Antonetti Practiced What He Preached in Winter Roster Rebuild
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine the work of General Manager Chris Antonetti this winter how it will affect the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.
By Mike Brandyberry
“We need to do a better job of shaping our roster. There were some decisions we made last year that didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped. We certainly need to reinvent our process that led to those decisions. The good thing about those decisions is that none of them negatively impact us for this year. We didn’t enter into any bad contracts that are going to handicap us moving forward. We have a rather clean slate heading into this winter and I’m looking forward to capitalizing on it.” – Chris Antonetti on Oct. 4, the day after the end of the season.
At the time, it seemed like a line most fans believed probably were hollow words, but General Manager Chris Antonetti practiced what he preached this winter.
After a season of disappointment in 2012, in which the Indians lost 94 games while the organization promised playoff contention, it appeared the winter could begin a new retool and rebuild. I expected soon after this October press conference to see Sandy Alomar hired as manager and the eventual explanation that escalating salaries of Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson while the team was not in a cycle to win, was too much.
I thought each would be dealt for prospects, with the promise that these new players would develop to join a core of Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall to compete in 2015 when premier prospect Francisco Lindor was ready to join the club. I figured we would hear how Alomar was one of the first pieces of the Indians of the 1990s and he would be able to use the knowledge learned from his playing experience to help develop this new core moving forward. I thought the Indians were going to clear payroll and build a new youthful group. I thought the 2013 Cleveland Indians would not be competitive.
Antonetti proved me wrong.
The Indians open spring training with a 40-man roster that has 16 new players added to it since the Tribe suffered its final defeat of the 2012 season. Gone are the likes of Jason Donald, Brent Lillibridge, Thomas Neal, Russ Canzler, Jack Hannahan, Esmil Rogers, Tony Sipp and Jeanmar Gomez, all of whom contributed in some fashion last season. Also gone via free agency or non-tenders are Grady Sizemore, Rafael Perez, Roberto Hernandez, Travis Hafner and Casey Kotchman, each who grossly underachieved their 2012 expectations or were injured or detained so badly that they hardly had a 2012. Lars Anderson, we never knew you.
The lost list hardly brings a tear to anyone’s eye. Of the players jettisoned from Cleveland this winter, only Shin-Soo Choo will be missed. Choo, a free agent after the 2013 season, had little interest in remaining in Cleveland after his contract expired, yet Antonetti found a way to deal him to the Cincinnati Reds, extracting shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs. Gregorius was the piece Antonetti needed to flip to the Arizona Diamondbacks to garner Trevor Bauer, the starting pitching prospect the Indians have had their eyes on since his amateur days at UCLA.
While Bauer has had four disappointing Major League starts, the 22-year-old, right-hander has the potential to be a front of the rotation starting pitcher. Young, high-ceiling, that will be under team control starting pitchers rarely are available, yet Antonetti acquired one for a player destined to leave Cleveland at the end of the season.
Antonetti also improved the biggest eyesore of the second half swoon — the starting rotation — by signing Brett Myers to a one-year contract, with a team option for 2014. Myers has proven to be a solid starter and innings eater during most of his 11-year career. He won’t lead the starting rotation, but hopefully he can help stabilize it. Cleveland also signed first baseman Mark Reynolds to improve the offense’s diminished power.
But the biggest roster move of the offseason came three days before Christmas when the Indians signed Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract. The free agent signing of the switch-hitting outfielder replaces Choo in the outfield and lineup, and also legitimizes the Cleveland Indians in ways the Tribe hasn’t been seen in many years. Cleveland courted, chased and signed a major free agent. That’s something that hasn’t happen since the Tribe signed Roberto Alomar in 1999.
All told, the Indians spent $27 million via free agency this winter, plus $2.75 million on Hafner’s contract buyout and $3.5 million of Choo’s salary in Cincinnati. What’s crazier: the Indians spending on the free agent market or using money to make deals and rid themselves of roster hindrances? It’s usually the Tribe accepting money, not giving it out.
But the best money spent all winter might have been the first dollars they used to sign Manager Terry Francona to a four-year, $16 million contract. Since his signing, Francona hasn’t just prepared to lead the ballclub, he’s led the organization — with Antonetti. Francona quickly has become the face of the franchise and certainly legitimized the organization in the eyes of players and free agents. Regardless of available money, Cleveland probably couldn’t have signed Swisher without Francona’s influence.
When you re-read Antonetti’s quote from the day after the season, he’s done everything he’s promised. He’s reinvented the roster and found a strong leader to take the reins. I thought the Antonetti’s idea of reinventing the roster would result in a dismal 2013 season, with the promise of a growing farm system that he hoped would thrive in 2014 and 2015.
I don’t think the Indians as currently constructed are a complete project, ready to contend, but I do think they are a vast improvement from last season, all while building both for the present and future at the same time. Antonetti hired a strong manager in Francona, who will instill the importance to win immediately and build a bond with players, while acquiring veteran players in Swisher, Reynolds, Myers and Mike Aviles to support his message.
That message will be loud and clear to Cabrera, Perez and Masterson, who all survived the winter, the developing core in Kipnis, Brantley, Chisenhall and Pestano, and the youth like Bauer, Cody Allen, Yan Gomes and Carlos Carrasco who will battle for roles on the roster. The Indians might not be contenders in 2013, but they’ll be competitive and exciting, while their improving minor league system works to develop Lindor, T.J. House, Trey Haley, Tim Fedroff, Chen Lee, Jesus Aguilar and others who can assume roles as the season evolves or immediately in 2014.
Antonetti made a bold statement the day after the season ended, but he’s backed up every word. The Cleveland Indians are better in present, with room to grow toward the future.
Photo: Getty Images