The Cleveland Indians and Edwin Encarnacion came to terms on Thursday night, officially adding the former Blue Jays slugger to the reigning American League Champions. The contract is not only the largest free agent acquisition in franchise history, but the largest contract ever given to one of its players. Encarnacion is guaranteed $65 million. The first three years give Encarnacion $20 million, with a club option for a fourth year at $20 million. Should the Indians decide to decline the option, the buyout is $5 million. Put another way, Encarnacion’s contract value nearly matches the GDP of his home country, the Dominican Republic.
The largest free agent signing prior to this acquisition? Nick Swisher. The Indians handed him a four year, $56 million contract. It’s safe to say that everyone reading this now is gritting their teeth because of the bitter taste in their mouth. Indians fans will all pray to Jobu that Encarnacion outperforms the 1.2 bWAR Swisher provided during his time in Cleveland. Remember, this contract hit the books at the same time as Michael Bourn’s, providing a nasty double whammy for the small market team.
By a mere million dollars, the largest contract in team history overall belongs to Travis Hafner. He signed a four year, $57 million extension in the 2007 offseason shortly after picking up the team’s 2008 option. This locked down Pronk through 2012. While he did not fall apart completely after the signing, he struggled with injuries and never quite returned to form. In the four seasons leading up to the extension, Hafner accrued 4.8 bWAR. In the five seasons after, he totalled 5.3, logging more than 400 plate appearances only one time.
What’s different now for the Indians? Why are they finally opening up the pocketbooks and forever burying the Dolanz r Cheeeep memes?
The most important reason is that the Indians came with one win of winning the World Series. The core players from that team return, many of whom were hurt for the duration of the playoff run. Michael Brantley, arguably the team’s best hitter, played only eleven games, and still the Indians came this close. The front office is banking on Encarnacion being the player to put the Indians in the best position to win it all sometime during his contract.
That’s not the only thing that makes it possible, even if it is the biggest motivating factor. The Indians have done an excellent job locking up players before they exit their arbitration years. By giving players guaranteed money over multiple years before they reach free agency, the team offers financial security now over the risk of waiting for a potential windfall that may never arrive.
The Indians' deft contracts with some of their other players -- Kluber, Carrasco, etc. -- made a deal with Encarnacion possible.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 23, 2016
One thing to keep an eye on is whether or not the Encarnacion contract limits the ability for the Indians to continue their shrewd extension efforts. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez both appear to be prime candidates for such efforts. Is the money to allow it going to be there? Extending one or both of the electric young players would certainly signal that the Dolans are doubling down on the team’s window of contention.
2016 was an unprecedented year of success for Cleveland sports, and ending it with the largest contract in Indians history signals that 2017 might continue the trend.