CLEVELAND — Looking for something dramatic from the Cleveland Indians this offseason as they try to rebound from a 68-win season?
General Manager Chris Antonetti said it’s already started.
“In my view we’ve made a significant change,” Antonetti said Thursday at the post-mortem to 2012. “We’re changing one of the leadership positions within the organization. That’s a pretty dramatic step.”
That change would be with the manager, and it might buy the Indians a little bit of credibility, because the team is focused on hiring either uber-popular former player Sandy Alomar or Terry Francona, who won two World Series as manager of the Red Sox.
After that, there’s a lot of work to do for the front office and new manager.
Because the brightest managers lose smarts if the talent is lacking. And the Indians have lost 93 or more games in three of the last four years.
Antonetti talked about improving the starting rotation — ERA: 5.25 — and looking for position help, presumably in left field and first base. He said Shin-Soo Choo should be a member of the Indians in 2013 even though it’s his free agent year, and said he feels Chris Perez will be a long-term member of the team even with his inflammatory off-field remarks.
He also said the Indians have a young core up the middle on which to build consisting of catcher Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and center fielder Michael Brantley. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall also could be included, though he’s not technically up the middle.
“That’s a good foundation from which to build,” Antonetti said. “We now need to complement that group, but it’s a good starting point.”
Call it Indians-speak, but Antonetti pointed out the Indians competed for two-thirds of two seasons with this core, and he hopes it can happen again. But he sounded baffled in trying to explain why the team collapsed after beating Justin Verlander on July 26. From that point the Indians went 18-45.
“I don’t think there’s one single reason as to why we struggled the way we did,” he said. “I think the one thing we all feel is we have better talent than our record shows.”
There’s a strong feeling in some corners of the sports world that a team reflects its record. A 60-win team is just that, because over the long haul weaknesses are exposed.
Antonetti called the Indians fall dramatic, sudden and surprising. And he did not think that the team gave up after no move was made at the trade deadline.
“There were a lot of other teams in baseball, including many of the teams that competed all the way to the end of the season, that didn’t make moves at the trade deadline,” Antonetti said. “I’m not sure ascribing too much to that would explain what happened to us in the second half.”
Antonetti said he did not think it was fair to blame Manny Acta for the collapse, but he was fired. And Antonetti is interviewing a guy who managed a team that fell apart in the final month in Boston in 2011.
“I wouldn’t want what happened over the past two and a half months or two months to completely mask some of the positives with our team, with our roster and within the organization,” Antonetti said. “Because there are a lot of positives.”
Antonetti addressed several other players and issues: –On whether decreased attendance in ‘12 will affect his ability to add players in ‘13: “We’re still working through that.” He did say he did not believe economics would affect the ability to hire Francona, if that’s the team’s choice.
–On Perez’s public comments that were critical of the front office and the fans: “I appreciate his candor when it’s behind closed doors. I think everyone would be best served if he chose his words more carefully. But I want guys on my team who care as much as Chris Perez does about winning.”
–On whether it’s really possible the Indians would bring back Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner: “It’s possible. I think the level of investment would be very different than it’s been in the past.” –On Matt LaPorta, who is out of options: “It’s obviously an important offseason for him because he’s going to have come to spring training and win a job.”
–On how much the failed CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Ubaldo Jimenez trades factor in to the team’s present situation: “It’s a culmination of things. But it’s a process. There have been some trades that have worked out. There have been some drafts that have worked out. There have been others that haven’t. That’s the nature of our job. We make a lot of those decisions. some will work out, some won’t. I think our job is to try to make more of them work out than not. I think if you look at the composition of our roster — and it’s important to always look at context — and how teams generally do in trades, I think we’ve done relatively well. Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Justin Masterson. That’s a pretty good return from some trades that we’ve made over the past six or seven years. And Michael Brantley.”