CLEVELAND — Done rebuilding, the Cleveland Indians believe they've got enough talent to contend this season, next season and perhaps for many more.
Asdrubal Cabrera wants to be around for all of them.
On the eve of their home opener against Toronto, the Indians locked up one of their best players on Wednesday by finalizing a three-year contract with Cabrera, their slick fielding All-Star shortstop who had a breakout season in 2011.
Cabrera, who avoided salary arbitration by signing a $4.55 million contract for 2012 this winter, will make $6.5 million in 2013 and $10 million in 2014. Cabrera's new deal covers his final year of arbitration eligibility and what could have been his first year as a free agent.
"This is the team I want to be on my whole career," Cabrera said.
The Indians have been working on an extension for over four months with Cabrera, who was a steadying force for the club last season when injuries overwhelmed a young team that started strongly but collapsed in the final month.
"He meant a lot," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "If you look at what went on here last year, between him and (Carlos) Santana, they probably carried the offense throughout the season, because we had so many injuries and inconsistency offensive wise.
"This guy, he was there the whole time. He played every day. He played through injuries. He declined a little bit in the second half, but at the end of the day, he set a franchise record for home runs, he drove in 90-plus runs, and he was a very good player for us.
"So I'm very happy that I won't have to worry about him for the next three years."
The 26-year-old Cabrera was easily Cleveland's MVP last season, batting .273 and posting career-highs with 25 homers and 92 RBIs — power numbers few saw coming. Before last season, the switch hitter had hit just 18 career homers. Cabrera led AL shortstops in RBIs, was tied for first in hits (165) and was second in doubles (32) and runs (87).
Beyond that, he made dazzling defensive plays that saved runs, turned games and earned him an almost nightly spot on TV highlight packages.
"Sometimes it's fun just sitting there on the bench watching him," pitcher Justin Masterson said. "It's like, 'What's he going to do next?'"
Before giving Cabrera his new deal, the Indians did not have a player signed past 2012. By extending Cabrera, the Indians sent a positive message to Cleveland's fans and through the Indians' clubhouse.
"It's nice to see the club going in the right direction," said Masterson, who will start Thursday's opener against Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero. "We know he's going to be there for the next couple years so that excites all of us who are planning to be around too. It makes things look good in the future and you know the team is willing to reward people who do great things. We have such a young core it makes for some excitement not only for this year, but for years to come."
Cabrera's wizardry with the glove has drawn some comparisons to another Venezuelan shortstop, former Indians All-Star Omar Vizquel, who played 11 seasons in Cleveland and made Toronto's opening-day roster following an impressive training camp.
As he prepared for his 24th opening day as a player, Vizquel, who will turn 45 in a few weeks, said Cleveland's new shortstop is as good as they come.
"Cabrera is way better than me," Vizquel said with a straight face. "He's done things in the field that are amazing. I don't think they were even expecting him to be a shortstop after he came up as a second baseman. He just turned out to be this unbelievable player.
"Every time I come to Cleveland I see No. 13 (Vizquel also wears 13) and see how well he's doing. It's great. I think they got what they want."
Cleveland acquired Cabrera from Seattle in 2006 in a trade for first baseman Eduardo Perez. After he was called up from Triple-A in 2007, Cabrera provided an immediate spark, helping push the Indians to an AL Central title and within one win of the World Series.
Cabrera followed with three solid years before emerging last season as one of the game's best all-around middle infielders.
Acta has him penciled in to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but he's not counting on Cabrera to duplicate the impressive stats he posted in 2011.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you he's going to reproduce those numbers that he did last year," Acta said. "Obviously, setting a career high for home runs and the franchise home run record for a shortstop it's something that's not done every other year.
"But we do feel he's going to be a double-digit home run guy going forward. If he does what he's done in the past, hit around .300, have around a .350 on-base percentage, 80 RBIs a year, we'll be pretty happy about that."
There's another facet to Cabrera that didn't show up in any boxscore or on any stat sheet.
During an injury-filled season for the Indians, he was always there for Cleveland, playing in 151 games. Even on the season's final day, when Acta wanted to give him a well-deserved day off, Cabrera asked his manager to keep him in the lineup.
"That was just one example," Acta said. "The fact that throughout the season he played a few times through some bumps and bruises showed a lot. His teammates appreciate that. When you can go out there and play through pain, that's a good way to lead other than just being a rah-rah guy."Comment on this story
Notes: Indians RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, suspended five games for throwing at Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, said he has no regrets about what happened. He also has no plans to reach out to Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who called the right-hander's action "the most gutless act I've seen in 35 years." Jimenez, who plans to appeal his suspension, said he was "a little surprised" by Tracy's comments. "That's the past. That's it." ... The Indians donated $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland in support of the organization's "Save Our Kids" campaign. ... Both the Blue Jays and Indians held workouts under sunny skies at Progressive Field, which will be sold out for Thursday's opener. ... Vizquel surprised himself with his strong spring. He says this will be his last season and he intends to manager after retiring.