Francona: “You don’t want it to be over.”
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona would much rather be in an alternative universe, talking about preparing for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox.
Instead, after being ousted by the Rays in the AL Wild Card Game, Antonetti and Francona sat down with Cleveland reporters on Monday afternoon to talk about the season that was and the offseason ahead.
“You don’t want it to be over,” Francona said. “You want to leave on your own terms, and we weren’t able to do that. That stung a lot. But, I’ll still be able to take [a lot] away and be so proud of that group of players.”
It was an hour-long chat that covered just about every topic surrounding the Tribe as it begins its early winter. Francona said the sting of losing the Wild Card Game has lessened, but he has only caught bits and pieces of the other playoff games, because “part of you is a little bit jealous.”
Indians fans can surely relate.
There will be stories from today’s sit-down on Indians.com today, and in the coming days, but here is a quick rundown of the issues addressed with the GM and manager:
- Francona announced some changes to his coaching staff. Sandy Alomar Jr. will move from the bench coach role to first-base coaching duties, and Francona’s long-time friend Brad Mills will shift from the third-base coach box to the bench coach role. Mike Sarbaugh will move across the diamond from first base to third base. All the other coaching roles remain unchanged. It’s also worth noting that a change would also come if Alomar is interviewed and hired for one of the vacant managerial roles around the league. He’s already been rumored to be in the mix for the Cubs’ job.
- Antonetti indicated that “all indications” are that 1B Nick Swisher, who was bothered by a left shoulder issue all season, will not need surgery. The GM said Swisher should be good to go for next season. Antonetti did note that many players underwent exit physicals and there will be some second opinions sought. The GM did not provide any specifics beyond that at this time.
- It had been reported, here and elsewhere, that Ubaldo Jimenez’s $8 million option for 2014 was a mutual option. In a sense, it is, but Antonetti clarified the situation. When he was traded, Jimenez earned the right to void the option, according to his contract language. There was no specified deadline for that move, and Jimenez has not voided the option to date. If voided (the likely move), Cleveland could make a one-year qualifying offer in an effort to gain a compensatory Draft pick (if Jimenez also decline that offer). Confused yet? Just wait until after the World Series, when it will all be sorted out.
- Antonetti said it is too early in the offseason to say specifically what kind of payroll the team is looking at for 2014. The GM said he will remain “aggressive” with his offseason moves, and is confident he’ll have enough resources, but he would not delve into details yet.
- Antonetti and Francona both raved about an offense that would up fourth in the AL in runs scored when it was all said and done. Asked if the Indians still need a middle of the order bat, the manager replied, “It depends on how much pitching we have.” The GM mentioned multiple times that the Tribe can virtually bring back its entire position-player group for 2014.
- Why did Swisher and Bourn underperform (by their career standards) this past season? Both the GM and manager said it might stem from trying to do too much after signing big contracts. In Swisher’s case, Francona said the shoulder also played a role. For Bourn, Antonetti cited getting used to the American League. Antonetti said the expectation is better performance and more consistency come 2014.
- As for pitching prospect Trevor Bauer, Antonetti said the Indians may have “underestimated the magnitude of the changes he was undertaking with his delivery.” Bauer remains a work in progress, and he’s in a better spot now than at the start of this year, according to Antonetti, and the Indians still view the young pitcher as a big part of the team’s future.
- Veteran Jason Giambi wants to come back as a player in 2014, which would be his 20th season. The Indians have mutual interest in retaining the 42-year-old part-time DH and pinch hitter. If Giambi decided he couldn’t keep playing, Francona and Antonetti said the Indians would still have interest in keeping “G” in the organization in some capacity.
- Antonetti said the Tribe still believes 3B Lonnie Chisenhall will be a “very good Major League player.” That said, Francona noted that it was difficult to balance Chisenhall’s development (see: hitting left-handed pitching) with winning down the stretch this season. While they praised Chisenhall’s potential, I see third base as area that Cleveland will likely look for an upgrade for next season.
- Antonetti and Francona believe former setup man Vinnie Pestano will be “determined” more than ever to reclaim his former prowess on the mound and role in the bullpen. Francona said Pestano’s struggles, after taking part in the World Baseball Classic, will not deter the team from allowing players to participate in the event in the future. Francona said Pestano calls himself a perfectionist, almost to a fault. “I guess the best way to cure that is to have a lot more good outings than bad outings,” said the manager.
- Antonetti downplayed Chris Perez’s struggles in terms of potentially complicating the former closer’s arbitration situation (he made $7.3 million last year). The GM said Perez’s strong history as a closer will be “the lens” through which the team views his case. That said, Francona was asked if the Indians need a defined closer in time for the onset of Spring Training, and the manager replied, “It’s important on the first day of the season, or as you get into the season.”
- The Indians obviously have decisions/negotiations upcoming with Jimenez and/or Kazmir (also a free agent) this winter. That said, the Indians like the rotation depth in place. Behind Justin Masterson are Cory Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister. Cleveland also has Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Bauer as potential options. Antonetti called that a great “foundation” for the starting staff. It seems clear that Cleveland will look to add more, whether that’s by retaining Big U and Kazmir, or by reeling in other options.
- Yes, the Indians still view Carrasco as a starter. Francona said the Indians “need to exhaust every possibility with him as a starter.” The fastball and secondary stuff are there. I asked if Carrasco needed to maybe bring the mentality he had out of the bullpen to the rotation. Francona said, “That’s one way to put it, yeah.” And, hey, if it doesn’t pan out, Cleveland knows it has a potential weapon out of the ‘pen in Carrasco.
- Francona raved about catcher Yan Gomes, who will likely be the starting catcher next season. Carlos Santana has expressed — through the media and to the team — that he doesn’t want to be a full-time DH. Francona said he talked to Santana about that very issue on Monday and noted that the Indians “communicate with him moving forward” about the situation behind the plate. Beyond that, Francona stayed away from any specific plans, but he did call Santana’s versatility and bat a “weapon” for the club.
- Antonetti noted that Major League Baseball has ongoing negotiations with the Winter Leagues about the parameters for 40-man roster players participating. The GM said there will likely be players playing in winter ball this offseason, but he didn’t want to go into detail given the unsettled agreement between MLB and the leagues.
- Francona said left fielder Michael Brantley “came as advertised — maybe a little bit better,” when it came to his professionalism, skill and willingness to do whatever the team needed of him. The manager said it was “fun to watch” Kipnis turn into “one of the better players in the league,” especially after the second baseman’s early-April slump that had some questioning his spot in the lineup.
- As for shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who turned in a subpar season and is under contract for $10 million next season, both Antonetti and Francona raved about his leadership, desire to win and the fact that he played while nicked up throughout this season. Francona said it might be something appreciated more behind the scenes than by people who strictly look at the numbers. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to hear Asdrubal’s name come up in trade rumors this winter.
- Francona will head home to Arizona for the offseason, but he’ll make trips to Cleveland each month for meetings and offseason programs. “I’ll certainly come back for the weather,” quipped the manager.
A final thought from Antonetti, asked what he felt was the biggest accomplishment of 2013:
“Two things stand out: getting back to the postseason and re-establishing a winning culture. Those are things that were really important for us. It was a long process and it’s an ongoing process, but getting back to the postseason was meaningful for us as an organization. Obviously, it didn’t end the way we envisioned it. But, to get back, that’s the first step. The only way you can win a World Series is to get into the postseason. So that was encouraging, but the job that Tito and the staff did, kind of creating an unbelievable environment around the Major League team, and a winning environment from Day 1 of Spring Training, that set the table and the foundation for the year.”
Stay tuned for more…