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Napoli rejoins Tribe on Spring Training invite

Right-handed slugger hit 34 homers for Cleveland in '16
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona credits Mike Napoli for playing a role in creating the winning culture that still exists in Cleveland's clubhouse. Francona also felt it was a shame to see that no team was tapping into Napoli's veteran presence and leadership this spring.

Even with no roster spot to offer Napoli at the moment, the Indians have brought the slugger to Spring Training on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation. If Napoli is only back with Cleveland for one month, or if his stint with the Tribe actually serves as an audition for another club, Francona feels it will have been worth it.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona credits Mike Napoli for playing a role in creating the winning culture that still exists in Cleveland's clubhouse. Francona also felt it was a shame to see that no team was tapping into Napoli's veteran presence and leadership this spring.

Even with no roster spot to offer Napoli at the moment, the Indians have brought the slugger to Spring Training on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation. If Napoli is only back with Cleveland for one month, or if his stint with the Tribe actually serves as an audition for another club, Francona feels it will have been worth it.

"It's a little bit of a unique situation," Francona said. "He wanted a chance to be in a Major League camp. There's a decent chance we're going to get him ready to have him go on another team and help beat us. Saying that, I think we all felt like he deserved it. He's such a pro, so special to us."

Francona noted that Napoli -- a key member of the 2016 Indians team that reached the World Series -- had been training this spring at the free-agent camp set up at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Now the 36-year-old first baseman can work out with the Indians while offering a veteran voice for the younger players in camp.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Napoli can also serve as an experienced insurance policy for Cleveland. With word spreading that Napoli was rejoining the Indians, Francona made a point to meet with first basemen Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. The manager made it clear that Napoli was not in the running for their respective jobs. But if there are injury issues this spring, Napoli gives the Indians a fallback option.

Francona was also honest with Napoli about the roster landscape.

"We're thrilled to have him in camp," Francona said. "My biggest concern was -- and I told him this -- he comes in, hits .500 and we don't have a spot for him and a kid that we're so crazy about, we have to tell him that. So we told him upfront, because I didn't want to damage a relationship that's that important. So we walked through the whole thing.

"I think he's really excited. It's been a hard winter for him. Just having him here, we'll treat him like he deserves. We'll get him his playing time and see where it goes."

Video: Tomlin, Allen discuss Indians bringing back Napoli

Napoli was at the Tribe's complex on Tuesday morning for his physical, but he did not speak to reporters. Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin said he practically tackled Napoli when he saw him in the training room.

"I went and jumped on his back," Tomlin said. "His veteran presence, his leadership, how he goes about his business on a daily basis is huge. He's a good guy to have around for young guys, old guys, it doesn't matter, [even] for the coaching staff. It's fun to have him back. It's good to get to see him already."

Last season, Napoli played in 124 games with the Rangers, hitting .193 with 29 home runs and a .713 OPS. Over the course of 12 Major League seasons, the right-handed slugger has belted 267 homers and posted an .821 OPS between stints with the Angels, Rangers, Red Sox and Indians. Napoli was an All-Star in 2012, and he has played in three World Series ('11 with Texas, '13 with Boston and '16 with Cleveland).

Prior to the 2016 season, Napoli and Rajai Davis -- who is also back in camp with Cleveland as a non-roster invitee this spring -- were the Tribe's primary free-agent signings. Davis led the American League in stolen bases and Napoli set career bests with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs that season. They both provided leadership for a team filled with younger players who had never experienced a deep postseason run.

Video: Davis relives his game-tying World Series homer

Napoli also became a fan favorite not only for his tape-meaure home runs, but for the "Party at Napoli's" mantra. Fans purchased shirts with that slogan in droves and proceeds went to Cleveland Clinic Children's hospital.

If only for a month, the party is back.

"He expected everybody else to follow his lead," Francona said. "We've said a lot about him. It's true. He had a big hand in our team transforming itself into a team that could possibly win the World Series. He had a huge hand in that. Just because he left to go to another team never changed his impact or how we felt about him."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Mike Napoli