CLEVELAND -- The Indians' search for a right-handed power hitter ended more than a week ago, when the club convinced first baseman Mark Reynolds to sign on the dotted line. Cleveland has now taken the step of making the transaction official.
On Tuesday, the Indians announced that they have indeed signed Reynolds, who passed his physical with the ballclub late last week. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the power-hitting first baseman, Cleveland designated corner infielder and outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment.
"We feel Mark helps provide balance to our lineup," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He's a right-handed hitter with power that has the ability to get on base, and we feel is a very good defender at first base. We think Mark will help improve our offense and I think the power that he brings was especially attractive for us."
The announcement came on the same day that the Indians hosted free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, where he was given a tour of the ballpark and treated to lunch and meetings with members of the team's front office and field staff. Swisher left town without signing a contract, but he has a standing offer from the Indians to be the team's new right fielder.
Reynolds agreed to terms on Dec. 9, filling Cleveland's need for a first baseman and additional right-handed pop.
The first baseman's one-year contract includes a base salary of $6 million, but Reynolds can earn another $1.5 million in incentives based on plate appearances. He would net $250,000 every 50 plate appearances from 400-550, and another $250,000 each for achieving 575 and 600 plate appearances during the upcoming season.
The 29-year-old Reynolds began last season as Baltimore's third baseman, but defensive woes necessitated a move across the diamond to first, where he posted a .995 fielding percentage in 108 games. Third base is expected to be occupied by youngster Lonnie Chisenhall for the Indians next year.
Antonetti noted that Reynolds would see some time at designated hitter when he was not manning first base. The GM also noted that Reynolds could slide to third on occasion, but utility man Mike Aviles will likely serve as a primary backup to Chisenhall.
"We have Mike Aviles, who has played multiple positions, and could bounce over to third base on days we wanted to rest Lonnie," Antonetti said. "Mark, we expect him to get the bulk of his at-bats at first base and DH and maybe an occasional start at third base."
It is Reynolds' offensive potential that is more important for a Cleveland team that ranked last in the Majors with 38 home runs combined from its right-handed hitters in 2012. Reynolds has launched an average of 30 home runs per year in his career and he averaged 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and 145 games per season over the past two years with the Orioles.
Even in a down year in 2012, Reynolds' 23 homers would have led the Indians, whose team leader, Carlos Santana, had just 18. Beyond the homers, Reynolds recovered from a poor first half to post a .221 batting average with a .335 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage, collecting 69 RBIs in 135 games.
Sixteen of his homers came in the final two months of the season, after he got past the most prolonged slump of his career. Through Reynolds' first 85 games, he hit .211 with eight homers and 33 RBIs and struck out 104 times. Down the stretch, he helped the Orioles reach their first postseason in 15 years by hitting 15 homers and posting a .517 slugging percentage in his final 50 games.
Arguably the best season of Reynolds' six years in the big leagues came in 2009, when he hit .260 with 44 home runs and 102 RBIs for Arizona. Reynolds also set a single-season Major League record with 223 strikeouts that year. Reynolds is the only player in big league history to turn in at least two seasons with 200 or more strikeouts, and he has done so three times in his career.
Last week, the Indians acquired outfielder Drew Stubbs from the Reds in the three-team, nine-player trade that sent right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati. Like Reynolds, Stubbs has turned in a high strikeout rate over his career. Antonetti did not sound overly concerned with the volume of strikeouts potentially added to the offense.
"We had the third-fewest strikeouts in the American League last year and we were second to last in runs scored," Antonetti said. "I think the thing we care most about is scoring runs and preventing runs. You have to make choices as you look at how you construct a roster."
The 26-year-old Canzler, acquired from the Rays in exchange for cash last Jan. 31, hit .269 with three home runs, three doubles and 11 RBIs in 26 games for the Tribe in September. At Triple-A Columbus, the part-time first baseman and left fielder hit .265 with 22 homers, 36 doubles and 79 RBIs in 130 games this year.
Cleveland now has 10 days to either trade or release Canzler, or assign him to a Minor League affiliate if he clears waivers.
"It was a really difficult decision," Antonetti said. "We were in a roster crunch. We were at 40 and we had to clear a spot. We examined a lot of different ways to clear that spot, but in the end we felt that Russ was the guy we needed to designate.
"Some of it is a reflection of need, and the fact that we signed Mark Reynolds, who probably was going to take some of the at-bats that Russ had a chance to get. That's maybe in the end what tipped the scales that way, but it was a tough decision."