On Wednesday, the eve of Opening Day in Cleveland, the Indians announced that they signed Cabrera to a two-year extension that lasts through the 2014 campaign. Cleveland believes Cabrera is an important piece to its core, and the ballclub provided evidence by gifting him with a longer deal to keep him in the fold for the next three seasons.
As far as the Tribe is concerned, the rebuilding stage is over. The Indians firmly believe they have entered a period of realistically contending for the postseason, and the ballclub wanted to make sure Cabrera remained an anchor for the infield defense and a catalyst on offense.
"We obviously had an interest in extending Asdrubal's term here," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "As importantly, Asdrubal -- from the very beginning of the process -- demonstrated, and continued to communicate, that he wanted to be an Indian and he wanted to be an Indian long term.
"So while we've only extended his contract at this point two years, I think there's a fundamental appreciation of the relationship, our appreciation for him as a player, and Asdrubal's desire to stay an Indian. That's what enabled us to reach an agreement, and we're elated that we were able to do so."
Under the terms of Cabrera's new contract, he is scheduled to make $16.5 million combined over the 2013-14 seasons, earning a $6.5 million salary in '13 and then $10 million in '14, which would have been his first free-agent year. The shortstop's '12 salary of $4.55 million -- agreed upon in January to avoid the arbitration process -- remains unchanged.
Asked if he would have preferred an even longer deal, Cabrera smiled.
"Yeah," said the shortstop.
When a reporter asked if a 10-year deal would have been better, the shortstop laughed.
"Why not?" Cabrera said. "This is the team I want to be with for my whole career."
Cleveland acquired Cabrera from the Mariners in 2006 in the June 30 trade that sent first baseman Eduardo Perez to Seattle. A year later, Cabrera reached the big leagues and instantly provided a spark for a 2007 Indians club that eventually came within one win of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Cabrera's breakout season, however, came in 2011. Cleveland soared to first place out of the gates, but injuries took a drastic toll on the team's performance down the stretch. Through it all, the shortstop was a source of constant production for the team, hitting .273 with 25 home runs, 32 doubles and 92 RBIs in 151 games.
Prior to last season, Cabrera's career bests were six homers and 68 RBIs.
"He had an immeasurable effect on our team last year," Antonetti said. "Not only with his performance, but with the way he persevered. He never showed it, and didn't say it, but he was playing through some things himself and kind of wanted to continue to go out there every day and be there for his teammates.
"I think he helped set the tone for the team with his competitiveness and his expectations to win. And when he's on the field, how hard he plays the game, obviously that carried over to a lot of the other guys. In a season where we had a lot of peaks and valleys and ups and downs, Asdrubal was that stabilizing presence."
Cabrera, 26, not only set a personal best in home runs, but he established a franchise record for long balls by a shortstop. His 92 RBIs were the most in a single season by an Indians shortstop since Lou Boudreau drove in 106 in 1948. Cabrera started at short for the American League All-Star team in July and earned a Silver Slugger Award at the end of the season.
Cabrera also set a single-season home run record for a Venezuelan-born shortstop. Cleveland fans are certainly familiar with the talented group of players that fall into that category. For years, the Indians had slick-fielding Omar Vizquel manning short. Like Vizquel, Cabrera wears No. 13 for Cleveland.
"Cabrera is way better than me," said Vizquel, who now plays for the Blue Jays. "He's done things in the field that are amazing. I don't think they were even expecting him to be a shortstop. He broke in as a second baseman. He just turned out to be this unbelievable player."
Since Vizquel's days with the Tribe, the Indians have been searching for a player who could provide a long-term answer at short. The club feels Cabrera has shown that potential.
"He's certainly demonstrated that over the last couple of years," Antonetti said. "He's regarded as one of the most dynamic shortstops in baseball on both sides of the ball. I think last year, with the continued progression as a hitter, he not only established himself as a defensive force, but as an offensive force as well."
Acta believes the signing also sends an important message.
"It's not only about a guy having a big year," he said, "but making sure that guys know that the organization is thinking about holding on to our good players and sending a message that, 'Hey, we are trying to keep the good players and we're trying to win here.'"