By T0m Withers
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — Edwin Encarnacion is on deck for the Indians.
The free agent slugger was undergoing a medical evaluation Wednesday, the final step before he joins Cleveland and slides into the middle of the American League champions’ lineup.
One of baseball’s most consistent power hitters, Encarnacion agreed to a $65 million, three-year contract with the Indians before Christmas. Barring unforeseen physical issues, the Indians would welcome him at a news conference on Thursday.
Cleveland aggressively pursued Encarnacion, swooping in to lock up the coveted power hitter who was also being chased 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, who turns 34 on Saturday, hit 193 homers over the past five years and 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 RBIs 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 RBIs over the past five seasons.
Encarnacion, who spent eight seasons with Toronto after five in Cincinnati, is expected to produce runs and may cause a significant bump in attendance. The Indians have struggled to draw fans in recent years to Progressive Field.
Cleveland averaged only 19,650 fans at home last season. Only Oakland and Tampa Bay were worse.