Antonetti: “It was an incredible year in terms of progress.”

TitoCARoughly 24 hours after Cleveland’s 2014 campaign was officially in the books, general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona met with reporters to dissect the season, discuss the future and address a wide array of topics.

The bottom line: 85 wins was good, promising even, but it was also a disappointing finish. The Indians headed into the year with playoffs as the goal and the club fell short. In that way, this was a lost year for the Tribe.

That said, for all that went wrong, a lot went right. Corey Kluber emerged as a Cy Young contender, Michael Brantley developed into an MVP-type player and the rotation finished strong enough to breed optimism for the foundation that exists for 2015. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince did an excellent job of summing up Cleveland’s situation over on his blog, writing that the optimists and pessimists both seem to be right at the moment.

Rather than post the entirety of the hour-long session, I’ll pull out the highlights on some of the more pressing topics and issues. Over the coming days and weeks, I’ll also be rolling out some analysis of the season that was and going in-depth on some individual players and elements from this past year. For now, here is what you need to know from the meeting with the Tribe brass:

General reaction to the Indians’ season:

Antonetti: “Obviously, we’re not playing today, so we’re all a little bit disappointed. Our goal is to win the World Series. To do that, you need to get to the postseason. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But, I think if you reflect back, I’m incredibly proud of watching the way Tito, our coaches and our players came to the ballpark every day and competed and, regardless of what happened the night before — whether or not we won, whether or not we had a heart-breaking loss — we showed up the next day and went out there and gave our best to win.

“We had some pretty trying times this year. There were times where it would’ve been relatively easy to just let it snowball and say, ‘You know what? This wasn’t our year.’ But our guys, every day, showed up at the ballpark and found a way to try to compete and win that night’s game. When you’re able to step back and look at the view, and take a broader view, it was an incredible year in terms of progress. If you would’ve told me at the start of the year some of the things that transpired would’ve happened, I’m not sure I would’ve been optimistic that we would’ve won 75 games, let alone 85 games.”

What hurt the team’s chances at a playoff run the most?

Antonetti: “It’s hard to say any one thing, but obviously we had some injuries to veteran guys that had an impact. Obviously, with the year and things [Nick Swisher] went through this year, that had an impact on us, because he wasn’t able to perform up to the level he has in the past as he was battling through injuries. [Michael Bourn] missed a significant amount of time. And we just had a tough time with [Justin Masterson], getting him on track with us. So, guys that we were counting on pretty prominently to start the year, we just weren’t able to get the contributions that we may have hoped for at the start of the year.”

What about the poor defensive play?

Antonetti: “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about it over the course of the season and we’ll spend a lot more time talking about it over the next four weeks, five weeks, actually longer than that. The encouraging thing is it was much better in the second half than it was in the first half. As you look around the diamond, there’s reason to feel that we’ll be better moving forward, but we do need to look at it critically, because it needs to improve for next year. We’ll examine a lot of different ways where we can do that.”

Should Swisher have undergone surgery earlier than he did?

Antonetti: “We all tried to do the best we could. Swish tried to play through it. We were working through all the information we had at the time and everything pointed to trying to continue on the path we were on. Obviously, it didn’t play out exceptionally well, but hindsight is always 20/20. We had to deal with the information we had there, including how Swish was feeling. It clearly had an impact on him. How much and when, it’s really hard to pinpoint.”

How will Indians evaluate Jason Kipnis’ season in light of oblique issues?

Antonetti: “I think with a guy like Kip, our focus is on how do we help him be in a better spot coming into next year. He’s a big part of our team, our organization, and we expect him to be a cornerstone guy for us next year. So, rather than spending a lot of time dissecting what happened, our focus is how do we help him take advantage of the offseason, come into Spring Training ready to go and look at 2015 rather than dwell on ’14.”

Francona: “I think there was a little bit of everything. I don’t think it’s ever just black and white. I think he came back real quick, because players come back. They want to help. I thought he was pushing the bat through a little bit at the beginning to try to maybe compensate so he wouldn’t feel it. I think guys are so good at what they do that they can get away with it, and then that creates some habits where, even when he hit the ball to left field, it wasn’t that backspin ball that were used to where he’s hitting it off that wall. It was maybe a lineout to left or a single to left. I think that created some habits where, all of a sudden, he cheated to get to the fastball. He felt like when he hit the ball away to left, it didn’t have that same thump. So now all of a sudden, maybe the ball looks like it’s further away, so he’s working down in the count, he’s taking strike one, and then [comes] the changeup, because he’s trying to cheat to get tot he fastball. It’s a little bit of a cycle where one thing leads to another. It’s never just one thing. But I don’t think that [injury] helped and I think he played through a lot, and I think he’ll come back next year with a vengeance to be the player that we need.”

What did Indians think about Jose Ramirez’s play at short in second half?

Antonetti: “Jose did an incredible job. When he came back to the Major League level, I think he was more comfortable the second time offensively. He really did everything we could’ve asked. Offensively, he did his job trying to get on base as much as he could. I think he led the American League in sacrifice bunts and tried to get runners over, and then helped stabilize our infield defense and made some well above-average plays there. It was a really good year developmentally for Jose and it’s important to remember he’s only 21 years old.”

Does Ramirez’s emergence help keep Francisco Lindor on a steady development path?

Antonetti: “They’re not necessarily intertwined. I think with each guy, we’re trying to look at what’s best for his development. When are they ready? Anybody can come up to the Major Leagues. We can bring anyone in our Minor League system up. It’s a question of, ‘Are they prepared to succeed when they come up here? Francisco had an incredible year developmentally. He’s still, at every level he’s been he’s been the youngest player at that level. The same thing happened in Triple-A and he had some challenges that he was working through there. He had a very good year developmentally for him and we’re excited to see where that goes over the winter and into next year.”

Thoughts on Corey Kluber’s season?

Antonetti: “It was an incredible year. He was, in our view, the best pitcher in the American League this year. His consistency, and his consistent dominance, was a big part of the reason we were able to win as many games as we did. It’s not an accident why that happened. It’s because of the work he’s put in. He put together an incredible season and the thing that excites us most is this is not a guy who’s going to be complacent with what transpired this year. He’s going to go out and try to do it even better next year, which is going to be really hard for him to do. But that’s what he’s focused on.”

Will you approach him about an extension this offseason?

Antonetti: “That’s probably a conversation for a little bit later in the winter. We’re right now just wrapping up this year. He’s a guy, I can tell you, we value incredibly high and are thankful that he’s going to be here for a while. That’s a good starting point for us.”

Is adding a “big bat” a priority this winter?

Francona: “I think that’s the easy

. It’s, ‘Hey, go get a power bat.’ OK. What we’re really trying to do is see how many runs our pitching staff we think is going to give up and how many runs we’re going to score offensively, and then where does that fit moving forward. Do we think that makes us a team that can contend? I can tell you from personal experience, I’d rather win 3-1 than 8-7, because it’s a hard way to win consistently. I agree, there are times in a season when you have to win like that, but when your pitching gives you a chance… even the last couple months, as hard as runs seemed to be for us to score, we seemed to have a chance pretty much every night.”

With runs down across the board in MLB, how does that change the way you evaluate and construct an offense?

Antonetti: “If you look at performance, you always want to consider the context. I think that actually goes back to even the point of Kluber early. What he’s done in the context of our team versus what some other guys in the context of their team — probably if you look at it that way — he stands out far above any other candidate. Offensively, we try to do the same thing. We look at what is the run environment now. Who are the best players in that run environment and how can we acquire them? While the aggregate numbers may look a little bit different, what we try to focus on is relative to what’s available, relative to the context of the league, who are the players who can help our team. The absolute numbers have come down. Not nearly as many payers are hitting with the power and the home runs that they had 10 years ago. But the whole league was elevated, so now we’re looking at a little bit of a different context.”

Thoughts on Michael Brantley’s emergence this season:

Antonetti: “We’ve always felt Michael was a really good player. We were hopeful that he would stay healthy and just continue to do what he’s always done. … He’s that guy that’s also gotten better each and every year. He came into Spring Training this year more physical than any year in the past and was really committed to keeping his body strong. In the past, he had a little bit of a tendency, just because of the rigors of a season, to lose a little bit of weight and strength throughout the course of a year. He was pretty determined not to let that happen. He put in the work, going back to last offseason, preparing for the season and he stayed with it throughout the year. It was fun to see his continued development. He’s a complete player. And we think he’s deserving of MVP consideration with the year he had. He was a huge part of our success and we think one of the best players in the American League.”

On the unique nature of Lonnie Chisenhall’s season:

Antonetti: “I think if you were to rewind 12 months and they say, at the end of last year, ‘What would your hopes be foo Lonnie at the end of this year?’ I think Lonnie did more than we probably could’ve asked. Now, there was some inconsistency along the way to get there, but if you’d say, ‘Would you sign up for what Lonnie did this past year?’ Absolutely. So I think what we were able to see, it was actually pretty cool. … Even beyond maybe what you guys see on the surface, Lonnie’s development as a teammate, the way he improved as a baserunner, how important the little things were to him and how hard he worked at those things, was one of the developmental highlights of our year. You guys were able to see the results on the field, but there were a lot of other things underneath the surface that Lonnie worked incredibly hard at and made great progress with. So, we’re really excited to see how that continues, because he’s such a young player. If he continues the same path he’s on, next year could be a really good year for him.”

On potentially having the entire five-man rotation from second half back for 2015 and beyond:

Antonetti: “[The rotation] was one of the highlights of our year. To have the youngest pitching staff in the American League, maybe in baseball, and for them to be the best pitching staff in the second half, and know that they’re all going to be here for the foreseeable future, that’s really exciting and encouraging. But, we’re not going to be complacent with it. We still need more pitching. We’ll always be looking to add to both the rotation and the bullpen. So, as we go throughout the course of the offseason, we feel like we’re entering it with a position of strength that may be unlike any position we’ve had in recent offseasons, with the quantity and quality of pitching that we have. But, we’re still going to look to improve on it.”

Thoughts on Trevor Bauer’s strides in 2014:

Antonetti: “[He’s] another guy who had a great developmental year. He made incredible progress over the last 12 months. The thing that excites us most is, if he can make the same progress over the next 12 months that he’s made in the last 12, we’ll be in a much better spot next year. He’s committed to working as hard as possible. There may not be a guy who’s  more committed to improving himself as a pitcher as Trevor is. He’s got a plan for the offseason already and the information he’s going to seek and put together and then come back and huddle with Tito and [pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash] to make sure that we have a plan that we’re all on the same page with going into the offseason. Hopefully he can make as much progress this offseason as he did last offseason.”

Will Indians pick up Mike Aviles’ team option for 2015?

Antonetti: “We have a little bit of time. We don’t want to short-change the process. We all appreciate Mike’s contribution to our team: what he means on the field, his versatility, the way he’s filled in really almost anywhere on the diamond when we’ve had injuries, the presence he has in our clubhouse, and the way he helps kind of unify our group and create the energy and atmosphere in the clubhouse every day. We don’t take those things for granted.”

On Yan Gomes’ season:

Francona: “The first week or two, he had a bunch of errors. He came out of the chute rushing some throws and that’s going to hurt his fielding percentage. Other than that, I thought he had a spectacular year. I think Salvador Perez is a really good player, because I don’t want this to come out [sounding wrong] in any fashion, because he’s really good. But if you look at Gomer’s year, Gomer outperformed him by 100 points in OPS. He threw out the same number of runners the last two years, playing 45 less games. So, I guess that kind of answers that. This guy is really a good player.”

Will Bourn need to change winter program in light of hamstring issues?

Francona: “He’s had a really solid offseason program. To your point about the hamstring, it crept up three different times, which doesn’t help us. We talked to Bourny [Sunday] about trying to come into camp, one, with health. That’s huge. And then the second one is being confident in that health so he can be a disruptor. I don’t think he’s lacking any [motivation]. He wants to go work. He wants to be that guy that can go do that. So that’s the goal, is to get him not only feeling really healthy, but have some confidence in those legs so he can go do what he does. I think disrupting the game is a really good way to put it, because guys like that can make it hard on the opponent. That’s a goal and he understands that.”

Do you have the kind of depth in the farm system that can help with trade talks this winter?

Antonetti: “We do. We have depth in our farm system to make a trade if there’s a trade there. It’s an area where we’ve made steady progress over the last three years and we want to continue on that path and continue to be in a better spot a year from now than we are today. But, we have the players in our farm system to make a meaningful trade if that’s a direction we decide to go.”

It sounds like you actually feel like you’re in a better position to start this offseason than you did at the end of last year:

Antonetti: “We were actually talking about that exact thing the other day. At the moment, we’re more disappointed, because at this time last year we still had games in front of us. But, as we start to transition to the offseason, we have virtually the entirety of our roster in place for next year. Again, there’s no complacency, we want to improve on that, but that’s a great position of strength going into the offseason. Last year, we had more questions going into the offseason than we do right now.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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