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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Jason Giambi’s days as a masher are mainly behind him. His muscular, tattooed arms are as carved as ever, but the hair around his temples is dusted gray. In the late innings of his career, he’s a mentor.
The stately slugger. And at 42, Giambi knows he’s down to his final swings as a major leaguer.
He’ll try to make them count with Cleveland.
After contemplating retirement and interviewing to be Colorado’s manager, Giambi signed a minor league contract this month with the Indians, who are confident the 18-year veteran can not only bring them some power as a part-time designated hitter but also help teach their younger players.
“He’s not just a veteran guy. He’s like THE veteran,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I truly feel like it’s an honor that he’s in our camp. That’s how strongly I feel about him.”
The feeling’s mutual. Giambi has known Francona since he played in the minors, which some days feels like a lifetime ago to the five-time All-Star, who may have lost some bat speed but not an ounce of his love for the game. He always wanted to play for Francona, who said the only time he didn’t like Giambi was “when he was in the batter's box on the other side of the field.”
Limited to just 89 at-bats during his fourth season with Colorado, Giambi entered the offseason facing an uncertain future, possibly one that didn’t include baseball. Giambi considered calling it quits after hitting 429 homers and driving in 1,405 runs in 17 seasons for Oakland, the Yankees, and Rockies.
“I have a 15-month-old girl. I finally grew up,” he said, laughing. “I thought if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I had some offers for a hitting-coach job and I thought maybe I would take a year and enjoy my family. But when I got the phone call from the Indians, I jumped right on it because it was Tito [Francona].”
He nearly wound up as Colorado’s manager.
The Rockies were so impressed with how Giambi naturally interacted and affected many of their youngsters that they interviewed him for the job before hiring Walt Weiss. Giambi didn’t have any managerial aspirations, and he was shocked when the club approached him.
“I thought I would probably get in the game as a hitting coach because I work really well with the young kids,” he said. “I was very lucky when I came into the big leagues because I had Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach and Dennis Eckersley. Those guys took me under their wing and taught me the game. I always felt that’s how you pass it on to the next generation, that’s your gift back.”
Giambi’s deal with Cleveland will pay him $750,000 if he’s added to the 40-man roster. He can make $200,000 more if he stays on it. As far as Francona is concerned, the payoff of Giambi in camp is immeasurable.
During the Indians’ first full-squad workout on Friday, Giambi took grounders at first base with 23-year-old Mike McDade, claimed off waivers in November from Toronto. As McDade worked near the bag, Giambi stood to the side offering advice.
“I could hear Jason quietly telling him, ‘Slow down, move your feet,’” Francona said. “It was a very calming influence, very friendly. He wasn’t talking down to him. Jason just has that way about him. He has a track record, but he has a way of communicating that’s natural and easy and you could see Mike relax.”
For McDade, being with Giambi is a chance to work with one of his idols. While he was in high school, McDade often hit at batting cages in Las Vegas owned by Giambi. Now he’s taking batting practice with a player he has long admired.
“Anything he can offer is amazing,” McDade said. “He doesn’t have to do that, but he’s taking the time and explaining things to me. It’s huge. Just being able to talk to him is great. He’s just a regular guy.”
Without bragging, Giambi feels he can offer a lot to Cleveland’s kids.
He’s done it all in baseball, from playing in pressure-packed games with New York to being fingered by the FBI as one of the players who received steroids in the BALCO scandal.
“I’ve been on top of the world in this game and I’ve been in the gutter,” he said.
The climb has brought him to Cleveland, a city he’s always been fond of.
When he broke in with Oakland in 1995, the Indians ruled the AL, winning 100 regular-season games in a strike-shortened season with a lineup that featured Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramirez. The Indians don’t have that type of firepower now, but Giambi is thrilled to be part of a team replenished this winter by the hiring of Francona, a two-time World Series winner with Boston, and the signings of free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.
“This is a dream come true,” Giambi said. “I always wanted to play for Tito and I’ve always been a huge fan of Cleveland. When I think of Cleveland, I think of the ’90s when they were a powerhouse. I’ve always loved playing there and hitting there.”
REDS/BAILEY: Right-hander Homer Bailey and the Cincinnati Reds agreed to a $5.35 million, one-year contract, ensuring baseball will set a record low for salary arbitration hearings.
No cases have been argued before three-person panels this year among the 133 players who filed for arbitration last month and just two remain scheduled for hearings next week: San Diego left-hander Clayton Richard and Baltimore reliever Darren O'Day.
O'Day and the Orioles have an agreement on a $5.8 million, two-year contract that is pending a physical. Richard has asked for a raise from $2,705,000 to $5.5 million and has been offered $4,905,000 after he went 14-14 with a 3.99 ERA last tear.
Baseball’s previous record low was three hearings, set in 2005 and matched in 2009 and 2011. The high was 35 in 1986.
REDS/CHAPMAN: Aroldis Chapman was one of baseball’s best closers in his first try at it, helping Cincinnati win the NL Central.
He’s getting a chance to win a spot in the rotation this spring, but manager Dusty Baker is keeping an open mind about moving Chapman back to the bullpen in an emergency.
The hard-throwing lefty saved 38 games last season in his first experience as a closer. He was getting ready to be a starter during spring training in 2012 when closer Ryan Madson got hurt. Baker then eased Chapman into a setup role, then promoted him to closer as he continued to pitch well.
PADRES/GRANDAL: Reading from a prepared statement, San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal apologized for a second time after his 50-game suspension for a positive test for testosterone.
Grandal was suspended Nov. 7 and issued a statement then through the Major League Baseball Players Association. He read a statement Saturday at the Padres’ spring training camp but did not take questions.
Grandal also did not comment substantively on last month's report by Miami New Times that he appeared in records of Biogenesis of America LLC, a closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., under investigation by Major League Baseball for distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs.
DODGERS/KERSHAW: Clayton Kershaw was selected Saturday as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ opening day starter and will become the team’s first pitcher to start three straight openers since Derek Lowe from 2005-07.
Kershaw will take the mound on April 1 against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium.