Indians want Giambi to return, and vice versa
CLEVELAND -- Jason Giambi believes there is still some fuel left in his tank. The Indians gave the veteran slugger a chance to continue his playing career this past season, and he has made it clear that he would like nothing more than to have the same opportunity next year.
The feeling appears to be mutual.
"We would like to continue our relationship with G," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "probably as long as he would like to."
Francona spoke not only for potentially bringing the 42-year-old Giambi back as a player in 2014 -- he is eligible for free agency this winter -- but for possibly retaining him in an organizational role after the designated hitter decides it's time to hang up his spikes. It was only one offseason ago when Giambi was in the running as a managerial candidate with the Rockies.
From the early days of Spring Training, it was obvious why Giambi is praised throughout baseball for his leadership ability. The veteran could often be seen pulling up a chair to talk with younger players in the clubhouse, and he took the initiative to call team meetings throughout the season. With 19 years in the big leagues, Giambi has a wealth of experiences from which to pull.
These are reasons why Francona has referred to Giambi as a "force" in Cleveland's clubhouse.
"When you're a manager and a coach," Francona said, "there are a lot of headaches that come with the job. And when you get a guy like that, sometimes it can be once in a lifetime. I would be crazy not to enjoy and to use his ability throughout the club.
"I think he's changed people in the organization. I think he's made me better. I think he's made everybody he touches better. That's a very special person."
Giambi was brought into Spring Training on a Minor League contract, but it was quickly apparent that the veteran was a planned part of the Opening Day roster. Given his age and limitations as a part-time player, though, Cleveland needed versatile utility players Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn to secure spots on the bench in order to keep Giambi on the roster.
Throughout the season, during which the Indians won 92 games to earn the American League's top Wild Card spot, Giambi was used sparingly as a DH and put into key situations as a pinch-hitter. His overall stat line left something to be desired -- he hit .183 in 71 games -- but peering deeper into Giambi's numbers reveal his value.
Among the 368 Major League hitters with at least 20 plate appearances in the ninth inning, Giambi ranked eighth overall with a 1.181 OPS. Among AL batters with at least 200 plate appearances, Giambi ranked 14th -- right behind Detroit's Prince Fielder -- with an average of one RBI every six at-bats. He hit .271 with a .960 OPS with runners in scoring position and tied a franchise record with three pinch-hit home runs.
Twice, Giambi became the oldest player in Major League history to launch a walk-off home run. Giambi broke the previous record -- set by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in 1976 -- with a game-winning blast against the White Sox on July 29. Giambi then broke his own record on Sept. 24, when he belted a two-run, pinch-hit walk-off shot against Chicago closer Addison Reed to help the Tribe to its fifth win during a 10-game winning streak.
"I think it's safe to say," Francona said, "if we wouldn't have signed Giambi, we wouldn't [have made the postseason]. I believe that."
Now, the Indians are hoping to keep Giambi in the fold to help build on this past season's strong finish.
"G wants to play again," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He really enjoyed this season this year and made huge contributions to our team beyond just what he did on the field. And I think he'd like to continue doing that."
Following Cleveland's 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card Game, Giambi made it clear he wants to return as a player for a 20th big league season.
"I've enjoyed every minute, watching this ballclub grow and being a part of it," Giambi said. "I feel great. I would love to [play again]. I would love to be a part of this. I love the direction this ballclub is going. We'll see, though. We'll see what the universe has to offer."