All-Star Gomes Enjoying Strong Comeback Season

It has been quite the week for Yan Gomes.

Last Saturday, the Cleveland Indians catcher learned he would be playing in his first All-Star Game. On Tuesday, the veteran backstop spent four innings catching some of the American League’s best pitchers and got to bat three times against some of the best that the National League has to offer. On Thursday, the Tribe traded away top prospect Francisco Mejia for much-needed relief pitching in the form of All-Star closer Brad Hand and rookie reliever Adam Cimber.

It was a vote of confidence in Gomes. His All-Star campaign was not an aberration and that he would be blocking Mejia’s path to the big leagues for a few more seasons, making the young switch-hitter an expendable piece for the trade with the San Diego Padres.

The pre-All-Star-break portion of this season had to feel very good to Cleveland’s starting catcher, especially after struggling through injuries and disappointing efforts at the plate the past few seasons.

Between 2013 and 2014, it seemed the Indians had found their catcher of the future. In 2013, Gomes was a big part of helping the surprising Tribe reach the A.L. Wild Card game. He became the full-time starter in the second half of the season and hit 11 homers with 38 RBI and batted .294 in just 88 games, or little over half a season. The Indians, in need of a quality catcher, rewarded Gomes just before the start of the 2014 season with a six-year contract extension. It guaranteed $23 million for four years, through 2019, with team option years in 2020 and 2021 that could total $20 million more.

Initially, Gomes rewarded the Tribe’s faith in him with a stellar 2014 campaign. He hit 21 bombs with 74 RBI and hit .278. He earned the A.L. catcher’s Silver Slugger award. Unfortunately for Gomes, the next several years were met with injury and struggles at the plate. He injured his knee early in the 2015 season and never seemed quite right. He played only 95 games, hitting 12 homers and driving in 45 runs.

The following year was even more disappointing. As his teammates were enjoying an American League Central Division championship year, Gomes found himself on the disabled list twice. When he did play, it was vastly below a level that anyone could have expected. It was a bad season in general for Cleveland’s catching position as backup Roberto Perez also was injured and inconsistent when he did play. For that year, Gomes played just 74 games. He still flashed power, however, belting nine bombs, yet hit .167 batting average was a complete eyesore on his season. In July, Gomes was in such a prolonged slump that his teammates brought chicken wings into the clubhouse – a nod to the movie Major League in which Pedro Cerrano wanted to sacrifice a live chicken to break out of a hitless streak but was given a bucket of cooked chicken instead.

The catcher went on the 60-day DL on July 18 with a shoulder injury and did not return until the World Series, missing the first two rounds of the playoffs. He went 0-for-5 in his brief Fall Classic appearance.

A return to form for Gomes actually began last season. He got off to a horrendous April, making some wonder if Cleveland would ever see the Gomes who showed so much promise in 2013 and 2014. He hit a mere .176 with one home run and two RBI in 51 at bats during the first month of 2017. Then, in May, he really began to hit at his old form. He batted .279 with three homers and 11 RBI. It was as much offensive production out of a catcher as the Indians had seen out of a backstop in nearly two years.

Gomes regressed in June, hitting .200, was sluggish with a .233 average in July, and again did not hit well in August, contributing at a .206 clip. However, he showed life again in September, when he hit .300 with four jacks and 10 RBI. That final month seemed to carry into this season as Gomes has been a consistent presence at the plate for the first time in a few years. He hit the All-Star break hitting .247, which would be his best mark since 2014, and had collected 10 homers and 32 RBI. He has been a strong presence for an otherwise lackluster bottom of the Indians order.

When this season began, manager Terry Francona had said Gomes and Perez would essentially split the catching duties. Instead, Gomes has made it hard to not play him regularly and seems to have regained his status as the Tribe’s main signal-caller. After a rough few years, this season has certainly been a godsend to the 31-year-old. In a year in which A.L. catching has been below average as a hitting position, Gomes could be on his way to a second Silver Slugger, especially if the Rays trade away Wilson Ramos to an N.L. contender (as some rumors suggest) or if Ramos does not get back soon from his strained hamstring.

Gomes’ return to form must now have the Indians thinking that they may pick up his option years of 2020 and 2021. Otherwise, hanging on to Mejia would have made more sense. As recently as a year ago, the thought of Gomes becoming a free agent after 2019 seemed real. Now, he could be around beyond that.

While Gomes was not hitting, the Indians were more than willing to remain patient with the veteran catcher because of his defense and how well he has handled an excellent pitching staff. He was a finalist for a Gold Glove award last year. Gomer, as Francona calls him, has consistently thrown out more than 30% of base stealers in a season throughout his career. This year it is 32 percent, which is down from the 42 percent of last season. His .987 fielding percentage is down from his career mark of .992. He has had a few defensive hiccups that are unusual, but he is overall a strong defensive presence behind the plate.

The pitching staff also loves its regular catcher. He has handled one of the game’s best rotations over the past few years and is a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. He brings a lot to the team beyond his hitting. The organization over the past few years was willing to be patient, as it felt Gomes’ contributions to the squad were greater than anything that he did with his bat. Now that he is hitting again, that is a bonus for the team as there is no longer a hole in the lineup at the catcher spot.

This past week has certainly been one of the best of Gomes’ seven-year big league career. This season, in its entirety to this point, has also had to feel like one big weight lifted off of his shoulders. Gomes has worked hard to get back to the form of his first two Tribe seasons. Now he seems to be back there and back in Cleveland’s long-term plans.

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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