CLEVELAND (AP) — After making all the right moves in 2016, Indians manager Terry Francona got a hip replacement and then spent time on the awards banquet circuit.
The winter is flying by.
“This has been, I think, officially the shortest offseason in history,” Francona said recently.
The Indians wouldn’t mind another brief one.
Despite losing an epic Game 7 of the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland is poised to make a run at its first championship since 1948. With one of baseball’s best pitching staffs and a solid lineup now anchored by newly signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion, the Indians will enter the 2017 season as favorites to win the AL.
It’s what Francona had in mind when he came to Cleveland in 2013 after an eight-year run in Boston that included a pair of World Series titles.
This is nothing new for Francona, who won’t spend much time reminiscing about last October when training camp opens in Arizona later this month. He’ll keep his players focused on what’s in front of them, not in their rearview mirror.
“When the new season starts, the only thing that last year we will have gained is experience,” said the AL’s 2016 Manager of the Year. “And we try to draw from everything, good or bad. But once you draw from that, it’s time to move on. Even though you have a lot of the same names back and faces, it’s a different team. It’ll be another personality, their own, the 2017 team.
It should be a good one, and the Indians have a chance to be a special one.
Here are some other things to consider as Cleveland defends its first league title since 1997:
NEW LOOK: Encarnacion’s stunning arrival – his three-year, $60 million guaranteed contract is the richest for a free agent in club history – has already had a dramatic effect. He’s driven up ticket sales and given Cleveland a player capable of changing any game merely by his presence in the lineup. He’s averaged 39 homers in each of the past five seasons.
“You sit him in that 4-hole most likely,” Francona said, “and just let him go.”
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Outfielder Bradley Zimmer is regarded as the top player in Cleveland’s organization. And while he may not make the club’s opening-day roster, the 24-year-old could make an impact in 2017.
Zimmer batted .250 with 15 homers, 62 RBIs and 38 steals in 130 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus in 2016.
THEY’RE SET: Led by a pair of aces – No. 1 starter Corey Kluber and elite reliever Andrew Miller – the Indians have arguably the best pitching staff in the majors. They got to the Series last year despite being without starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who are both healthy and ready.
THEY’RE NOT: For the second year in a row, left fielder Michael Brantley’s health will be the biggest story in camp. Brantley played in just 11 games last season following right shoulder surgery and he underwent another procedure to repair a biceps problem. Brantley is confident he’ll be ready for the start of the season, but the Indians are taking a patient, cautious approach with their best all-around player.
ON DECK: There aren’t many roster spots up for grabs this spring other than a couple in the bullpen. Elite reliever Andrew Miller has committed to pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and while the Indians are offering their support, they have to be concerned about his workload. Miller pitched 92 2/3 innings last season – his most since he was a starter in 2008 – and he’s had arm issues in the past, most recently with the Yankees in 2015.