GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Terry Francona said earlier in the week that he envisioned roster cuts really heating up on Sunday. They started a day earlier.
The Indians roster going into Opening Day started to get more into focus on Saturday with a couple moves. Outfielder Jeff Francoeur was released while utility man extraordinaire Elliot Johnson and pitcher Vinnie Pestano were told they will make the club.
Francoeur, who was a non-roster invitee, had a great spring, batting .286 and leading the team in RBI with 10. General manager Chris Antonetti said when evaluating the entire roster though that there wasn’t a spot where he would be a proper fit.
Both Antonetti and Francona said the decision on Francoeur was one of the hardest they have made.
"We’re confident Jeff can help a team. It’s just for us a lot of the decisions come down to how do we put all the pieces together and not individually who may be the best player," Antonetti said. "It’s really challenging to come to a new organization and to fit in as well as he had really from day one."
A huge part of why Johnson earned a spot is his versatility. In 16 spring training games he has played in six different positions — all three spots in the outfield plus second, shortstop and third. Johnson is batting .333 with eight RBI. Six of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases.
Johnson and Mike Aviles offer Francona plenty of versatility because they can play a lot of positions. Johnson is also a switch hitter and has been a pinch runner a couple times.
"You just want to be in there anyway you can. I have some legs that I can run a little bit and can cover ground in the outfield," Johnson said. "I’m not going to take sterling routes every time but I can cover ground and make up for it with the speed. They have all the scouts and reports and know what I can and can’t do. It’s them just seeing it with their own eyes."
Johnson came to camp as a non-roster invitee but his contract was purchased from Triple-A Columbus on Saturday as he was added to the 40-man roster. In other moves, infielder David Adams was claimed on outright waivers by the Orioles and catcher Matt Treanor will start the season on the Triple-A disabled list. Treanor strained his left hamstring while sliding into second during the ninth inning last Wednesday against Oakland. Outfielder Matt Carson was informed that he will start the season in Columbus, but he remains in the Major League camp.
The entire staff will meet again on Sunday in further attempts to pare the roster. The last starting spot in the rotation remains up for grabs between Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Harang and Josh Tomlin. Carrasco will make the roster even if it is out of the bullpen.
Nyjer Morgan and Lonnie Chisenhall are also still battling for spots. Francona sees Chisenhall as an every day player but wouldn’t elaborate on whether it is here or in Columbus. Chisenhall, who has been the designated hitter a couple times, is hitting .286 and is doing a better job against lefties.
Injuries will play a big role in what the final decisions will be. Jason Giambi is expected to start the year on the disabled list but Michael Bourn’s status is still unknown. Bourn, who tweaked his hamstring last Sunday against the Giants, did start doing some light on-field work on Saturday.
Said Francona: "There are some things that are kind of fluid. We’re going to put together our best 25 leaving camp while maintaining depth in the organization and trying to do everything in the best interest."
"We spoke to a lot of guys today, some we had to deliver news that was not very much fun, some was really good and some we understood their level of anxiety that some decisions aren’t made yet."