CLEVELAND – The opportunity to play at home in Ohio was just one of the reasons why the Cleveland Indians were the perfect fit for Craig Stammen to resume his professional baseball career.
The Versailles High School graduate signed a minor league contract with Cleveland on Monday. The contract includes an invitation to the Indians’ major league spring training where Stammen will have an opportunity to earn a spot on the team’s 25 man roster.
“It feels good,” Stammen said Tuesday afternoon. “It feels good. Excited. Starting a new chapter in baseball. Long offseason but finally came to an agreement with something I liked.”
Stammen became a free agent for the first time in his career on Dec. 2 when the Washington Nationals decided not to tender him a contract for the 2016 season. The Versailles alumnus had spent his entire career with the Nationals, who selected him in the 12th round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Dayton.
After being released by the Nationals, approximately 20 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams inquired about Stammen with varying degrees of interest. But one of the things that made the Indians stand out above the rest was their personal touch, which appealed to the 31 year old who grew up in the small town of North Star.
“They made it feel like they wanted me or needed me more than any of the other teams did,” Stammen said.
In addition to feeling wanted by Cleveland, Stammen also felt very comfortable with the Indians’ medical staff, manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Being close to home also was a major selling point for Cleveland as it will be easier for his friends and family to visit and watch games.
“I’m excited about playing for the Indians and being close to home where people can make the short drive and see me play,” Stammen said.
Another attribute that made Cleveland a desirable destination for Stammen was the opportunity to win. Stammen twice made the playoffs with the Nationals, and he hopes to help lead the Indians to the postseason. Last year Cleveland finished 81-80, which was just 4.5 games out of playoff position.
“The Indians provided that opportunity to have an opportunity to compete and win a championship,” Stammen said. “The goal always remains the same, and that’s to help the team win a championship.”
Before he gets an opportunity to help the Indians win a championship, he’ll have to earn a spot on their roster.
Stammen missed most of the 2015 season after having surgery on April 19 to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm, which was the first major injury of his career. He’ll have to prove he’s healthy and back to the form that allowed him to pitch a league-leading 242 2/3 innings out of the bullpen from 2012-14 with a 2.93 ERA with 222 strikeouts.
“I look forward to the challenge of trying to make a baseball team again,” Stammen said.
Stammen’s one-year deal with the Indians calls for him to make a $1 million base salary with $2 million in available incentives, which could make it more valuable than his $2.25 million salary in 2015 with the Nationals.
Stammen welcomed the challenge of having to earn his salary with the Indians.
“Everybody wants to step on the mound and earn what they’re getting paid,” he said. “In the end you’ve got to perform.”
If Stammen does not make the Indians’ major league roster out of spring training, his contract includes an opt-out clause that would allow him to become a free agent on March 25 so he could pursue a major league roster spot with another ball club.
For now the Versailles graduate is turning his attention to spring training. Being with a new team that trains in Arizona instead of Florida, he is scrambling to figure out things such as housing and transportation for spring training with little time remaining before pitchers and catchers have to report on Feb. 17.
“It’s a crazy quick turnaround for me,” said Stammen, who plans to leave early for Goodyear, Arizona, so he can start working with the Indians’ medical staff. “I’ll probably be in Arizona in the next couple days.”