GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Carlos Gonzalez’s career is laden with personal achievements — a batting title, three All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves.
He has earned the respect of teammates and opponents and the unwavering devotion of Colorado fans, who spent the past decade cheering the outfielder known simply as “CarGo.”
But something is missing and Gonzalez thinks he might find it in Cleveland. The free agent signed a minor league contract Tuesday with the Indians, who might have a starting outfield spot for him.
“Looking at the roster and the past of this organization, this was an easy decision,” Gonzalez said. “This is a team that not too long ago was playing in a World Series. As a baseball player, I think it is everybody’s dream to be at that stage, to play for a championship. I want to be in the position to be in that category. This lineup, the rotation, this bullpen is built for winning.”
Gonzalez could help the Indians settle their outfield situation, which became muddled following the decision not to re-sign All-Star Michael Brantley and other offseason moves. Gonzalez said he also received an offer from the San Francisco Giants but chose Cleveland.
“I wanted to play in the American League,” he said. “The past two years, facing the American League pitchers was something I wanted to do. It doesn’t get tiring, obviously because you’re playing baseball. You’re playing what you love but I wanted a new beginning. When the opportunity opened that’s what I took.
“I decided between the Indians and the Giants. I decided to come here because this is what I wanted to do.”
The 33-year-old Gonzalez spent 10 seasons with Colorado and was one of the team’s best players and an emotional leader. He left the Rockies after 2017 before re-signing with Colorado last March on a one-year contract, earning $8 million including roster bonuses.
If he makes Cleveland’s 40-man roster, Gonzalez will get a $2 million contract in the majors. He can earn $1 million more in bonuses. He can opt out of his contract April 20.
“The way spring training was going this was a perfect fit for me,” he said. “I told my agent I really wanted to be on that squad. I told him if you get the opportunity to get me on board, I’m ready to go. I’m glad the opportunity came.”
A .287 career hitter with 231 home runs, Gonzalez was streaky last season, when he batted .276 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs. Gonzalez hit 40 homers in 2015, and he might be able to help Cleveland offset the loss of slugger Edwin Encarnacion.
Gonzalez’s peak years may be behind him, but he can provide the Indians with quality at-bats, postseason experience and leadership. He’ll likely begin the season at extended spring training so he can get into shape.
“We’re getting a pro,” manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody you talk to just loves him. Not just what he does with the bat. It is the way he carries himself. In my small interactions I’ve had with him, you can tell the way he carries himself.”
Gonzalez won the 2010 NL batting title (.336) and was an All-Star in 2012, 2013 and 2016. He has appeared in at least 200 games at all three outfield positions and has primarily played right field the past four seasons.
He’s thrilled to have a fresh start with a team capable of doing big things in 2019.
“As a baseball player you want to get things going,” he said. “Once the offseason comes and you hit free agency, you kind of want to know where you’re going to be next season, but free agency is obviously different than it was in the past. Last year it took me a long time to find a job. This year it took me a little longer. I made this decision. I can’t wait to get on the field with my teammates.”
The Indians considered keeping rookie Orlando Mercado on their roster after his torrid spring, but sent him to Triple-A Columbus. Mercado batted .400 (16-for-40) with three homers and nine RBIs.
“He had one heckuva camp and we just told him that,” Francona said. “It was to the point where we had conversations about taking him with us. In the end, the way we’re situated, playing once or twice a week in Cleveland in his first time in the big leagues, we didn’t think that was setting up for success.”