CLEVELAND -- Mike Napoli looked at the Indians' roster and saw an opportunity to play every day and win. The first baseman liked the idea of being reunited with hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo, who worked with him when they were with the Angels years ago, and Napoli called Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia to find out what it was like to play for manager Terry Francona.
It all added up to Tuesday's announcement: Napoli signed a one-year contract worth $7 million to suit up for Cleveland this season.
"I wanted to go somewhere where I could win," Napoli said. "I've been part of a lot of clubs who have been on the winning side. Looking at the roster and the pitching staff, it intrigued me."
From the Indians' side of the table, they saw the potential to add a right-handed power hitter to a lineup that has lacked consistent thump from that side for several seasons. Cleveland also saw a former catcher who, due to past health issues, worked hard to turn himself into an above-average first baseman over the past few years.
Napoli said he has been told he will get regular playing time at first base, meaning Carlos Santana will likely see the bulk of his at-bats as a designated hitter.
The Tribe agreed to the one-year pact with the 34-year-old Napoli on Dec. 16, and he underwent and passed a physical with the club two days later. Chris Antonetti, the Indians president of baseball operations, said that it took time to work out some contract language between the holidays, delaying the official announcement of the deal until Tuesday.
"I know this is news that's been held close to the vest," Antonetti quipped. "One of our goals was to try to find a way to both improve our offensive production and balance out our lineup. We think the signing of Mike goes a long way toward doing that."
The Indians also used the past three weeks to sort through the required transaction to vacate a spot on the 40-man roster, and they opted to designate reliever Kirby Yates for assignment. The club acquired Yates via trade from Tampa Bay on Nov. 25 and now has 10 days to trade or release the righty, or reassign him to the Minor Leagues if he clears waivers.
Last season, the 34-year-old Napoli hit .224 with 18 home runs, 20 doubles, 50 RBIs and a .734 OPS in 133 games with the Red Sox and Rangers. He did, however, post a .954 OPS against left-handed pitching and enjoyed a strong finish to the year. Following an 0-for-7 start with Texas, which acquired Napoli for cash on Aug. 7, he posted a .324 average and a .985 OPS over his final 29 games.
Antonetti said the Indians spent a lot of time examining Napoli's poor start and impressive September.
"There were some adjustments Mike made with his swing," Antonetti said, "some small tweaks mechanically that he made once he arrived in Texas that got him back to the point where he's had success in the past."
Last offseason, Napoli underwent a seven-hour maxillomandibular advancement procedure, which involved realigning his chin, jaw and sinuses to help with the severe sleep apnea he dealt with for years. It cost him a normal winter of training, though Napoli was not willing to cite his post-surgery adjustment period for any of his first-half struggles.
"I don't want to say that," Napoli said. "I didn't really have an offseason to work out, to tell you the truth. I was able to ... have a good Spring Training, so there was nothing wrong with me then. I'm not a guy to make an excuse for anything. I just had a rough year the first couple months of the year."
Prior to the 2013 season, it was revealed that he had avascular necrosis (a disorder that kills bone tissue) in both hips, but the problem was caught early on and he has medication for the issue. Antonetti said the hip issue is "well managed at this point," noting that no red flags came up during Napoli's physical.
Napoli was one of three finalists for the American League Gold Glove Award at first base last season, when he tallied three Defensive Runs Saved in 899 innings at the position. His 5.5 UZR/150 rated as the fifth-best mark among Major League first basemen with at least 800 innings. For his career, Napoli has 20 Defensive Runs Saved and a 5.6 UZR/150 in 3,996 innings at first.
"Mike has worked his tail off to transition to first base," Antonetti said. "He's worked really hard at becoming a good first baseman and we think that's an asset for us."
In parts of 10 big league seasons, Napoli has hit .253/.355/.482 between stints with the Angels, Red Sox and Rangers. From 2010-13, Napoli averaged 26 homers with a .508 slugging percentage per year, setting a career high with 30 jacks in '11 and making the AL All-Star team in '12.
"I still feel like I have a lot in the tank," Napoli said. "I'm able to play every day. I feel like I have a lot to prove. I've been working out for a while now and feel good, feel strong, feel healthy. So I'm looking forward to [the season]."