Rosario thought Tribe was his 'best match'

February 25th, 2021

Every year, Indians manager Terry Francona starts camp by meeting with each player individually, along with a few members of the front office. When outfielder Eddie Rosario sat down, Francona couldn’t help but say, “It is so nice not to hate you anymore.”

The Indians had no choice but to dread seeing Rosario step into the box when he was with Minnesota. In 45 games at Progressive Field, Rosario hit .353 with a 1.031 OPS (his highest OPS in any road ballpark he visited at least seven times). Rosario’s 11 homers, 12 doubles and three triples in Cleveland are the most he’s had in any road ballpark, while his 25 RBIs trail only his 26 at Comerica Park in Detroit.

“I played a lot against this club,” Rosario said. “I love playing at Progressive Field in Cleveland. I love the stadium and I hit it well. I see the ball really good. I like the team, too. I have a couple of friends here. I feel happy to be here.”

Both on the road and at home, Rosario hit .301 with an .897 OPS, 17 doubles and 22 homers against Cleveland. Now, the Indians can breathe a sigh of relief that he’ll be in their lineup for 2021.  

“He just seemed to wreak havoc,” Francona said. “And now go ahead and wreak it all you want. We’ll cheer for you and pat you on the back. We got a good laugh out of that. He seems like a really good kid. He seems excited to be here.”

At the beginning of the offseason, the front office sent Francona names of free agents and possible non-tender candidates and Rosario’s name was on it. When it became official that the Twins declined to offer him a contract for 2021, he jumped to the top of the Tribe’s wish list. Although Rosario said he was sad in the moment that the Twins decided to part ways, he immediately started to look for a team that would be the best fit for him.

“I think for me it was more like looking for a family,” Rosario said. “People that I am familiar with; people that have seen me play. Tito has seen me play for a couple of years, playing against me while I was in Minnesota. I have a couple of fellow countrymen from Puerto Rico on this team so this is a great opportunity for me. I was looking for a place where I felt comfortable playing, a ballpark I know, a place where I can have my best game and I felt the Indians were the best match for me.”

The expectations for him are pretty obvious. Although it was a shortened season, the Indians’ outfield group ranked among the worst of all 30 clubs in different offensive categories in 2020. The outfield crew had the second-worst wRC+ (54), average (.194), on-base percentage (.238) and fWAR (-0.9), while recording the lowest number of RBIs (62), homers (11) and slugging percentage (.300).

The Tribe knows what his bat would mean to the lineup, but what about his defense? Right after he signed with the club, the Indians said he could be an option in either corner-outfield spot. Now, the team is leaning toward keeping him in left field.

“He throws fine,” Francona said. “I think we've tried to explain to him that as we get to know him, it's not just in the batter's box, it's on the bases and in the outfield. He's such an enthusiastic kid and he's really passionate that I think sometimes his emotions probably — and we've seen that from the other side — but I think he'll be just fine out in left field.”

Without Francisco Lindor’s or Carlos Santana’s bats in the lineup anymore, maybe José Ramírez or Franmil Reyes will feel more pressure to carry the offense. But all eyes will be on Rosario on Opening Day to see if the team finally can have an everyday, reliable and productive outfielder.

Rosario hit a home run in his first big league at-bat. He later hit a homer in his first postseason at-bat. When he was asked whether we should expect that trend to continue with a homer in his first at-bat with the Indians, Rosario let out a big laugh and said: “I hope so, man.”