MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Indians getting bang for their buck with Napoli

Indians getting bang for their buck with Napoli

KANSAS CITY -- There are dreams. And there is reality. Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti understands the difference.

So in an offseason where the likes of David Price was signing a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox and Zack Greinke agreed to a six-year, $206 million deal with the D-backs and Jason Heyward picked up an eight-year, $184 million guarantee with the Cubs, Antonetti never even pretended to be a player in that market.

Nope. Antonetti had his budget. He had his holes. And with his guidance, the Indians, more than any other team, turned their offseason bargain hunting into as big a bonanza as any team could want.

Check out the standings. With a 7-3 victory against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night, the Indians have an American League-best record of 55-38, a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Tigers, and an eight-game lead on defending World Series champion Kansas City.

The Tribe has a sterling starting rotation, which leads the AL with a 42-23 record and a 3.61 ERA and is second in the league with 573 2/3 innings pitched, helping ease the demands on a bullpen the club would like to improve before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Do not, however, overlook the impact of offensive free agents Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe, who signed one-year deals for a combined investment of $16.24 million. That's less than half the annual average value of $34.4 million that Greinke is earning, a bit over half of the $31 million Price will average in his time with the Red Sox, and well below the $23 million AAV the Cubs owe Heyward.

The three Indians, however, have been everything the team could have hoped for, starting with Napoli. He provided the two-run first-inning home run on Tuesday that quickly erased any hangover the Indians may have felt from watching a 2-0 eighth-inning lead turn into a 7-3 loss in Monday's series opener. That gave Napoli a team-high 21 home runs and bumped his team-leading RBI total to 65.

Napoli discusses his 21st homer

"Nap has been a force for us," said manager Terry Francona. "He has done everything right. He plays hard."

Davis, meanwhile, is leading the team with 24 stolen bases, and Uribe has given the Tribe not only a steady defensive player to fill as needed, but a veteran with a resume of playing on winning teams who provides a strong influence over the younger Latin players.

Edge Antonetti.

"Our scouts and evaluators did a good job identifying guys who could help us in the field and in the clubhouse," Antonetti said.

Antonetti, however, had the heavy lifting to handle. He had to get the deals done, and it can be a challenge to pursue veteran players, telling them how important they are to the team, and then offering them a pay cut, substantial in some cases. Napoli's $7 million is a $9 million cut from a year ago, and Uribe took a $2.5 million reduction. Davis received a $25,000 raise.

"We stayed engaged," said Antonetti. "We tried to communicate what they presented.'"

As well as the on-field abilities they each had played in October.

Uribe's RBI single up the middle

Davis was the center fielder for the Tigers in 2014.

Uribe's resume include being a part of World Series championship teams with the White Sox in 2005 and Giants in '10, as well as appearances in October with the White Sox again in '08, the Dodgers in '13 and '14, and the Mets last year.

And Napoli's six postseason appearances include a World Series championship with the Red Sox in 2013, and trips to October with the Angels in '07, '08 and '09, and the Rangers in '11, '12 and '15.

The message was received.

"They showed a lot of interest in me, and had faith in me being able to do the things I had been able to do earlier in my career," said Napoli.

Napoli is the key. As much as he struggled in the first four months of last season with the Red Sox, he was back to being a threat after a late July deal sent him to the Rangers, and the Indians were willing to gamble he had made adjustments from the sleep apnea surgery of the previous December and would regain his offensive presence this season.

Davis' RBI single plates Napoli

Napoli gave them the luxury of a first baseman and cleanup hitter, which meant they could free up Carlos Santana for DH duty and bounce him between leadoff and the fifth spot in the lineup.

Mission accomplished.

"It has been great, being on a winning club, a young club," Napoli said. "I have been on a lot of winning clubs."

And Napoli is on his way to adding another club, the Indians, to that list.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.