Cleveland confirmed that it had signed Kotchman to a one-year contract worth $3 million plus incentives ($1.75 million), announcing as much less than 24 hours after reports surfaced that the club had signed the free-agent first baseman.
“We feel like we brought in a guy that complements our group very well,” Cleveland general manager Chris Antonetti said. “We’ve had long-standing interest in Casey and his abilities.”
Antonetti tried to lure Kotchman to Cleveland prior to last season, which wound up being Kotchman’s best in six-plus years in the majors after he chose to sign with Tampa Bay instead.
The Rays brought Carlos Pena back to play first this year, and the Indians, who pursued both Pena and Kotchman this offseason, landed Kotchman on their second try.
“I’m really excited to join the club,” said Kotchman, who batted a career-high .306 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs in 146 games for Tampa Bay last year. “Just seeing how great a start (the Indians) got off to last year. That was fun for me to watch on the outside, just being a fan of baseball and seeing how good they were playing.
“For me to have the opportunity to go up there this season and try to help contribute to sustaining that start, it’s exciting.”
Though Kotchman, 28, is coming off an impressive year at the plate, the career .268 hitter is expected to provide an even bigger boost to Cleveland’s defense.
First base was a weak link for the Indians last season, with Cleveland players at the position – largely, Matt LaPorta – committing more errors (12) than Kotchman owns during his entire career at first (11). It is a statistic that Kotchman humorously pointed out to Antonetti during a conversation this offseason.
“He’s a standout defensive player, among the best defenders at first base throughout baseball,” Antonetti said. “He not only improves our defense at first base, but he also improves our defense overall in the infield.”
Kotchman, who has committed just three errors the past three seasons, is anxious to join an infield that backs up a sinkerball-laden rotation.
“With the pitching staff, with all the groundball pitchers that they have,” Kotchman said, “and the acrobatic (Asdrubal) Cabrera at short, it’ll be fun for me to be a part of.”
The Indians have all but handed the starting job to Kotchman, meaning LaPorta, who has been a disappointment at the plate and in the field as the regular at first the past two seasons, will be vying for a roster spot as a bench player.
“Matt will come to camp and compete for a job, but there’s one less job to compete for, which is the regular first base job,” Antonetti said. “We’ll see where Matt is at this spring.”
With minor league options available, it is likely that LaPorta will start the year at Triple-A Columbus, if he isn’t traded.
Antonetti said the addition of a first baseman does not necessarily mean the club is finished acquiring players. Cleveland has already signed starting pitcher Derek Lowe and a host of relievers to minor league contracts with invitations to big league training camp.
“I’d like to continue to try to improve,” he said. “I think we’ve been able to address some of our major needs this offseason. I think we’ve accomplished a lot, but certainly, we’re always looking to improve the club anyway we can.”
Cabrera, the Indians’ lone arbitration eligible player, is in town to discuss a long-term contract with the club.
Cabrera’s arbitration hearing is scheduled in St. Petersburg, Fla., as Cleveland looks to avoid going to arbitration for the first time since 1991.
Cabrera, who said Thursday at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards that he would prefer a multi-year contract, is asking for $5.2 million at arbitration, while the Indians are offering $3.75 million.
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