upon before Christmas. The team announced a news conference for Thursday at Progressive Field with president Chris Antonetti “regarding a potential new member of the organization.”
Cleveland aggressively pursued Encarnacion, who also was sought by big-market clubs. Encarnacion hit 42 homers and drove in 127 runs last season for the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost to the Indians in the AL Championship Series.
Encarnacion’s agreement is the largest in club history, surpassing a 2007 deal with Travis Hafner that added $57 million in guaranteed money through 2012 and a $56 million, four-year contract with free agent Nick Swisher ahead of the 2013 season.
Encarnacion’s signing also represents the second major move in six months by the Indians, who traded for elite reliever Andrew Miller before last year’s trading deadline. That acquisition helped the Indians win the AL Central for the first time since 2007 and got them to their first Series since 1997.
Cleveland is hoping Encarnacion can lead the franchise to its first Series title since 1948.
Encarnacion, who turns 34 on Saturday, hit 193 homers over the past five years and has connected for 310 in his big league career. He is expected to split time at first base and designated hitter with Carlos Santana.
The Indians were in the market for a power bat after deciding not to re-sign Mike Napoli, who helped them get to the World Series. The 34-year-old Napoli set career-highs with 34 homers and 101 RBI and the club credited his work ethic and leadership in helping Cleveland’s young players.
Encarnacion appears to be a perfect fit for the Indians, who have been looking for a big bat to compliment one of the majors’ best pitching staffs.
With Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis at the top of the order, and Michael Brantley possibly returning from a shoulder injury, Cleveland has the right table setters for Encarnacion, who has averaged 110 RBI over the past five seasons.
Encarnacion, who spent eight seasons with Toronto after five in Cincinnati, may cause a significant bump in attendance at Progressive Field, where the Indians have struggled to draw fans in recent years. Cleveland averaged only 19,650 fans at home last season; only Oakland and Tampa Bay were worse.
Manager In-Sik Kim told Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday he was “leaning toward” removing Kang from the roster because of “worsening public opinion.” After meeting with coaches at the Korean Baseball Organization headquarters, Kim decided to replace Kang with Ha-Seong Kim, the shortstop for Nexen Heroes, Kang’s former Korean Baseball Organization team.
“As we all know, Kang has had some issues,” Kim told Yonhap News. “So our coaching staff made this call (to drop him from the roster).”
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