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Indians sign 1B Yonder Alonso to 2-year, $16 million deal

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 23, 2017, 6:08 p.m.

The Seattle Mariners’ Yonder Alonso doubles against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a Aug. 14, 2017 game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
The Seattle Mariners’ Yonder Alonso doubles against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a Aug. 14, 2017 game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

CLEVELAND – Yonder Alonso changed his swing last season and his statistics soared. The Indians hope they can rise even more.

Alonso, who reached a career high in home runs and made the All-Star team for the first time, signed a two-year, $16 million contract on Saturday with Cleveland, which found a less expensive replacement for first baseman Carlos Santana.

Alonso’s deal, which includes a $9 million club option for 2020, was agreed to earlier in the week. He passed medical tests on Friday to finalize the package.

Last year, Alonso altered the “launch angle” in his swing and the ball began to jump off his bat. With a previous season high of nine homers in 2012 for San Diego, Alonso connected for 28 with Oakland and Seattle. Beyond tweaking his swing, Alonso, who hits left-handed, said a commitment to getting stronger pushed up his power numbers.

“It started about two years ago,” he said. “A lot of times I’m in the weight room and I’m just a lot stronger than a lot of guys, and I feel healthier than I’ve ever been, and I felt like I needed to make some changes. I think for a baseball player, in itself to make changes is very hard, but I was able to get through that and realize that my body and my strength wasn’t the problem. It started obviously mentally and it carried on physically.

“I changed some things up with my lower half. I got more flexible. I was able to be more explosive when I was attacking the ball and after just let my ability take over.”

The Indians had a hole at first after Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with Philadelphia. It remains to be seen if Alonso can be as productive as Santana, who became a cornerstone, dependable player, but the 30-year-old fit into Cleveland’s budget and the Indians believe his big season was not a fluke.

“It was a purposeful adjustment that Yonder made with both his approach and also some things with his swing that led to the increased productivity this year,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said. “But it’s also not a one-year trend. If you look at the underlying numbers for him, he’s been a guy who has typically controlled the strike zone, been patient at the plate, and this year he made an adjustment to that approach and hit for some more power.

“That’s also continuing a trend of building on improved exit velocities over the course of the last three or four seasons.

Alonso, who entered last season with just 39 career homers, also reached personal bests in runs (72), walks (68), on-base percentage (.365), slugging percentage (.501) and OPS (.866).

He is most excited about seeing his win totals increase with the defending AL Central champions. Alonso has spent the past few seasons admiring the Indians from the opposing dugout.

“They do all the little things right and I think to be a winning team, you have to do those things every single day,” he said. “To be a good winning team, you’ve got to play small ball, you’ve got to play big ball, you’ve got to pitch, you’ve got to defend. I was able to see it on the other side. They did everything. They were very consistent. They looked healthier than a lot of teams. They were stronger. I think for me that’s a huge thing, where they’re all together and they’re just a good group of guys, man.

“I got to see that quite a bit and I’m looking forward to it, to just be a part of that and do whatever I can to help the team.”