Antonetti, Francona discuss roster
The Indians made their final Opening Day roster decision on Wednesday morning, announcing that Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin will be the fourth and fifth starters, respectively. As a result, right-hander Trevor Bauer will begin the season in the bullpen.
Here is the full transcript of the sit-down with Indians manager Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, the team’s president of baseball operations, from Wednesday:
CA: We will start with Cody Anderson as our fourth starter. Josh Tomlin will be the fifth starter and Trevor will start in the bullpen. I think with that, that covers all of our decisions. Just a little bit in way of background, last year we went through 11 starting pitchers, so we know that each one of the guys that’s currently with our Major League team — each one of those six — is going to make meaningful starts for our team at some point this year. In fact, there’s going to be a group of guys beyond this group that are going to make meaningful starts. But, to start the season, this is the way we felt was best for the team. I think building on the success that Josh and Cody both had in the second half of last season, and what they were able to carry forward in the offseason and this spring, kind of led us down this path. It was a really difficult decision, but the way we look at it is we’re in a pretty good spot to have six starters we feel so good about.
Q: How did you explain this to Trevor?
CA: Exactly that way, that we still expect him to make a meaningful number of starts for us this year. When that happens, we’re not exactly sure when it’ll be, but he’s going to be a big part of our team. It’ll just start in the bullpen, but at some point we all expect there will be opportunities for him to impact the rotation as well.
Q: How do you see Bauer being used out of the bullpen?
TF: I don’t see anybody down there not being used in a meaningful role. That’s how we selected our bullpen. Trevor gets left-handers out. He has an arm that’s very resilient. Guys sort of morph into roles, as the season progresses, but he’s not going out there to sit.
CA: Think about Zach McAllister, what he did last year. He became a high-leverage weapon out of the bullpen.
Q: How did Bauer take the news? Seems like something that might not sit well at first.
TF: You know what? We completely respect that. I wouldn’t be happy if I was him today. I don’t blame him for that. I think what’s important is handling it and moving on as a team. That’s part of why we’re here, not just to deliver bad news, but to put the best team we can on the field and also to be there for when guys need help. Sometimes, it might be giving them space for a day. That’s just being honest about it. But, Trevor has had a way of when we’ve had difficult discussions, processing it and coming back and going in the right direction. We’re here to help and so are his teammates. So, that’s the goal.
Q: Tomlin said it’s the job of the veterans to pull guys aside, see where their head is at and talking through things to get everyone pulling in the right direction. With that said, how much trust is there in the veterans in the room to handle situations like this?
TF: I’ve been asked three or four times this spring about leadership. Because we get to witness things that happen just during the course of days or whatever, I think our guys’ leadership far extends beyond their playing years. They care very deeply about our ballclub and people on our ballclub. Whether you’re best friends off the field, whether you hang out with somebody else, they’re going to do their best to make sure everybody’s a significant part of our ballclub. I think we’re lucky for that.
Q: How great was it to hear Anderson and Tomlin say — before the rotation decisions — that they were willing to tackle any role?
TF: I think we’d be lying if we said we’re not proud as hell of those guys. That’s not just talk. That’s who they are. The easy thing, I think, would’ve been to send Cody Anderson to Triple-A. He has an option. I just think as we talked, and again, this is not an indictment on Trevor, because he had a pretty good spring. But, sending Cody Anderson to Triple-A, I don’t think any of us thought that was the right thing to do. This kid came up last year and right smack in the middle of the season, not only managed to survive, but he helped us win. So, what’d he do from there? He came to the strength camp out here. He continued to get stronger. He’s actually remade his body. He’s throwing harder. He’s actually pitching harder. It’s demeaning to him [to say] throwing. He’s pitching harder. He’s missing bats. He’s getting better by the day. This kid is light years beyond what somebody with his service time should be.
CA: In fact, when we told him today, he said, ‘I’ve got a lot to work to do.’ He didn’t crack a smile. He didn’t laugh. He was just like, ‘OK, I’ve got a lot of work to do.’
Q: Anderson seems like a great organization story for you guys, especially given the strides he made in the past year or so. Is that how you see it?
CA: It’s really cool when you think back to all the people that have been involved in Cody first coming to the organization, and then his development into a successful Major League pitcher. There have been a lot of people that have impacted and helped his path along the way. At the root of it is Cody, and the work that he’s done. When you rewind back two years ago and think about where he was, and where he is now, it’s a direct reflection of all the work he’s put in to get to this point.
Q: Do you see his story having a trickle down effect for younger players?
CA: Yeah, it’s a great narrative to be able to share with other guys. So often, I think there’s a tendency for players in the Minor Leagues to feel that there are a lot of things outside of their control and their career just happens to them. This is a great example of how a player can take ownership of his career and make an impact. I think we’ve seen it. It had an impact on Tyler Naquin’s decision to stay in Goodyear this winter to really dedicate and come to our strength and conditioning camps and get his body into a position where he’d be in the best position to have success. Once those things happen with more frequency, they start building on each other.
Q: Given the off-days in April, will Tomlin spend any time in the bullpen early on? Will he get work in on the side?
TF: That’s actually the first thing he said, was, ‘Put me in the ‘pen.’ We told him, ‘You’re the fifth starter, because we think you can handle it, not because you can’t pitch.’ He’s about as strong mentally as anybody you’re ever going to find. So, now it’s our challenge to find the best way to get him to his start, and we’re still working through that and we’ll do that with him. Actually, one option was leaving him out here. He wants to pitch in the cold weather, because he knows that’s going to be his first start. He’s already thought of that. So, OK, if that’s important to him, we need to make that happen. We can do that. We’ll figure something out. We can do something. That’s the one — there’s a lot of nice things — but when he talks to you, he just talks to you, like, ‘This is what’s important.’ There’s no guessing and there’s no eyewash. We’re pretty fortunate. Like I hope today, we’re talking about like Cody Anderson, but I hope along the way, and I’ll need to go in there — I’ve already done it — but Todd Kubacki, he ran the strength camp. Well, you know what? Cody as worked his [tail] off, but Todd’s out here the whole time, and I hope he’s got a little piece of pride today. All that work, looks what’s [come of it]. I hope he realizes how much we realize and appreciate it, because we get to sit here, but he’s sitting back there in that room doing some pretty amazing things.
Q: Given that Bauer’s comments to reporters can be different than what he says to you guys behind the scenes, Chris, what was your take on his approach and mind-set this spring?
CA: I think Tito’s said it, Trevor ultimately had a good spring. I know sometimes there’s a disconnect with what he says in the moment after a game without maybe having the chance to process things, versus how he interacts with us. He seemed to be working on the right things and had a good camp overall. We were overall pleased with it. I think his numbers bear that out. I don’t have his walk totals in front of me, but he didn’t walk too many.
Q: What’s the plan with Brantley in his rehab right now?
CA: Just to make sure he’s feeling good and then build up his volume from there.
TF: He will resume hitting Friday. A couple days of cage hitting and then he’ll be re-evaluated from there. He’s doing pretty well, but that’s the idea.
Q: How much do you appreciate that he was honest about the recent setback?
CA: Yeah, we sat down at the beginning, just in one of our meetings, he said, ‘I just ask that you guys trust me.’ And we said, ‘Michael, we’ll completely trust you. The only thing we ask if that you be honest with us.’ He said, ‘Absolutely. Deal.’ Not that we’d ever expect anything different from Michael, but that’s the foundation of our relationship with him and he just carried that forward here. His honesty is really important, because we we’ve said, the thing that matters most is that we are able to put him in a position to be successful for the majority of the season, even if that means it may not be Opening Day. To Michael’s credit, he was really good about how he communicated every step of the way throughout the process.
Q: Did you have a moment of optimism that he might be ready by Opening Day when he got in games and hit the home run?
TF: I think our optimism is still there. He’s so far ahead.
CA: I’m still optimistic.
Q: But, not for Opening Day…
TF: That’s why we were all careful not to ever [say that], because it’s not fair to him. He’s so far ahead of where he was supposed to be, that for us to not be thrilled is wrong.
CA: That’s why you never heard Tito or I focus on the Opening Day. We had, in our minds, we were thinking mid-May as a reasonable timetable, and that it could even be later than that. Michael is so far ahead of that, that we want to make sure we don’t lose sight of that.
Q: Chisenhall, Brantley and Hunter will all open on the DL?
CA: Yeah. Correct.
Q: Hunter just a 15-day situation?
TF: He’s another one that, as much as you want to put the reins on him, there’s really not a reason. He’s strong as an ox. He does everything at 100 miles an hour. There’s really not a reason to put the reins on him. He’s getting healthy so fast and he’s throwing the ball. My goodness. Just get out of his way.
Q: Will he travel with you guys?
TF: He’s going to join us in Cleveland.
CA: Not in Texas. He’ll be in Cleveland, but not active.
Q: With Brantley, Chisenhall, Hunter coming back in the near future, does it help to have so much versatility on the roster? You can move guys around to sort out the roster puzzle?
TF: I think it’s something that we value greatly. I don’t think it’s a philosophy. I think you have the players you have and try to make the most out of what they are. But, I think that it’s served us well in the past and I think it will continue to be [a strength]. It’s not just the fact that guys can move around, but it’s also their willingness to do it. That’s a big thing right there. I don’t know how many games we’re going to win. Nobody knows that. But, I love trying to go through it with these guys, because we care a lot about them and the way they do things, we are proud of them. Now, we’re going to have tough times. We know that. It’s inevitable. But, I think we all feel like we can figure it out together and get where we want to go. That’s a good feeling.
Q: The rotation is getting a lot of attention. How much are you looking forward to seeing the group as a whole develop and take that next step this year?
CA: Yeah, I think that’s one of the exciting things for us, is the entirety of the group. Not just the six guys that we have at the Major League level, but the guys even that will start the season in Triple-A or the upper levels of our Minor League system. As we said, last year we used 11 starting pitchers, so we’re going to need that group to be a big part of it. To have a group that is still young and should be ascending and getting better, is one of the reasons why we’re excited to be starting the season.
Q: What’s the feeling like to continue to have Kluber leading the way?
CA: Tito has said this before, but it’s a great thing organizationally when you can point to your best pitcher and say, ‘If you want to be like him, go do things the same way he does. You want to win a Cy Young? Go follow what Klubes does. Watch his routines. Watch the way he prepares for a start. Watch how diligent he is in the training room and in the weight room.’ It’s a pretty powerful message. And, we’ve talked about this before, but it’s one thing for me to say it, and it’s something different for Tito to say it, and more powerful. But, when it’s player to player, that’s the most meaningful way to make an impact.
Q: How did you read Kluber’s showing last season?
CA: I thought he pitched great. I thought he was one of the best pitchers in the American League again.
Q: And with Carrasco and Salazar, do you feel like their poised for breakout seasons? Similar to Kluber a few years ago?
CA: I thought they both had very good years last year and our hope is that they can continue to build on that.
TF: I think part of what excites us is we think there’s room for them to grow still, and I think they believe that. One is consistency. I think Danny is learning that. Fortunately for us, I think we all feel like he really does want to learn that. I think sometimes it’s unfair to expect a young player to be the finished product, especially with Danny’s lack of innings in the Minor Leagues. But, as they get better, that’s when it really starts to get exciting for us.
Q: Looking at the market for pitchers, how important is the value and control that you have with your starting rotation?
CA: Well, I think it’s really important for us to be successful. I mean, we have the same goal as every other team, and that’s to win the World Series. We have to do things a little bit differently. There are a lot of teams that talk about the importance of developing their own players and having them come from their Minor League system and ascend to the Major League level from there. It’s imperative for us. It’s not just a nicety. That’s part of how we’ll be successful, so we need to continue to do that and we also recognize that it’s not just about, as we’ve talked about before, it’s not just about five guys or six guys. We need to have depth beyond that. That’s our goal. That’s something we’re continually cognizant of and we’ll never be satisfied with. We’ll always try to build up on it.
TF: And the question you asked, like Chris said, we recognize that. But, when the season starts, it’s about winning. Whoever is pitching that day needs to win. That’s what it’s about, regardless of your age or how much time you have in the Major Leagues or who you’re playing. Our job is to win that day, and the quicker they learn that, the better off we are. I think that’s why Cody and Naquin, or Lindor, are being accepted so much in that clubhouse. I don’t have guys coming to me saying, ‘Hey, they’re going to ride on the second bus.’ And we talk to those guys, even way back in their rookie development, the meetings we had with them, that the more the veterans, or the guys who are going through the grind, know that they care about winning, they’ll be accepted. And they’ve all done a really good job of that. When guys come through your organization, even though we may not know them as good as Dave Wallace or Chris Tremie, they’ve earned that trust in the organization, where you hear guys talk about them all the time. It is valuable.
Q: Uribe missed a chunk of spring. Byrd was a late signing. How good was it to have them both come in and have the results they had in a small sample when you’re counting on them right away?
CA: It was great to see, especially with both guys having such a limited Spring Training. I’m not sure it would’ve been fair to expect them to come in and do as well as they have in such a limited time. Now, we just have to make sure we’re smart and thoughtful about how we build up their volume and know that they haven’t had maybe the full Spring Training like other guys have had. But, they’ll go into the season in a good spot.
Q: How good was it to see Urshela perform well under the circumstances?
CA: It was really impressive to see the way he handled the news and went about his work every day to try to continue to get better, and not let it affect him at all. To his credit, and maybe even more telling, is he showed up in Minor League camp the very next day with the exact same attitude. That says a lot about Gio.
Q: And how much fun was it to see Naquin seize the challenge to win a job when you guys presented that to him?
CA: We talked about it at the beginning of camp. We sat here and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking forward to seeing which guys take advantage of the opportunity.’ To Tyler’s credit, he seized that opportunity. We touched on this before, but one of the things that gets lost is he prepared for it. He spent all winter knowing that, ‘I want to do everything I can to be in the position to be successful when Major League Spring Training comes around.’ So, he put in the work leading up to that and then took advantage of the opportunity. Those are exciting things for us, especially to see a guy like Tyler, who’s had to battle some injuries in the past, to be able to come to camp in such a good spot. It’s really a credit to him and the work that he did.
TF: I don’t think that can be stressed enough. When we told him he was competing, you could see him light up, but he didn’t have to panic. He had so much to fall back on, because he had worked so hard. He was ready. I think that creates confidence.
Q: Will Almonte stay here and get at-bats in extended spring?
CA: Yes. He’ll stay here in extended spring.
TF: He’ll translate more to baseball when we get out of here. He’s been working hard.