CLEVELAND -- There are unsung heroes for every team each season. For the Indians, catcher Chris Gimenez filled that role this year, stepping up amidst injuries and providing a veteran voice behind the scenes for a team that went on to reach the World Series.
On Monday, Gimenez officially informed the Indians that he has elected free agency in lieu of accepting an outright assignment to Triple-A Columbus. Given Gimenez's contributions this past season, Cleveland has interest in retaining him on a Minor League contract, but the club plans on heading into 2017 with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez as its top two catchers.
"We feel similarly this year as we did last year," Indians team president Chris Antonetti said at the end of the season. "Which is, that's a position of strength for us where we have two really good, high-quality, capable Major League catchers."
The biggest problem last season was that both catchers -- Gomes and Perez -- dealt with a variety of issues, including injuries that cost each of them significant time. That is where Gimenez came up big. Cleveland acquired him from Texas on May 4 after Perez was shelved with a fractured right thumb, and Gimenez stayed on the roster through the American League Division Series due to Gomes' health woes.
Playing in his eighth Major League season, the 33-year-old Gimenez hit a career high in games (67), batting .216 in 155 plate appearances. That batting average does not properly display Gimenez's value, though. The catcher quickly earned the trust of Cleveland's pitchers, especially Trevor Bauer. Gimenez teamed with Bauer for 19 of the pitcher's 28 starts.
That leadership -- along with his .760 career OPS against lefty pitching -- could make Gimenez an intriguing backup catching option for another team. For the Indians, he would be viewed as the third-string option behind Gomes and Perez, who will both be healthy and ready for 2017.
Overall, Cleveland's catchers posted a .558 OPS this year, marking the lowest offensive output in baseball. The minus 0.7 WAR (per Fangraphs) and 46 weighted Runs Created Plus posted by the Tribe's catchers as a whole also ranked last in the Majors. Those marks are why the Indians tried to trade for Jonathan Lucroy, who blocked a deal at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline before accepting a move to the Rangers from Milwaukee.
Gomes and Perez went through a lot in '16, though.
"Yan had some adversity this year with a couple of injuries he really couldn't control," Antonetti said. "But, we still feel very confident with him and his ability to lead the pitching staff behind the plate."
Gomes, 30, is scheduled to earn $4.5 million in 2017 and is signed through '19 with team options for '20 and '21. A Silver Slugger Award recipient in '14, the Indians' starting catcher has hit .205 (.605 OPS) over the past two years, while dealing with injuries and offensive inconsistency. This year, Gomes hit .167 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 74 games.
Gomes sustained a separated right shoulder against the Twins on July 17 and then fractured his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch in a Minor League rehab game Sept. 14. Gomes was activated in time for the final series of the regular season and then served as a backup catcher throughout the postseason. In the World Series, Gomes went 0-for-4 against the Cubs in his only playoff at-bats.
The injury to Gomes in July forced Perez to cut his Minor League rehab from the thumb injury short. Perez went on to hit .183 in 61 games, while splitting time with Gimenez behind the plate. In the postseason, Perez hit .186 overall, but he did have a two-homer outburst in Game 1 of the World Series. In the playoffs, a wider audience had a chance to see Perez's skills with leading a pitching staff, throwing out runners and framing pitches.
"Roberto had some challenges of his own with his injury," Antonetti said. "But, he returned and came back and led a pitching staff all the way through Game 7 of the World Series, which says a lot about him as a catcher and his leadership. So, it's a a position of strength for us moving forward."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.