Francona: “I was out of my element.”

Tito2The Dodgers and D-backs will kick off the 2014 regular season next month with a pair of games in Australia. It’s going to be a fatiguing journey for both clubs, but it’s also an important part of Major League Baseball’s efforts to globalize the game.

Indians manager Terry Francona had a similar experience during his days with the Red Sox. After winning the World Series in 2007, Boston opened up the ’08 campaign with games against the A’s in Japan.

First and foremost, Francona understands why MLB had these kind of events.

“I think it’s good for the game,” Francona said. “I’d rather it be another team.”

One thing you need to know about Francona — if you haven’t gathered it already — is that he craves being prepared and being with his team. He’s the first person in the clubhouse on the day of a game and he’s the first person in the dugout before first pitch.

So, when Francona was required to attend a meet-and-greet at the United States Embassy in Japan on what was Opening Day, he was understandably distracted. Bring it up now, six years later, and he still gets annoyed, especially because the trip included stops in Los Angeles, Oakland and Toronto after going to Japan.

“I hated it,” Francona said. “It’s nothing against Japan. The two games we played, the exhibition games, were great. The minute the season counted, I was a wreck. Opening Day, I was at the embassy. That was the last [bleeping] place I wanted to be. I wanted to have a team meeting and I’m over there with a tie on.

“Everybody wanted to kill me. I was out of my element and I didn’t like it. When they were exhibition games, I was OK. But Spring Training was a disaster. Not a disaster, but we were there a week early. You’re planning on guys pitching, not pitching, staying back. I didn’t like it.”

Francona said he kept inching closer to the exit during the stop at the U.S. Embassy.

“I think Larry Lucchino wanted to wring my neck,” Francona said. “I was sitting out there by the door like waiting for permission to go the ballpark.”

Before the trip was made official, the Red Sox called Francona to get his input.

“They called me in the winter and asked me my opinion,” Francona said. “I said, ‘My opinion is it’s not going to help us win.’ I said, ‘I also understands there are reasons why you do these things, but if you’re asking me pure baseball wise, it will not give us an advantage.'”

Francona was then asked to pack a tie.

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Photo of the Day

cooperspineDr. Curtis Dickman stopped by Tribe camp on Tuesday to discuss the unique spinal cord surgery that first baseman David Cooper underwent. Dickman called it a miracle that Cooper was not only back at 100 percent, but back to playing professional baseball with the Indians. A feature on Cooper and his operation will hit Indians.com on Wednesday.

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Catch up on the latest from Cleveland’s camp with these links:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Game changer: Indians react to new collision rules

SantanaHP2Indians fans remember the play. The single to right field. The throw to the plate. Boston’s Ryan Kalish plowing into the left leg of catcher Carlos Santana, who toppled over, losing a shoe and seriously injuring his knee in the process.

It was ugly and it ended Santana’s season. At the time, many wondered if it was going to threaten his promising career.

We also remember that Santana held tight to the baseball through the play, resulting in an extremely painful out. Now, consider this: under the new experimental rule unveiled by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association on Monday, Kalish would likely be deemed safe.

Santana was blocking the plate without the ball in hand (the frame by frame of that Aug. 2, 2010 play is in the image to left). Blocking without the baseball was always frowned upon, but now it’s officially illegal.

“What I was thinking after my accident, I’m not blocking when I don’t have the ball,” Santana said. “I’m blocking when I have the ball. This is what happened in my accident. I tried to block before I had the ball.”

Without the ball in hand, catchers must now keep part of the plate open for a runner. Cleveland catcher Yan Gomes said that has always been his style anyways. Gomes said he wants to have the runner in a “slide first” mentality, with the goal of taking away the plate at the final second.

Gomes, like all the catchers I spoke with on Monday, were in favor of the MLB’s ruling, especially since it has language that admits that some collisions are invitable. If a throw creates a reactionary play that puts a runner and catcher on a collision course, as long as the runner is not deemed to have intent to collide, it’s fair game.

Here are the details of the experimental Rule 7.13:

A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

To read more about the rule, and Cleveland’s reaction to it, read my story on Indians.com.

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Photos from the past couple days

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Catch up on camp with these links:

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

The hot topic? The hot corner.

Chisenhall2Bring up the lone at-bat that Lonnie Chisenhall had in September, and the Indians third baseman will begin to smirk.

“Yeah, I hit 1.000,” Chisenhall said with a slight laugh.

It was a sixth-inning single off White Sox lefty Charlie Leesman on Sept. 14 in Chicago. Prior to that, Chisenhall hadn’t faced a lefty since Aug. 8. Before that, his last at-bat against a left-hander fell on July 19. Do you see the pattern here? With the Indians in the postseason chase, manager Terry Francona put Chisenhall’s development aside and utilized him primarily as an against-righties option to squeeze the most out of his bat.

Bring up Chisenhall’s history against lefties, and Francona expresses confidence.

“I’m sure he can [handle left-handers]. He’s a good hitter. He has bat speed,” Francona said. “Sometimes you have to grow into it. Sometimes you have to, before you really get the opportunity, or a fair opportunity, sometimes it comes in increments. That’s a balance that’s sometimes hard. It tugs at me a little bit.

“You’ve got a young kid that’s talented. Last year, you’re trying to work him in, but then you have [Mike] Aviles sitting over there and you’re in a playoff hunt. So you try to strike that balance. Sometimes it’s difficult.”

Chisenhall’s monthly at-bat splits against lefties looked like this last season:

April: 21
May: 1
June: 7
July: 5
August: 1
September: 1

Chisenhall dealt with a demotion to Triple-A between May and June, but after he hit .095 off lefties in April, it became clear how Francona was going to use the third baseman. On the season, Chisenhall hit just .111 (4-for-36) off southpaws, dropping his career mark to .194 (.612 OPS) in 124 at-bats. Against righties, he’s hit .256 (.714 OPS) in 519 career at-bats.

“It’s just different,” Chisenhall said, “because coming up through the Minors you get every at-bat and then, once you get to the Majors, it’s about winning. No more development. You have to be ready to play.”

Santana2Chisenhall understands what he is up against this spring. Competition is no stranger to the third baseman, but this spring’s situation is different. Cleveland has pulled Carlos Santana out from behind the plate and is giving him a look at third. Maybe Santana can develop into the everyday option (he’s certainly looked comfortable and competent so far), or perhaps the switch hitter will prove to be an option there against tough left-handers.

One of Francona’s skills — one that was on display all season during the Tribe’s run to the playoffs in ’13 — is using players in a way to maximize their abilities. He understands Chisenhall’s career shortcomings against lefties and, while more development might be needed there, knows the third baseman can do damage against righties. Consider September, when Chisenhall had that one at-bat against a left-hander, but posted a strong .270/.325/.595 slash line in he final month.

It is possible that the same kind of role awaits Chisenhall come Opening Day, or it’s possible that he wins the third-base job outright if the Santana experiment ultimately flops. Or, Cleveland might send Chisenhall down to the Minors to get the everyday at-bats in order to focus on development. No matter the final decision, Francona said all he offered Chisenhall in their pre-camp one-on-one meeting was the truth.

“We told Lonnie the truth in our meeting,” Francona said. “We believe we’re a better team with him on it. But we want him to earn it. That’s being very truthful and I think he agrees with it.”

Chisenhall said he’s been delivered the same message each spring.

“There have been more bumps in the the road than I have wanted,” Chisenhall said early in camp. “But, I’m still young. I know what I can do for the Cleveland Indians, and I know what I can do at third base.”

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Photos from the past couple days

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Catch up on camp with these links:

Keep checking Indians.com for more, and be sure to give me a follow on Twitter (@MLBastian) and Instagram (bastianmlb) for even more notes, quotes and photos.

–JB

Masterson, Indians reach deal

Masterson2Justin Masterson left Cleveland’s complex on Tuesday morning hoping to settle his contract situation before boarding a flight to Florida. The Indians sinkerballer got his wish.

The Indians and Masterson have reached a deal on a one-year contract worth $9,762,500, avoiding arbitration. Te big right-hander will be able to skip the four-hour flight to St. Petersburg, where he was scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Thursday.

“I’m here for this season, man,” Masterson said before leaving the clubhouse.

During Tuesday’s morning workout, Masterson threw off a mound in a bullpen session with general manager Chris Antonetti looking on. Assistant general manager Mike Chernoff, who had been slated to fly to Florida to help argue the Tribe’s case, was also on hand at the facility. Antonetti has maintained all along that the Indians hoped to avoid a hearing.

Through the arbitration process, Masterson is seeking $11.8 million, while the Indians had countered with $8.05 million. The agreed upon contract falls just short of the midpoint, which was $9.925 million.

Over the winter, and again in the past few days, Masterson’s camp also tossed out ideas for a long-term extension. Right now, though, the two sides are concentrating on a one-year pact to avoid arbitration with the plan of potentially rekindling long-term talks later this spring or this season.

Masterson is eligible for free agency next offseason.

“We’ve got plenty of time to work on anything like that,” Masterson said. “It’s just working through it, what the value is, what’s reasonable pay, how things work. It’s a different system, especially when you’ve got to be really smart about how you move your money around and you want to make sure you’re making a good investment.

“You’ve got to truly believe in the guy. Not that they don’t truly believe in me, but it’s what you’re working through in that process. It’s easy for us when it’s not our money to throw it around and say, ‘Just do this.’ When it’s your own money, you say, ‘ I think we’re going to think about this a little bit more.’ It doesn’t bother me.”

Masterson, who will turn 29 years old in March, went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings for the Indians last season. The sinkerballer made his first American League All-Star team and ended the season with a team-high 195 strikeouts. He has gone 44-55 with a 4.08 ERA in parts of five seasons with Cleveland.

–JB

“I missed these guys, man.”

Tito4Spring Training has been underway for about a week now, but things finally felt official on Monday. Everybody was on hand and moving between the fields for Cleveland’s first full-squad workout of the year.

All morning, plenty of laughter could be heard around the complex.

“I missed these guys, man,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I was so happy to be back.”

It seemed fitting that the real Day 1 coincided with the news that Ubaldo Jimenez agreed to a four-year contract with the Orioles. Will the Indians miss him, too? There is no denying Big U’s impact on Cleveland’s run to the Wild Card last season, that’s for sure.

It’s an old cliche, but only time will tell if the loss of Jimenez crushes the Tribe’s chances of returning to the playoffs. The double-whammy of losing both him and Scott Kazmir is a blow to the Indians’ rotation, no doubt. But were they worth the kind of deals they signed with Baltimore and Oakland, respectively?

Maybe you disagree with me, and that’s fine, but I completely understand why the Indians passed.

It was a miracle that Kazmir went through his renaissance in 2013, after being out of affiliated ball a year earlier. The lefty himself often joked that he led the league in medical mound visits. Two years for a guaranteed $22 million. I wish Kazmir well, but that’s all kinds of risk. No thanks.

As for Jimenez, let’s not forget that one year ago, many Indians fans wanted him out of the rotation and kicked to the curb that Kazmir came from. Let’s also forget that, with the exception of the first two and a half months in 2010 and the final five months in 2013, Jimenez was a mostly wreck for the past four seasons. Consider that the righty had a 5.03 ERA with a 1.46 WHIP in the 502.1 IP between June 23, 2010-April 21, 2013. In the other 267 IP in the 2010/2013 seasons, Ubaldo had a 2.06 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.

Maybe you’ll call that cherry picking. I call it mediocre performance 65 percent of the time over a four-year period. Granted, the other 35 percent was steller, but was that worth a reported $50 million over four years? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure a team in Cleveland’s position can afford that kind of risk.

For now, Cleveland will hope that Danny Salazar can give them around the same or more than what Kazmir provided. Corey Kluber, if his 2013 was any indication, seems to have the potential to provide the kind of innings Jimenez gave the Indians (and with fewer walks). In the short-term, having Jimenez would’ve shored up the staff, rendered this spring’s fifth spot competition moot, but “short-term” wasn’t in the cards.

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Photos from the past few days

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More from Indians.com…

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

“For however long I’m here, I hope he’s here.”

MastersonIt might not carry much weight in long-term negotiations, but Indians manager Terry Francona would love to see Justin Masterson remain in a Cleveland uniform for years to come.

Francona didn’t quite ask Masterson to “Be Mine” on Valentine’s Day, but the manager’s affection is apparent.

“For however long I’m here, I hope he’s here,” Francona said on Friday. “I think everybody feels that way. And Masty knows that. I’d be shocked if you asked Masty if he felt like he was respected here, if he said no.

“It’s just the economics of the game. That’s a side of it that’s difficult and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it.”

As has been well-documented, Masterson is eligible for arbitration this year in what is his last season prior to free-agent eligibility. That being the case, both the pitcher and the team have expressed an interest in a long-term deal. That said, talks have stalled and the focus right now is in Masterson’s 2014 contract.

If needed, Cleveland has a hearing scheduled for Thursday. If no settlement is reached before going before an arbitration panel, Masterson’s salary will either be $11.8 million (his request) or $8.05 million (Cleveland’s offer). GM Chris Antonetti would love nothing more than to avoid another hearing.

“I’ll always be optimistic,” Antonetti said. “We’re going to continue to negotiate with Justin. Again, our clear preference would be to negotiate an agreement. Hopefully, that’s possible in his case. If it’s not, there’s a mechanism in place to resolve it.”

Masterson’s situation is a tricky one, considering the current free-agent climate. If no extension is reached before next offseason (the pitcher said earlier this week that he’s willing to negotiation in-season, if necessary), a qualifying offer could come into play. If Masterson has an outstanding season, or even just a decent season, it’s a safe bet that Cleveland would offer the sinkerballer a one-year qualifying offer for 2015 in order to secure Draft-pick compensation.

There is always the chance that Masterson will pitch well enough to decline such an offer and net a lucrative long-term deal on the open market. Or, there is the possibility that he winds up in a situation like free-agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, two solid rotation arms that remain unsigned due to their attachment to Draft compensation. Masterson could accept a qualifying offer and have another platform year, or he could risk twisting in the wind by turning down such a deal.

What’s great for Cleveland is that, if any pitcher could handle such uncertainty hanging over their head, it’s the easygoing Masterson. This is, after all, the guy who will joke about his beard (or lack thereof) throwing off his mechanics after a bad outing, or bring up the positives of his wife’s cookie business after a tough loss. He knows some people are critical of his extremely happy-go-lucky personality, but it can certainly help keep his contract status from being a distraction.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” said Masterson, flashing his typical smile.

The Indians believe that is the case, too.

“He’s a pretty special kid. That’s the way he is,” Francona said. “He’s actually been that way since the day I met him, and I’m sure he was like that before I met him.”

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Photo of the Day

Kipnis2

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was buried in a heap of Twitter criticism after I posted an unflattering photo of him on Thursday. I can confirm that Kipnis is in great shape this spring, and he wanted to make sure everyone else knew it, too. During the workout today, he flexed for the camera as a message to any doubters.

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Other items from Friday…

  • The Indians had an arbitration hearing with pitcher Josh Tomlin on Friday. The right-hander was seeking $975,000 and the Indians offered $800,000. A decision on the pitcher’s 2014 salary is expected to arrive on Saturday. Tomlin spent most of last season coming back from Tommy John surgery and is a fifth-starter candidate this spring.
  • Lefty reliever Josh Outman had a gut feeling he was about to be traded this offseason when he received an out-of-nowhere phone call from a member of the Rockies training staff. The same thing happened two winters earlier, and he was traded the next day by the A’s. Check on Friday’s notebook for more on Outman’s reaction to joining the Tribe.
  • It’s only one mound session, but Francona said Trevor Bauer looked like a new pitcher. The manager said the difference was “night and day” compared to last year. More on this in the notebook, too.
  • Also on Indians.com on Friday, a feature on Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, who will play an integral role this year.
  • Francona was saddened to learn of the passing of Jim Fregosi on Friday morning. In 1997, Francona followed Fregosi as manager of the Phillies. Said Tito: “Anybody that’s been in a room with him, you can’t help but hear him. He just carried on conversations and was just so full of life. It’s not a very good way to start the morning when you come in and see that. … I know when I got to Philly, the veterans that were there loved him.”
  • Position players are not required to report until Saturday, but Brohio is open for business in Arizona. Nick Swisher popped into the complex, and made sure to announce, “I’m here!” Physicals for position players are Sunday and the first full-squad workout is set for Monday.
  • Francona has emphasized that the last thing he’s doing right now is evaluating pitchers during these early mound sessions: “We told those guys, specifically, yesterday, ‘When you see us walk behind the mound, we’re not evaluating. You’re getting your legs under you, you’re building your arm strength and you’re working on your mechanics.'”
  • Francona said Minor League right-hander Bryan Price (right hamstring) was held out of Friday’s workout, but might be cleared to return to the field by Saturday. It’s a minor injury.
  • On Feb. 25, Francona and a few staff members will attend a meeting on the new instant replay rules that go into effect this season. As for the home-plate collisions rule change, the manager hopes a decision comes soon: “It’s got to be soon. I know they’re havng a tough time with the language of the rule, which I understand. That’s part of why I was in favor of not having it. You would hope that it would be soon. It’s going to be different. In Spring Training, you don’t want somebody getting killed at the plate anyway, but if there’s going to be a rule change, you’d like to certainly be aware of it and stay ahead of it.”

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

Indians begin spring workouts

BullpensThe sun was shining and gloves were popping. Players have been trickling into Arizona for weeks, but Thursday marked the first official workout for pitchers and catchers.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was asked how much he enjoyed the first real day of Spring Training.

“I’d much prefer to be in 5-degree weather and shoveling snow in my driveway,” Antonetti quipped. “No, it’s always a great day to have that first workout and have guys out there throwing and some guys out there hitting. It’s an exciting day.”

At this time, I’d like to issue a formal apology to anyone back home is actually is braving the 5-degree weather and shoveling the snow in their driveway. I won’t bother you with any lines about how sunny it is here. Oh, wait. First sentence above. Whoops!

Many of Cleveland’s arms went through mound sessions. That included Trevor Bauer, Justin Masterson, John Axford and C.C. Lee (in the photo to the side). Those who weren’t throwing off the bump were on one of the practice diamonds working on fielding drills.

Position players are not required to report until Saturday. Their physicals are Sunday and the first full-squad workout is slated for Monday. There are a handful of players who are not in camp yet, but Indians manager Terry Francona made it clear that he’s not keeping score.

“It’s not a test. There’s enough trust built already. Guys know what to do,” Francona said. “If they’re here, great. It’s fun to see them. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where they can get their work done. The guys that aren’t here, that doesn’t mean they’re not working. Jason Giambi, he doesn’t need to be here. Guys know what they need to do.”

After all, reporting one day earlier isn’t going to win the World Series.

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Photo of the Day

Cabreras

Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera watches his son, Meyer, fielding a grounder on Thursday.

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Some notes from Tribe camp….

  • The Indians formally announced their four-year contract extension with left fielder Michael Brantley and held a press conference on Thursday. Check out Brantley’s comments, the details of the deal and more on Indians.com.
  • In case you missed it: here is Wednesday’s feature on Carlos Santana’s plan to work on third base this spring. On Thursday, and for the next few days, he’ll work as a catcher before joining the infielders next week.
  • Lefty Nick Hagadone said he’s happy to have his grievance in the past and he’s looking forward to competing for a bullpen spot this spring. Hagadone said he’s widened the stance of his delivery and is working on having a better tempo, all with the idea of improving his walk rate. The changes were made after discussing it with pitching coach Mickey Callaway after last season.
  • Francona said right-hander Bryan Price, a Minor League reliever who was added to the 40-man roster over the winter, tweaked a hamstring during drills on Thursday. It didn’t sound serious, but we’ll have more information on Friday.
  • Antonetti was asked if the Indians might have a Michael Bourn-esque acqusition in the works for this spring. Here’s the GM’s reply: “We’re continuing to look for ways to improve the team, wherever those opportunities might be,” Antonetti said. “But I really do feel good about the group we have in camp. I feel like we have what we need to contend for the Central and earn a postseason berth, and hopefully compete for a World Series.”
  • Francona, who managed plenty of games against Derek Jeter in the AL East, raved about the shortstop one day after it was announced that this would be his final season: “If you’re a baseball fan, he is the walking example of what’s good in baseball. You respect him so much, and yet you want him to have as little to do with the outcome of a game if you’re his opponent. That’s probably the biggest compliment you can give him. He’s going to find a way to beat you, whether it’s on the bases, on defense or at the plate. And, again, because I was in that division, I saw it too much. He ranks right up there with the most respected players. I’m glad he’s walking away on his own terms. We’ll probably get to see him seven times this year. I hope he goes 0-for-28 and we give him a nice plaque or something.”
  • The Indians are doing their part in trying to help save the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa. The museum, which has closed its doors during the winter to save money, is working with the team on possibly sending some items to Cleveland. “Bob Feller was the engine that powered the museum,” said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians’ senior vice president of public affairs. “Unfortunately, since his passing the business model for the Bob Feller Museum has not been working. As we move forward, our primary objective is to foster Mr. Feller’s legacy in the two places he called home, Van Meter, Iowa, and Cleveland.”
  • The Indians will go to an arbitration hearing with pitcher Josh Tomlin on Friday. He’s seeking $975,000 and the Indians are offering $800,000. Said Antonetti: “Our clear preference is to always negotiate a settlement. And I think we have a very long track record of demonstrating that and trying to do it. But it has to be an equitable settlement and one we think makes sense. In both Vinnie and Josh’s case, we felt we made very earnest efforts to try and reach an agreement. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to. So, at this point, the arbitrators can decide and then we can move on. I think that’s the most important thing. We can get it behind us and move on. Weve now done it with Vinnie. It’s in the past. And as of Saturday, it’ll be in the past for Josh as well.”

More from Goodyear on Friday…

–JB

Greetings from Goodyear

SantanaI shoveled my driveway at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning, caught a cab and took off from Cleveland without delay. Now, here I am, covering Spring Training for the 10th time (fourth on the Tribe beat).

It’s not a bad gig, especially for those of us who get to escape real winter, and the extended time away from family is certainly easier these days with FaceTime, Facebook and Skype. The best part about it, though, is simply knowing that baseball season is back.

With the exception of a one-week break in March to see my wife and kiddos, I’ll be here for the duration, and then off to the West Coast for Opening Day in Oakland.

As laid out on Indians.com a few days ago, there is certainly no shortage of storylines in Tribe camp this spring, and there are obviously heightened expectations. Terry Francona’s Wild Card-clinching Wahoos won’t be taking anybody by surprise during the 2014 season.

You can keep checking MLB.com and Indians.com for all the latest from Spring Training, and I’ll use this space for a regular round-up of what’s going on with the team, too. Also, if you’re not already, follow me on Twitter (@MLBastian) and Instagram (bastianmlb) for even more updates, quotes, tidbits and photos from Arizona.

Here are some links from the first few days of camp:

More on Thursday, when the pitchers and catchers will run through the team’s first official workout.

–JB

Projecting the Tribe’s 2014 offense

BPSThere are less than five weeks remaining until the Indians’ pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. That makes this a good time to dive into my annual projections for the club.

Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti hasn’t said he’s done tweaking his offense, but it looks pretty set, barring an unexpected trade. I’m going to stick with the hitters for this post, because I’m not as certain that the Tribe’s pitching staff has taken its final shape.

I did this exercise last offseason with varying levels of success when the ’13 season was all said and done. No projection method is without its flaws. Looking at statistical trends can’t predict the shoulder injury that plagued Nick Swisher, or that Michael Bourn’s steady stolen-base numbers would take a nose dive in the American League. It can’t predict the out-of-nowhere seasons of guys like Ryan Raburn or Yan Gomes, neither of whom were in my projections last winter.

All of that said, I’ll stick with a similar approach as last year, averaging the past three years of production against last season’s performance for each player. In a few cases — bench guys or players with thin career samples — I took some liberties to try to get as accurate a projection as possible.

I won’t go deep into the details, suffice to say the numbers I arrived at run similar to many of the projections you might find on fangraphs.com or other sites. At the bottom of this post, I’ll note the projections from last season and compare it to the actual production turned in by Cleveland’s players. Let’s run through each player one by one (I did 12 this time) with a comment on the numbers.

2B Jason Kipnis
Slash: .277/.355/.447/.802
Stats: 157 H, 34 2B, 4 3B, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 88 R, 29 SB, 69 BB, 137 K

Comment: Kipnis’ otherworldly June last season gave his overall numbers a decent boost. It’s fair to assume that, without the assistance of that kind of incredible spike over a brief amount of time, the second baseman’s overall showing will suffer a slight dip over 2013. Still, having a middle infielder with an .800-plus OPS to go along with 15-plus homers, 80-plus RBI and around 30 stolen bases is a luxury for the Tribe.

CF Michael Bourn
Slash: .270/.328/.374/.702
Stats: 153 H, 24 2B, 8 3B, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 82 R, 33 SB, 47 BB, 137 K

Comment: It’s hard to know what to make of Bourn’s showing in 2013. He didn’t take advantage of his stolen-base chances as much as in the past, but that could change with more experience in the AL. Bourn also dealt with hamstring woes late in the year. Given his production over the past three years combined, it’s fair to assume there will be an uptick in performance by Bourn in ’14. He’ll certainly be motivated to return closer to his career norm.

1B Nick Swisher
Slash: .252/.350/.440/.790
Stats: 137 H, 29 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 76 R, 2 SB, 80 BB, 137 K

Comment: Swisher downplayed how much his injured shoulder hurt his offense last season, but there is no denying it was a factor. If he stays out of the outfielder (except for on occasion) and is healed up after the offseason, the switch hitter should see improvement over last year’s numbers. Barring injury, you can usually book Swisher for 20-plus homers, 70-plus RBI and 80-plus walks. Keeping Swisher out of the cleanup spot could help, too.

LF Michael Brantley
Slash: .283/.333/.399/.732
Stats: 152 H, 28 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 67 RBI, 65 R, 16 SB, 41 BB, 67 K

Comment: The slash line is nearly identical to what Brantley posted for the Indians last season, but the left fielder is also arguably the most consistent hitter on the team. It’s tempting to predict more power, but Brantley is a safe bet to continue on as a gap-to-gap hitter who can steal a few bases and drive in runs while bouncing up and down the lineup. He has one of the top contact rates in the Majors, giving Cleveland a solid protection hitter.

C/1B Carlos Santana
Slash: .261/.372/.454/.826
Stats: 140 H, 37 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 76 R, 4 SB, 94 BB, 113 K

Comment: Knowing that Santana might see more time in the field this season actually makes me want to assume the slash line will be even better. He hit much better last year when he wasn’t catching, and Gomes will be taking over as the starter behind the plate. Santana is always a good bet to walk 90-plus times and his breakout showing in 2011 makes 25-30 homers seem possible, if he finally puts the whole package together.

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Slash: .254/.313/.417/.730
Stats: 135 H, 35 2B, 2 3B, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R, 11 SB, 40 BB, 113 K

Comment: I think the Indians would be thrilled if Cabrera returned to this type of production. Last season was discouraging for the shortstop, but he’s not being counted on to carry the lineup and he’s entering a contract year. That could be the kind of situation that helps get the most out of Cabrera, who has the ability to be the team’s best overall hitter. That said, a third straight tank job in the second half is a bad trend. Cleveland needs more from Cabrera in ’14.

C Yan Gomes
Slash: .284/.337/.474/.811
Stats: 130 H, 27 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 67 R, 3 SB, 29 BB, 110 K

Comment: Gomes’ brief career and outstanding showing in 2013 inflates this projection, in my opinion. He’ll be dealing with the learning curve that goes along with being a starting catcher in the big leagues for the first time. Yes, he did that in the second half last year, but this is from Opening Day on. There will likely be wear and tear, so I’d expect the average and slugging to drop some more. That said, Gomes has a funny way of proving people wrong.

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Slash: .235/.277/.409/.686
Stats: 106 H, 26 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 49 R, 3 SB, 24 BB, 90 K

Comment: The problem with this projection is that it assumes 450-plus at-bats. If Chisenhall is hitting around .230 with a sub-.280 on-base percentage, I doubt he’s going to get that many at-bats in the big leagues. The Indians might also use him primarily against righties, which has the potential to boost the slash line. I agree that Chisenhall is capable of 15-plus homers, 25-plus doubles and 50-plus RBI over a full season, but he needs to earn that full season.

RF David Murphy
Slash: .244/.308/.401/.709
Stats: 106 H, 25 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 53 R, 4 SB, 39 BB, 62 K

Comment: Murphy has the ability to hit for a higher average and on-base percentage than this projection, especially if Cleveland limits him primarily against right-handed pitching. That said, last season’s rough showing really drags the numbers down when trying to predict performance. Being in a new offense and in a platoon role could benefit Murphy, who has hit .300 in the past, but it’s just hard to project that kind of rebound at the moment.

INF Mike Aviles
Slash: .251/.300/.385/.685
Stats: 94 H, 18 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 51 R, 10 SB, 16 BB, 48 K

Comment: Aviles garnered 361 at-bats in 2013, which included a stint as the starting shortstop when Cabrera was injured, and this projection is based on around 375 at-bats in ’14. That seems like a fair range (he’s averaged 386 at-bats over the past three years) and the projection looks about right to me. Aviles isn’t going to be an on-base machine, but he’s an adequate hitter capable of spelling starters at multiple positions.

UTIL Ryan Raburn
Slash: .251/.325/.466/.791
Stats: 86 H, 24 2B, 1 3B, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 49 R, 1 SB, 31 B, 96 K

Comment: This projection assumes a jump of roughly 100 at-bats for Raburn over his 2013 showing. He enters the year as the right-field platoon partner for Murphy, and could see time at other spots (DH, third base, second base). His incredible showing last season, which earned him an extension, will likely lead to increased playing time. More playing time will likely cause Raburn’s numbers to lag some compared to last year.

DH/PH Jason Giambi
Slash: .199/.305/.410/.715
Stats: 32 H, 7 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 22 BB, 49 K

Comment: Big G isn’t on the roster at the moment, but he wasn’t on the roster when Spring Training began last season, either. With the versatile Raburn and Aviles still in the fold, and a catching alignment that could mean the Tribe doesn’t have a true backup catcher on the bench, Cleveland appears to have room to carry Giambi again. He’d fill the same pinch hitter/DH role as last year and these numbers look about right to me.

Overall slash line: .260/.328/.423/.751
Overall stats: 1,428 H, 314 2B, 30 3B, 176 HR, 712 RBI, 745 R, 116 SB, 532 BB, 1,159 K

Comment: Obviously, injuries are going to be a part of the season. There’s no avoiding that, so this perfect-world projection of these dozen players amounts to roughly 5,500 at-bats (a tick under average for  American League teams in 2013). It doesn’t account for the 300-500 at-bats that unlisted players will probably fill in the coming season. The projection is an improvement on last season’s offense nearly across the board, but with the same amount of runs scored. So, essentially, we’re looking at nearly an identical offense for ’14, a year after it was a Top-five offense in the AL.

Last winter’s projections and actual results

1B Mark Reynolds
Projection: .217/.331/.440, 27 HR, 25 2B, 1 3B, 75 RBI, 71 R, 3 SB, 75 BB, 174 K
Actual: .220/.306/.393, 21 HR, 14 2B, 0 3B, 67 RBI, 55 R, 3 SB, 51 BB, 154 K

2B Jason Kipnis
Projection: .259/.335/.391, 15 HR, 24 2B, 4 3B, 77 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 64 BB, 110 K
Actual: .284/.366/.452, 17 HR, 36 2B, 4 3B, 84 RBI, 86 R, 30 SB, 76 BB, 143 K

SS Asdrubal Cabrera
Projection: .272/.336/.421, 17 HR, 33 2B, 2 3B, 69 RBI, 72 R, 11 SB, 49 BB, 102 K
Actual: .242/.299/.402, 14 HR, 35 2B, 2 3B, 64 RBI, 66 R, 9 SB, 35 BB, 114 K

3B Lonnie Chisenhall
Projection: .264/.303/.426, 17 HR, 24 2B, 2 3B, 53 RBI, 57 R, 6 SB, 24 BB, 97 K
Actual: .225/.270/.398, 11 HR, 17 2B, 0 3B, 36 RBI, 30 R, 1 SB, 16 BB, 56 K

C Carlos Santana
Projection: .250/.364/.432, 20 HR, 30 2B, 2 3B, 75 RBI, 74 R, 4 SB, 93 BB, 106 K
Actual: .268/.377/.455, 20 HR, 39 2B, 1 3B, 74 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB, 93 BB, 110 K

OF Michael Brantley
Projection: .280/.337/.390, 6 HR, 34 2B, 5 3B, 58 RBI, 67 R, 14 SB, 50 BB, 67 K
Actual: .284/.332/.396, 10 HR, 26 2B, 3 3B, 73 RBI, 66 R, 17 SB, 40 BB, 67 K

OF Drew Stubbs
Projection: .226/.294/.357, 16 HR, 16 2B, 3 3B, 47 RBI, 80 R, 31 SB, 47 BB, 171 K
Actual:  .233/.305/.360, 10 HR, 21 2B, 2 3B, 45 RBI, 59 R, 17 SB, 44 BB, 141 K

OF Nick Swisher
Projection: .273/.365/.476, 24 HR, 34 2B, 1 3B, 90 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, 76 BB, 136 K
Actual: .246/.341/.423, 22 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 63 RBI, 74 R, 1 SB, 77 BB, 138 K

INF Mike Aviles
Projection:
.260/.292/.390, 13 HR, 27 2B, 2 3B, 59 RBI, 61 R, 16 SB, 24 BB, 76 K
Actual: .252/.282/.368, 9 HR, 15 2B, 0 3B, 46 RBI, 54 R, 8 SB, 15 BB, 41 K

Overall projection: .251/.325/.404, 280 2B, 28 3B, 169 HR, 679 RBI, 756 R, 141 SB, 575 BB, 1,304 K
Actual production: .255/.327/.410, 290 2B, 23 3B, 171 HR, 711 RBI, 745 R, 117 SB, 562 BB, 1,283 K

Note: At the time of the projections last season, Bourn and Giambi weren’t in the fold and no one knew Raburn or Gomes were going to play such an important role during the season.

I’m going off the grid during the upcoming week, but keep checking Indians.com for updates on the club.

–JB

Tribe Winter Meetings round-up

photoGreetings from the Winter Meetings at the Swan & Dolphin resort. Keep checking back here for a round-up of reports and rumors involving the Indians. Cleveland’s primary need heading into these Meetings was pitching, both for the starting rotation and for the bullpen. Here are the rumblings from around the hotel:

Wednesday:

  • There are still rumblings about teams inquiring about Justin Masterson (Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Yankees would love to have him), but it just doesn’t make sense for the Tribe to deal the big sinkerballer right now. Indians GM Chris Antonetti addressed such discussions — while being careful not to specifically talk about negotiations with or about Masterson — on Tuesday. In short: the Indians listen on any players. Click the link for more.
  • The Indians have yet to talk about an extension with Masterson, but his camp is not alarmed. The pitcher’s agent, Randy Rowley, is currently preparing case for one-year arbitration talks, but would welcome long-term discussions, too. Such talks can often be included in arbitration negotiations, and often are initiated after Jan. 1. Masterson’s camp is simply interested in a fair deal with respect to the current market for starting pitchers.
  • The Indians have a surplus of outfielders (Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Raburn) and are willing to listen on any of them, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Stubbs still remains the likely odd-man out given his role and arbitration status.
  • Indians are rumored to have interest in veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, according to John Heyman of CBS Sports. He named the Rays and Rangers as other suitors.
  • Indians first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar launched two more home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League on Tuesday. He’s now hitting .318/.378/.619 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs in 176 at-bats in the VWL. In 2013, between MLB Spring Training, Double-A and winter ball, all Aguilar has done is post a .287/.357/.476 slash line with 32 home runs, 34 doubles, 152 RBIs, 75 walks, 99 runs and 145 strikeouts in 687 at-bats. Expect him to be at Triple-A this season.
  • Rather than a pile of bullet points with updates on Masterson and much more, here’s a one-stop shopping link to a roundup of items from manager Terry Francona and Antonetti. Click here for today’s Winter Meetings notebook.

Tuesday:

  • Word is the Indians are willing to listen to trade proposals for Masterson. There is no reason to overreact to this right now. Cleveland is doing its due diligence, gauging value for a pitcher in the final year of his contract. Consider that the White Sox are open to listening on Chris Sale and the Rays are doing the same with David Price. The starting pitching market is getting extremely expensive and, if the Indians are considering signing Masterson to an extension, it makes sense to first see what return might be available in a trade.
  • The same applies to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, though the situation is a little different. Masterson is leading a staff that stands to lose 350-plus innings with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir hitting free agency. Cabrera is coming off a down year, and another subpar second half, and is due to earn $10 million this season. With shortstop Mike Aviles in the fold, and Cleveland needing arms, it makes sense to listen to offers for the shortstop.
  • Masterson and Cabrera are a part of Cleveland’s Opening Day plans right now — Masterson, especially — but having such talks now can also lay groundwork for future discussions. In theory, if the Indians endure a terrible first half and 2014 goes off the rails, it would make sense for the Tribe to then resume talks with teams around the Trade Deadline.
  • The Indians have interest in free-agent reliever John Axford, who has also been linked to the Cubs, Mariners and Orioles. Axford has closing experience, but might come a little cheaper than free-agents such as Balfour and Fernando Rodney.
  • Pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Francona and bullpen coach Kevin Cash met with Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco at the Meetings on Tuesday. Carrasco (out of options) has first crack at the fifth spot in the rotation, as the roster currently stands. If he doesn’t wind up in the rotation, Carrasco could also transition to the bullpen. Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer are also in the fifth-starter mix right now. The rotation landscape would obviously change if the Indians sign a free agent or add an arm via trade.
  • Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reported that the Indians are trying to re-sign righty Tyler Cloyd to a Minor League deal after designating him for assignment to clear room for OF David Murphy. Hoynes also reported that the Indians were impressed by Cuban shortstop prospect Erisbel Arrubarrena in a workout, but noted that the Dodgers, Cubs and Yankees are also involved.
  • Former Indians prospect Drew Pomeranz, and Minor League righty Chris Jensen, were traded to the A’s in exchange for lefty Brett Anderson.
  • Tribe fans hoping to land Mark Trumbo will also be disappointed to learn he was dealt to the D-backs in a three-team trade involving the White Sox and Angels. L.A reeled in pitchers Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, Arizona netted Trumbo (plus two PTBNL’s) and the ChiSox landed outfielder Adam Eaton.
  • Was able to confirm a report by Rosenthal that the Indians have expressed interest in reliever Joba Chamberlain. Rosenthal named the Tigers, D-backs, Rockies and Cubs as other clubs showing varying levels of interest in the pitcher.

Monday:

  • We already knew Carlos Santana was going to try his hand soon at third base, but on Day 1 of the Meetings, Antonetti noted that the team is still evaluating how much time the catcher will spend behind the plate. Cleveland is definitely in the market for a third-string catcher with big league experience, but the club might also consider backup options if it is determined it is best served with Santana in a 1B/DH/3B-exclusive role.
  • The Indians made two announcements on Monday: they signed first baseman David Cooper to a Major League contract and infielder Jose Ramirez might need surgery after injuring his left thumb in winter ball. Cooper will continue an incredible comeback story with a shot at earning a bench job for the Indians this spring.
  • The Indians recently lost out on signing reliever Edward Mujica (two-year deal with Red Sox) in their search for bullpen help. On the first day of the Meetings, Cleveland was reported to have interest in Grant Balfour. If an available arm has late-inning experience, the Tribe is looking into it.
  • Cleveland expressed interest in free-agent right-hander Jason Hammel (to the point that Callaway spoke with the pitcher). Hammel is reportedly seeking a three- or four-year deal, though, which likely takes the Indians out of the running.
  • Former Indians closer Chris Perez — a free agent — was on hand at the Swan and Dolphin on Monday to meet with interested teams. Former Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore is also expected to be at the Meetings this week to do the same thing.
  • Indians outfield prospect Tyler Naquin (selected by the Indians with the 15th pick in the 2012 Draft) was named to the Arizona Fall League’s 2013 Top Prospects Team. In 27 games, Naquin posted a .339/.400/.417 slash line with six extra-base hits, 18 RBIs and 22 runs scored.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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