CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona sat down with members of the media on Tuesday at Progressive Field to recap the 2015 season and look ahead to the off-season prior to the 2016 campaign.
Here are some of the things that stood out in the session:
– The promotions of Mike Chernoff to GM and Derek Falvey to Assistant GM are a “recognition of how we operate,” Antonetti said. Antonetti, who was named the Indians’ President of Baseball Operations, will continue to be involved in day-to-day baseball operations. The structure on the baseball side will not change much, but the change in titles more accurately demonstrate the hierarchy inside the organization.
– These moves are something the organization has discussed in the past, but were expedited in part due to some outside interest in members of the Indians front office from opposing teams.
– The changes on the baseball side will not impact the business side of the organization. Owner Paul Dolan and others will continue to assume the non-baseball responsibilities of departing President Mark Shapiro.
– Antonetti said he is disappointed to have fallen short of their postseason expectations this year. However, he was also encouraged by the way the team played down the stretch and made it interesting in the final month. Antonetti gave credit to a number of the players who took “ownership” of the clubhouse. He believes that was a big reason for the second-half turnaround. Emerging leaders would continue to be a large theme of the discussion.
– The team has not made a decision on Ryan Raburn’s $3 million team option for 2016. Raburn posted a .936 OPS in part-time duty with Cleveland this season.
– The Indians are still pleased with the timing of when they promoted Francisco Lindor. Antonetti noted it’s fair to wonder “what if” the club had called him up sooner, but the organization believes the patient approach they took with the 21-year-old shortstop, ensuring he was 100 percent ready at the time of the promotion, was part of the reason for his success in the second half.
– Terry Francona compared Lindor’s ability to fit in and win over a locker room at a young age to Dustin Pedroia. However, he added that the ability for a 21-year-old to be as well-liked as he was almost immediately is rare. “If you’re talking about a player like Lindor in the same sentence with Dustin Pedroia, you’re talking about a pretty special kid.”
– There is no doubt in Francona’s mind when it comes to Lindor: “This kid is rookie of the year.” Francona added that he’s gotten aggravated hearing from others stating otherwise. “I’m missing something somewhere, and I’m afraid if I keep watching I’m going to get mad.”
– It is the club’s expectation that the coaching staff will remain entirely intact.
– Antonetti noted he feels they have more work to do in the off-season to improve the position player side of the club. He feels starting pitching is a strength, but said they will look to improve every area of the team. He would not indicate if trading a pitcher for a position player is something they would consider, but did say they would need to be “creative” on numbers occasions while attempting to improve the club. Don’t look for free agency to be the main avenue to upgrading.
– While Antonetti was not prepared to say Abraham Almonte would be the club’s starting center fielder next season, he did say Almonte will play a meaningful role for the Indians in 2016. However, center field is a place they could look to upgrade.
– The Indians have not decided if lefty TJ House will pitch this fall, but they anticipate the southpaw being ready to compete for a spot in Spring Training.
– Both Antonetti and Francona said it’s important to remind starter Trevor Bauer, who can be extremely hard on himself at times, of all of the good things he accomplished this season. They plan on getting together with Bauer in the coming weeks to put together a plan for the off-season for the young righty.
– The Indians were really pleased with the work Lonnie Chisenhall put in to become a good defensive outfielder this season. Antonetti admitted he was surprised by how quickly Chisenhall transformed himself into a good right fielder. “He really worked hard at it,” Antonetti said.
– Antonetti wouldn’t say if the team is looking strictly at adding a left-handed reliever to the bullpen, but rather, they’ll focus on effectiveness against right-handed and left-handed batters.
– Francona noted that he felt his club found their identify after the trade of Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to the Atlanta Braves in August. “Yeah, they were frustrated, and so was I, but they tried to fight through it,” Francona said. “And then when our team changed a little bit, we started catching the ball much better. And because of their attitudes, it seemed like we had been together longer than we had. Which is really fun, really gratifying. And the guys… they’re trying to show that they belong in the Major Leagues, but they did it within the framework of a winning environment and it was really fun to watch.”
– Antonetti said the support organization gave to utility-man Mike Aviles and his 4-year-old daughter, Adriana, who is battling leukemia “is something I will remember for the rest of my life.” As for if Aviles will return, Antonetti would only say, “none of our players we have in place will preclude Mike from returning.” He added “we’ll stay in touch” with both Aviles and Gavin Floyd.
– Antonetti noted a few players will have “non-baseball” surgical procedures. However, by law, he was unable to reveal which players will be having surgery.
– Chernoff would not speak on specifics of a potential extension of closer Cody Allen, but he said extending young relievers can be difficult and, often, not very common due to the unpredictable nature of bullpens.
– Francona shared one of his most frustrating moments from this season: “You wanna know what still sticks with me? And it doesn’t usually. It’s that four-game series with the White Sox (July 23-26). If we would have won a couple of games, we wouldn’t have been chasing that group at the end. And that was a really tough time for us. That was a low. Thankfully, it was the low, but that was tough. We did a lot of soul-searching after that series, but it really hurt us.”
– Antonetti spoke to the club’s goals for 2016: “I think our goals are the same as they were starting this year, which was to earn a postseason birth and compete for a World Series. The fact that we’re sitting here talking today means that we didn’t accomplish that this year, but… there’s a lot of positives for us to take from this season and a lot of things we learned about ourselves and a lot of things that will help us moving forward. Our goal coming into Spring Training is to compete for a postseason and a World Series.”