Sitting in front of his cubicle, All-Star closer Chris Perez pushed aside the crossword puzzle he was working on and eyed the other side of the Indians’ clubhouse.
The changes are obvious.
Across the busy room, center fielder Michael Bourn, fresh from signing a four-year, $48 million contract, shook hands with teammates, some of whom were stunned by his arrival. Just a few feet away, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds, two more of Cleveland’s free-agent acquisitions, chatted with slugger Jason Giambi and new right fielder Drew Stubbs pulled on socks before the team’s first full-squad workout.
After hiring manager Terry Francona and spending millions on players this winter, the Indians have been remodeled, upgraded and overhauled.
If there was an offseason championship, the trophy would be headed to Cleveland.
“It seems like this year there are no excuses,” said Perez, who had 39 saves in 2012. “The front office stepped up and now it’s time for us to get it done. There’s no reason why we can’t win this year.”
For the first time in years, expectations are soaring for the Indians, who collapsed last August on the way to losing 94 games. But general manager Chris Antonetti, given the go-ahead and financial resources by owner Paul Dolan to make moves, rebuilt the Indians and restored their relevancy.
“Chris had a pretty good winter,” Francona joked.
Perez was much more serious.
The colorful right-hander has been critical in the past, contending the Dolan family hadn’t done enough to keep the Indians, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007, competitive. Perez doesn’t have any such complaints these days. In fact, he couldn’t happier with the makeover.
“We have so much more depth than we’ve had before,” Perez said. “It’s a totally different atmosphere.
There’s a distinct buzz around the club, and it’s got nothing to do with the low-flying planes landing at the airport bordering the Indians’ training complex.
With the signings of Bourn, Nick Swisher (four years, $56 million), Myers (one year, $7 million), and Reynolds (one year, $6 million), the Indians have spent a combined $117 million on free agents after dishing out a total of just $8.3 million in the past two years.
Bourn’s signing caught the baseball world as flat-footed as a power hitter sitting on a fastball and getting fooled by a curve.
The Indians were thought to have been tapped out when they signed Swisher. But with a chance to nab the speedy 30-year-old Bourn, a two-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner with Atlanta who led the NL in steals three times, Cleveland made a move that has invigorated their franchise from top to bottom.