GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The party is back in Cleveland, but it might not be raging for long.
The Indians announced Tuesday morning that they had signed former first baseman and clubhouse leader Mike Napoli to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training camp. The one-year deal is worth $1.75, with $3.25 million in incentives should he make a major league roster.
Cleveland already has offseason acquisition Yonder Alonso at first and high-profiled slugger Edwin Encarnacion filling the designated hitter role, so Napoli is not expected to make the team.
The Indians are essentially doing Napoli a favor for his key contributions during his lone season in Cleveland in 2016, signing him to showcase to other teams in hopes he can land a big league contract. While he is in camp, he provides injury insurance.
“It’s a little bit of a unique situation,” manager Terry Francona said. “I’ve already told Edwin and Yonder that Nap’s not coming in to take their job. It’s a situation where a player that is universally respected in our organization, in our opinion he shouldn’t be in that (free agent training) camp (in Bradenton, Fla.).
“He wanted a chance to be in a major league camp. There’s a decent chance we’re going to get him ready to have him go on another team and help beat us. Saying that, I think we all felt like he deserved it. He’s such a pro, so special to us and, certainly, if there’s an injury — I’m laying it out as honest as I can. I think it’s a very unique situation, but he’s a very unique person. Whatever time he spends with us here will be valuable for everybody. And if we end up helping him out, then we did a good thing. Because if anybody deserves it, it’s Nap.”
Napoli, 36, underwent a physical Tuesday morning in Goodyear and is expected to meet with the media today.
Not surprisingly, his former teammates were overjoyed to see him.
“To see a familiar face, a guy that was so important here for the growth of a lot of guys individually in this clubhouse and collectively for this organization, it’s going to be very nice to have him,” closer Cody Allen said. “He’s a special guy. His name carries a lot of weight, not only in this clubhouse but others around baseball, and he’s earned it. You don’t just get to where he’s gotten in his career and to where his name carries as much weight as it does just by words, but it’s just who he is as a guy. Who he was every single day showing up to the ballpark. The leadership and the confidence that he carried with him wore off on a lot of guys, and this organization is a lot better off having had Mike Napoli as a part of it.”
“Everybody in the clubhouse loves Nap,” ace Corey Kluber said. “I think we’re all looking forward to him coming in and showing what he can do.”
The Indians cut ties with Napoli after signing Encarnacion prior to last season. He signed a one-year contract to return to Texas, where he hit just .193 with 29 home runs and 66 RBIs in 124 games.
During his brief tenure in Cleveland, Napoli, who has played played in the postseason eight times for five teams in his 12 years, became a strong voice in the clubhouse.
He also was a hit off the field with fans, signing off on “Party at Napoli’s” t-shirts that were sold for charitable contributions.
“There were no boundaries. He’s fearless, and he expected everybody else to follow his lead,” Francona said. “We’ve said a lot about him. It’s true. He had a big hand in our team transforming itself into a team that could possibly win the World Series. He had a huge hand in that. Just because he left to go to another team never changed his impact or how we felt about him.”
Napoli was part of a frozen free-agent market this offseason that is just now beginning to thaw.
“I don’t quite understand it,” Francona said. “I think some of it is just the fact that the teams that are usually really active, for whatever reason, weren’t. Whether they made a trade, whether the position that was out there, they already had filled. I think some of it is a little bit of the perfect storm, like the stars didn’t line up.
“I think teams are trying to be fiscally responsible. And some teams have made the statement that they want to be under the (luxury tax threshold). I think some things just lined up in a way that ... I don’t think it’s particularly good for the game. But, I don’t think you can tell somebody how to spend their money. I mean, I know how we do business, so I know the ins and outs of how we do business. I don’t know that of other teams. But, you can’t tell people they have to sign somebody. In a perfect world, you’d see competition from all over the place. That’s not how we’re set up right now.”
Napoli is the second member of the 2016 club to rejoin the Indians. World Series hero Rajai Davis is also in camp on a minor league contract and bidding to win a job as an extra outfielder.
“They’re guys you can definitely pick out and follow and just watch and pick up things from,” Allen said. “There’s a reason that Rajai and Nap have both had the length of careers that they’ve had and been invited back to different clubhouses.
“Pretty much everybody that runs into them, you’ll watch them go up and give different guys hugs on different teams and coaching staffs and all that stuff because, first off, they’re good people. They do things the right way. They respect everybody, they respect the game, they play the game the right way and the game’s kind of given back to them as well. So they’re getting out exactly what they’ve put in.”
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