CLEVELAND -- Brandon Guyer came close to becoming forever linked to Indians lore. In the decisive game against the Cubs in the World Series, the outfielder came off the bench and turned in the kind of performance that had him set up to be a hero amongst Tribe fans for years to come.
The Indians showed their appreciation for Guyer's skillset on Wednesday, announcing that they have signed the outfielder to a two-year extension that includes a team option for the 2019 campaign. The deal is worth $5 million guaranteed.
"In the time since we acquired him," said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, "he fit in seamlessly and transitioned extraordinarily well to our team. And he played a big part in our success in the second half."
The contract covers the final two years of arbitration eligibility for Guyer and can potentially keep the corner outfielder in the fold through his first year of free agency. He will earn $2 million in 2017, $2.75 million in '18 and the team option for '19 is worth $3 million (versus a $250,000 buyout). The pact also includes incentives that could net Guyer an additional $400,000 in both the '18 and '19 seasons, with his team option having a potential max value of $3.75 million.
For the upcoming season, Guyer projects to split duties in right field with Lonnie Chisenhall, who is used mostly against right-handed pitching. Guyer can also offer depth for left field, and he has 340 career innings in center field, though he was not tested at that position in his time with the Tribe.
Antonetti noted that Guyer will get some looks in center field this spring, though Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte project to share the duties up the middle. The Indians also have a big question mark in left, given Michael Brantley's ongoing comeback from right biceps surgery in August. Antonetti said Brantley has advanced to hitting off a tee.
While the Indians continue to evaluate Brantley's progress, the team will also monitor alternatives on the free-agent and trade markets. Earlier this week, even after spending big to reel in slugger Edwin Encarnacion (three years, $60 million), Cleveland remained linked to free-agent outfielder Jose Bautista. He re-signed with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
"[Indians owner Paul Dolan] has continued to encourage us to look at opportunities to improve the team," Antonetti said. "And, if those opportunities present themselves, to talk through it internally and see if it made sense to move forward with it. So, that will continue to be our mindset as we approach Spring Training.
"Exactly what that will mean, it's hard to say. But, we're continuing to look at different ways to potentially improve."
Guyer's contract provides him with some immediate security and gives the Tribe one of baseball's elite hitters against left-handed pitching for the next couple of years.
Working with a depleted outfield last season, the Indians sent a pair of Minor Leaguers to Tampa Bay in order to land Guyer ahead of the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Guyer fit Cleveland's roster puzzle perfectly, hitting .333 with a .907 OPS in his 38 games down the stretch for the American League Central champions. On the year, the right-handed-hitting outfielder finished with a .336 average and 1.021 OPS against lefties.
Overall, Guyer turned in a .266/.372/.423 slash line to go along with nine homers, 17 doubles and 32 RBIs in 101 games between the Rays and Indians last year. He was also hit by a Major League-leading 31 pitches, which marked the most by an AL hitter since 1986 (Don Baylor, 35). Guyer is the only player in MLB history to be hit by 30 or more pitches in one year in fewer than 400 plate appearances.
When you have a chance to lock up the greatest hit-by-pitch king in baseball history, you do it. Here are Guyer's 31 HBP in 2016. pic.twitter.com/omtFXk7Isu
His ability to hit left-handers carried over into the postseason, when Guyer hit .333 (6-for-18) overall and .417 (5-for-12) off lefty pitching. In Game 7 of the World Series, Guyer entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning and came up big in what ended up being an 8-7, 10-inning loss to Chicago.
Guyer singled in the sixth inning against Cubs lefty Jon Lester and then delivered an RBI double off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. That two-out, two-base hit set up the game-tying home run by Rajai Davis that served as one of the signature moments of the 2016 season. In the 10th, when the Indians were holding on to their last hope, Guyer drew a two-out walk and scored on a single by Davis to trim the Cubs' lead to one run.
The Indians were not able to finish the job, but enter 2017 as heavy favorites to win their division and challenge again for a World Series crown. Guyer will continue to be a part of that picture for the Tribe.
"He's an extraordinary worker who does a great job of preparing himself to be successful," Antonetti said. "And we think he'll be a big part of our team for the years to come."
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.