CLEVELAND (AP) — The Indians have a new hitting coach. José Ramírez hardly needs one.
Cleveland picked up the All-Star third baseman's $12 million contract option for 2022 on Friday after he had another MVP-caliber season.
One of baseball's best all-around players, Ramírez was one of the only bright spots for the team's inconsistent offense this season. The 29-year-old batted .266 with 36 homers, 103 RBIs and 27 steals in the final year of a team-friendly $26 million, four-year deal.
The Indians have a $14 million option on Ramirez for 2023. It's possible the team will explore a long-term extension with one of their most popular players who has become invaluable on and off the field.
“The good news is we know Jose can be here next year and the year after, which in baseball terms, that’s a really long time,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said when asked about an extension.
“I’ll stay away from any specifics, but what I’ve shared in the past and would reiterate, we absolutely love José and he makes such an impact on our team both on and off the field and we’d love for him to be here for a really long time.”
The Indians, who will be known as the Guardians next season, also declined a $7 million option for catcher Roberto Pérez, who gets a $450,000 buyout, and hired Chris Valaika as their hitting coach.
Valaika was an assistant hitting coach last season with the Chicago Cubs, working with rookies Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel.
The 36-year-old Valaika, who played for the Reds, Cubs and Marlins before retiring and started coaching, emerged from a strong pool of external candidates.
“We got after it and we interviewed some really, really good candidates and a really broad cross-section of opinions,” Indians manager Terry Francona said on a Zoom call from Arizona. "It was really cool. We talked and talked and came upon Chris.
"We all felt like this is a kid that, although young and not terribly experienced, is going to be really good and seems to be really open to wanting to get better and be a learner. All the things that we value, he certainly seems to fall into that category.”
The 32-year-old Pérez was slowed again by injuries this year. He batted .149 in 44 games in his eighth season with Cleveland.
Ramírez and Pérez were the only position players left from Cleveland's 2016 pennant-winning team, which lost the World Series in seven games.
Antonetti didn't rule out Pérez returning to the club.
“He’s been part of some of the best memories we’ve had at Progressive Field in helping lead our team to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016 and has been a member of our teams over the course of the past handful of years,” Antonetti said. “He’s provided extraordinary leadership behind the plate and has really helped our pitchers continue to grow at the major-league level.”
NOTES: Francona, who had to step down in July for health reasons, said his recovery from toe surgery in September has been slow but steady. Francona said he's close to getting off crutches. “I’m doing better,” he said. “I’ve been going to therapy. I’m trying to get healthy. I’m working. I’m trying to get myself positioned to where I can really be excited about baseball. I love it so much and I love where I do it so much, but I want to be able to enjoy it. So I’ve been working hard. And I’ll be able to work harder, obviously, once I get rid of these damn crutches.”
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press