2/14/2013 9:37 P.M. ET
Giambi grateful, excited to have one final shot in Majors
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jason Giambi sat at his locker inside the Indians' complex, flecks of gray hair in his sideburns and stubble, smiling as he soaked in his new surroundings. He might be as surprised as anyone that he is being gifted with a shot at another season.
Giambi was nearly ready to accept that it might be time to retire from his playing days.
After 18 years in the big leagues, he would have no reason to complain.
"I was prepared for that," said Giambi, who then laughed. "I've got a 15-month-old daughter. I finally grew up. So, it wouldn't have hurt my feelings. But to have this opportunity, I jumped on it in a heartbeat."
The opportunity at hand is a spot on Cleveland's Opening Day roster as a part-time designated hitter and pinch hitter. He served a similar role over the past few years with the Rockies, and learned to embrace being a mentor. Chatting up younger players, passing on what he has learned, Giambi says that has been his way of giving back to the game that has given so much to him.
Colorado appreciated what the 42-year-old Giambi did behind the scenes so much that the club went as far as interviewing him for its managerial vacancy this past offseason. That Giambi was being considered for such a task was not surprising to those who know him.
Indians manager Terry Francona certainly wasn't surprised.
"I don't think it was probably too far from being reality," Francona said. "He's everything you want in a player. He's a good teammate. He respects the game. He plays hard. He wants to win. Even when he's on the other team, you always respected him. You just didn't want to see him up at the plate.
"This guy might be one of the most respected guys in the game."
That is a big reason behind the Indians giving Giambi a chance to extend his career.
Coming off a 94-loss season, the Indians have drastically reshaped their roster. General manager Chris Antonetti has added free agents Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers to the fold, and the Tribe is expected to officially announce the signing of Michael Bourn on Friday. Francona -- a two-time World Series champion -- was hired to lead the charge.
Each move -- even when it comes to the bench or Minor League depth -- has been with the intention of altering the culture surrounding the team.
Antonetti wanted Giambi to be a part of the process.
"Chris reached out to my agent," Giambi said. "They said, 'We're really interested. We want you to come,' so I ended up signing."
Giambi signed a Minor League contract and is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he has a strong chance of making the Opening Day roster.
Francona feels Giambi's presence this spring, and possibly this season, will be invaluable.
"He's not just a veteran guy. I mean, he's like the veteran," Francona said. "I truly feel like it's an honor that he's in our camp. That's how strongly I feel about him."
Giambi has been to baseball's mountain-top and back.
In his 18 seasons, Giambi has hit .280 with a .403 on-base percentage, piling up 429 home runs, 1,334 walks and 1,405 RBIs along the way in stops with the A's, Yankees and Rockies. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2000, was named to five All-Star teams and reached the World Series with New York in '03.
Between the 2000-02 seasons, he hit .330 with a 1.096 OPS, averaging 41 homers, 37 doubles, 125 walks and 126 RBIs per year.
"You always felt like he was going to hurt you," Francona said.
Giambi has also had his low points.
Before the 2005 season, Giambi issue a public apology after his name surfaced in reports tying him to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Giambi later admitted to using steroids, and that admission will continue to follow him.
"I've been on top of the world in this game, and I've been in the gutter in this game," Giambi said. "I've been trying to get myself back going again. I've faced a lot of adversity and I'm still here, sitting here in this chair, talking to you guys today."
Francona said the past will stay there.
"That's way in the rear-view mirror," Francona said. "I have so much respect for him that I probably don't have the ability to be not biased. I just feel that way. With certain people, you're like that."
At the time he signed with the Indians, Giambi knew that Cleveland was in the mix for Bourn -- a signing that will cause a ripple effect on the roster. Bourn will take over in center field and Drew Stubbs will shift to right, forcing Swisher to first base. As a result, Reynolds is expected to assume the bulk of the duties for the designated hitter role.
That could leave Giambi with limited at-bats.
That said, Giambi's recent experience with Colorado was similar. He had 396 at-bats total over the past three seasons, during which he hit .245 with a .370 on-base percentage, 20 home runs, 72 walks and 75 RBIs in 211 games.
"I had a meeting with Tito today, and I was excited," Giambi said. "I said, 'Hey, listen. As long as I don't have to face anybody in the ninth all the time throwing 100 mph, I don't care. As long as I can get some consistent at-bats -- four in a game once or twice, or three times a week -- I don't care. I'm all for it. And that's really what my role would be here."
For now, Giambi is thrilled simply to be here.
"It's definitely a gift, and I'm grateful for it," he said. "It's been a long road and I've had the greatest time in the world. I'll give it one more shot and see what I have left."