CLEVELAND (AP) – Mike Napoli switched positions without a hitch. The Indians hope his latest move will be as smooth.
A former catcher who transitioned to first base, Napoli finalized his $7 million, one-year contract with the Indians on Tuesday. The deal was agreed upon last month, but Napoli had to take a physical and some contract language needed to be completed before the slugger’s signing became official.
And now that he’s with Cleveland, his fourth team, the 34-year-old is excited about a fresh start.
“I still feel like I have a lot in the tank,” he said. “I’m able to play every day. I feel like I have a lot to prove.”
Napoli can earn an additional $3 million in performance bonuses: $500,000 each for 450, 500, 550, 600, 625 and 645 plate appearances.
Cleveland’s lineup needs some right-handed power, and the Indians believe Napoli can provide it – he has 204 home runs. Napoli also will bring the Indians some versatility: He can play first base, catch, fill in as an outfielder and be used as a designated hitter.
“He’s been a very productive hitter, especially against left-handed pitching, and has worked really hard also on the defensive end of things to become a very good defensive first baseman,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. “He’s a really intelligent baseball player that plays the game the right way, that’s a student of the game, and we also feel will fit in really well in our clubhouse. He’s a guy that was universally respected each stop along the way in his career and we’re really excited to add him to our mix.”
Napoli is expected to be the Indians’ every day first baseman. Carlos Santana will move to designated hitter.
Napoli hit .224 with 18 home runs and 50 RBIs with Boston and Texas last year. After being traded to the Rangers, he batted .295 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 35 games.
He struggled throughout the first half last season, batting just .207 in 98 games. But the slow start didn’t deter him.
“I really can’t put my finger on it to tell you the truth,” he said of his early problems in 2015. “I just went through a rough patch that sort of just snowballed on me. But I’m the type of guy that just kept working at it, stayed in the cage, stayed positive, and I got into a routine where I felt good every day with my batting practice, cage work. I just found it. Got off to a rough start. I don’t really know why but I stuck with it and found my stroke again.”
An All-Star catcher in 2012, Napoli hit 23 homers with 92 RBIs the following year while helping Boston win the World Series.
Forced to change positions because of a hip injury, Napoli said part of his reason for signing with Cleveland was to reunite with Indians batting coach Ty Van Burkleo, who he worked with years ago in the Angels’ organization.
Napoli also wanted to play for Indians manager Terry Francona. He spoke with former Red Sox teammate Dustin Pedroia about Francona and liked everything he heard.
“I had a lot of conversations with Dustin Pedroia about him,” he said. “I talked to him personally. But yeah, hearing the things about him and how he is with his players and what type of guy he is and how he manages, he definitely was a big part of my decision.”
To clear a roster spot, Cleveland designated right-hander Kirby Yates for assignment.
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