In a short amount of time, Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes has gone from being unheralded trade throw-in to one of the Tribe’s most consistent hitters and more important players.
Entering the 2013 baseball season, the Cleveland Indians had hopes to start taking the catching duties away from Carlos Santana in the hopes of prolonging the career of one of the team’s best power hitters.
In theory, it was a great idea. Santana could slide over to first base, saving wear and tear on his knees. The potential for him to be an even better hitter without the pains of being the backstop were certainly enticing.
The one problem was that the Tribe really didn’t have any good options to step in and take over the full-time catching role. At the start of last season, Cleveland’s backup was Lou Marson. He was a wizard on defense, but provided little on offense. He was a bit of a liability in the lineup being as sure an out as there was. Marson would spell Santana a couple games a week, but Cleveland just could not trust him in the batting order too often.
On the farm, at that point, the Indians had Gomes. Gomes had come to the Tribe from the Blue Jays in a November 2012 trade. The key components of the deal were solid reliever Esmil Rogers going to Toronto and utility infielder Mike Aviles heading to Cleveland. Gomes was a side addition.
The thing with Gomes was he was viewed as a guy who could hit decently. However, he was viewed as the anti-Marson in that he needed a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball. The expectation was that Gomes would be in Cleveland sometime during the 2013 campaign, but no time early.
Then, opportunity struck. Marson got hurt in the season’s second week and Gomes was given an opportunity. There’s an old saying that when opportunity knocks, you should answer. Gomes did a lot more than answer.
He gradually showed that his defense was not as bad as feared. More importantly, his bat became an important commodity for a team that saw several key players, like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, struggle. By the end of last season, Gomes was essentially the every-day catcher and big reason the Indians were one of the American League’s two Wild Card squads.
His final 2013 numbers were a .294 batting average, 11 home runs and 38 RBI. In 88 games, those were solid numbers.
The Indians rewarded their diamond-in-the-rough during this past offseason with a nice six-year extension with two team-option years. It’s a team-friendly deal that tops out $7 million in year 4, the last guaranteed year. The team-option seasons are $9 million and $11 million that the Indians would not have to pay if Gomes proved to be a one-hit wonder. If he proves to be a long-term success, the Tribe has its catcher under team control through 2021, when Gomes will be 33-year-old to start the season.
As this season got going, there were some worries that the Tribe may have acted a bit too soon in locking up Gomes. He had a subpar April, batting .247 at the end of the season’s first month, with three homers and 8 RBI. Not horrible numbers, but numbers that reeked of a player who may not see years six and seven of the current deal.
However, April has now proven to be a bump in the road. Gomes has righted himself since and done so in a big way. Since May 1, on, it could be argued that Gomes has been one of the better hitting backstops in the game.
Gomes batted .282 in May to quell any talk of a backward slide. He dipped, a bit to .259 in June. Since then, he has taken flight. In July, he batted .329 with five bombs and 17 runs driven in. So far in the month of August, through Wednesday’s game, Gomes has been on fire. He has hit .400 with two jacks and five RBI. He entered Thursday on a 12-game hitting streak.
In a little over a year, Gomes has now gone from an unknown player to where he is now – one of Cleveland’s most consistent offensive threats. He has the third best batting average, at .286. He is tied for second with 16 longballs and is fourth in RBI.
When he was first called up last year, he was part of the Tribe’s Goon Squad, which the backups called themselves. He is now far removed from that group and now has joined Santana, Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall as the core of Cleveland’s batting order.
Last year’s dream is now a reality. Santana is now Cleveland’s emergency catcher, playing mostly first base and at designated hitter these days. The Tribe even now has a new, decent backup catcher in Roberto Perez.
Gomes has stepped as the new full-time catcher and does not appear to be stepping out any time soon. 2019 is a long ways off, but right now the decision of bringing Gomes back in 2020 seems like childs play. A catcher with 25-homer, 75-RBI, .285 potential is well worth $9 and $11 million. The Indians have a steal right now and seemingly for the foreseeable future.
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