OAKLAND, Calif.: More than 20 years later, the Indians are copying the model of former General Manager John Hart and locking up young talent.
The announcement of the signing of catcher Yan Gomes to a new six-year, $23 million deal with two more club option years gave the Indians 15 players under contract through 2016. Gomes, who wasn’t eligible for arbitration until 2015, will be in Cleveland through at least 2019 and perhaps 2021.
Among those 15 are several key players age 27 or younger — left fielder Michael Brantley, third baseman/catcher Carlos Santana, right-handers Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Gomes, 26.
“He was definitely the pioneer of this strategy,” Indians assistant general manager Mike Chernoff said of Hart as he presented Gomes on Monday before the Indians Opening Day game against the Oakland A’s in O.co Coliseum.
Acquired in a November 2012 trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for Esmil Rogers that also brought Mike Aviles, Gomes opened last season at Triple-A Columbus. He didn’t become the Indians’ regular catcher until the last 2˝ months of the season.
“He showed us he’s worth this contract,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That’s how much faith we have in him. That’s pretty amazing for a young kid with a lack of track record, for us to buy in that much, that’s a pretty big compliment to him.
“He knows where he came from, where he started. This isn’t the end point. It just makes him more comfortable playing the game. When you get good players like this, they don’t stop working. It eases some of the anxiety for their family. It’s good for the Indians, it’s good for the Gomes family.”
Toronto picked Gomes in the 39th round of the 2008 draft. He played two years at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Barry University in Miami for what he said was a “better opportunity.”
“It was definitely a big speed bump in my baseball career having to transfer colleges,” Gomes said. “It was either go out there and hang it up playing at Division II or try hard and get drafted. Toronto gave me an opportunity and I took it and ran with it.
“It’s kind of been the model of my career, I’ve always had to battle and it’s not going to stop. This is a huge blessing getting a contract like this, but now we’re talking about taking this team to another level.”
All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said there has been no agreement in his contract talks. He said he’s stayed out of the details and didn’t know if the two sides were still communicating. Most teams cut off negotiations Opening Day.
Chernoff said General Manager Chris Antonetti would address Kipnis’ situation in Cleveland. The Indians’ home opener against the Minnesota Twins is Friday.
“You know as much as I do,” Kipnis said. “Neither good nor bad, it doesn’t hurt the way I feel strongly about this organization. If something got done, great, if something didn’t get done, still great because I love being here.”
Francona said center fielder Michael Bourn, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain, played in a minor-league game Monday in Arizona — going 2-for-3 with two doubles — and was flying to Cleveland. The plan for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus. The Clippers open the season Thursday.
The earliest Bourn could return is Saturday. Francona said he will include Bourn in the discussion about his return.
“When I look at the reports and I see him doing well, I feel good because that means he’ll be back,” Francona said. “Whether he’s back on a day or a day later, that’s not the end of the world.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.