Catcher Yan Gomes has so impressed the Indians with the way he handles the pitching staff that the team agreed to terms with the 26-year-old Brazilian on a six-year, $23 million contract extension Saturday, a source confirmed.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the deal and the contract is pending a physical. The Indians are expected to make an announcement during their season-opening series at Oakland that starts Monday.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the contract includes two option years. Gomes was not eligible for arbitration until 2015.
Gomes started 2013 in Triple-A Columbus, but was first called up on April 9 and for good on April 28. He caught 85 games for the Indians in 2013, starting 79.
Gomes’ 65 assists as a catcher last season ranked second in the American League, as did his percentage of runners caught stealing (40.8). His fielding percentage of .996 was fourth in the league and his defensive WAR of 1.8 was 10th in the AL. Gomes also hit .294 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI.
He was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in November, 2012 in the trade for right-hander Esmil Rogers that also brought the Indians infielder Mike Aviles.
The Indians thought so highly of Gomes that they allowed Carlos Santana to move to third base, although Santana will serve as his backup.
This spring, Indians manager Terry Francona told Gomes not to worry about his batting average, instead concentrating on handling the pitchers.
“I think for a player with his amount of experience, I think he’s way ahead of the curve,” Francona said Saturday morning before the Indians final spring training game, a 9-8 loss to the San Diego Padres at the University of San Diego’s Fowler Field. “We want him to be perfect because we know how important it is for your catcher to have those attributes.
“I think his maturity is off the charts. The one nice thing with Gomes is when you have to remind him, he’s mad at himself. When we remind him, it’s not that he’s coming up short, it’s that we want him to be that good.”
Gomes admitted that it was hard to change his focus from hitting.
“You tell a young guy, ‘We don’t care what you hit.’ It is kind of tough,” he said. “But I’m making a concerted effort at doing it and I think it’s gone pretty well.”
Francona said the priority “has to be different” with Gomes.
“When you’re running the staff, you have to take ownership of that staff if you want to get the most out of it,” Francona said. “If a guy’s playing third or short and they get hits, most of the time you’re OK. If the catcher is allowing other things to get in the way, that’s going to affect your 12-man staff. That doesn’t help.”
Francona cited the catcher he thought was the perfect example, Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox. Varitek was a career .256 hitter.
“I was probably fortunate that I was around a guy who was the best at that that I know and that’s (Jason) Varitek,” Francona said. “He was the ultimate guy, he knew if we were shaking hands, he did his job.”
Gomes said he’s making a “big effort” to come around to Francona’s way of thinking.
“I know it’s gone pretty well. I’m just trying to get the pitchers through it,” Gomes said. “As Tito has ingrained in my head now, I get a base hit, it’s extra stuff.”
Francona has told Gomes not to show his frustration at the plate when he’s behind it.
“That’s what he wants out of his catchers, he wants us to worry about the pitching staff,” Gomes said. “They’re relying on me to know what hitters are doing. They don’t want to see a frustrated catcher, then you kind of lose their trust a little bit. You’re trying to get them to be on your side at all times. They don’t want to see a guy sitting there pouting. Try to separate the two.”
Gomes attended Miami Southridge High School and the University of Tennessee for two years before transferring to Barry University in Miami. Although he said he pitched in high school, he loves catching because of the way he can impact the game.
“I’ve played every single position and that’s why catching is my favorite because you’re always in the game, you’re always going to do something,” he said.