BOSTON — When Edwin Encarnacion became a free agent this offseason, Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t allow himself to daydream about adding the former Blue Jays slugger to his roster.
“I didn’t think there was a chance to even talk to Edwin,” Francona said on Thursday (Jan. 19) in his first comments since the AL champs signed Encarnacion to a three-year, $65 million deal this month.
“You’ve got to be realistic that in the winter we play in a different neighborhood” than during his tenure in Boston, when the Red Sox were among the top-spending clubs in baseball. “It’s a different challenge.”
Last year, Francona said, the Indians’ top moves in the off-season were to acquire 34-year-old Mike Napoli, 35-year-old Rajai Davis and 36-year-old Juan Uribe at a combined cost of about $17 million. This year, the Cleveland front office spent big on Encarnacion — though not nearly as much as the $100 million or so he was expected to command at the beginning of free agency.
Encarnacion’s deal would be worth $80 million over four years if the Indians exercise a $25 million option for 2020 instead of a $5 million buyout. There are also attendance bonuses built in.
Encarnacion said this month he could have gotten more elsewhere but he wanted a chance to join a winner. He watched the Indians celebrate their AL pennant from the losing dugout at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
Francona credited the Cleveland front office, especially president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff, for being persistent with their pitch.
“I’m proud of them,” Francona said at a news conference before the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America presented him with its manager of the year award.
Encarnacion’s signing meant there was no space on the Indians roster for Mike Napoli, who set career highs with 34 homers and 101 RBIs in his only season in Cleveland and remains a free agent.
“It’s a little bittersweet because of how much Nap meant to us,” Francona said.
Francona also expressed optimism that outfielder Michael Brantley will be back from a shoulder injury and surgery that limited him to 11 games last season.
“Now I was optimistic last year, too,” Francona added. “But if work ethic counts for anything, he’ll be ready.”
Antonetti has said Brantley continues to make progress and recently advanced to hitting off a tee.