Jason Kipnis will have to wait a bit to make his 2017 spring debut in Arizona.
Kipnis was slated to act as the designated hitter in Sunday’s Cactus League game against the Chicago Cubs but was scratched after being diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain and receiving a cortisone shot, per Indians manager Terry Francona.
“If it was during the season, we wouldn’t do anything,” Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “There’s just so much time to get ready [for the season] that to kind of put a bandaid on it now didn’t seem to make sense. … It’s considered a [rotator cuff strain], which in the grand scheme of things is about the least you’re ever going to find when you do that.”
Kipnis will be shut down from throwing for 4-5 days.
“I think from time to time he does feel it,” Francona said. “I would probably say eight out of the 10 days that are throwing, as their arms get loose, you feel something. You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back. But when there’s some history there, you just try to use good judgement.”
Left-handed pitcher Tim Cooney was diagnosed with a strain of his left flexor digitorum superficialis muscle, located in his forearm. He’s expected to be out for 10-12 weeks.
Cooney, 26, was claimed off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals in Nov. after missing the 2016 season due to shoulder surgery.
Barring something unforeseen, Mike Clevinger’s long-term development continues to follow the path of a starting pitcher.
This is something the Indians have maintained since last season, when Clevinger appeared in games as both a starter and a reliever. With six of the seven spots in the Indians’ bullpen already secure, it was possible Clevinger could be an option for the seventh spot as a pitcher capable of throwing multiple innings. For at least the duration of the spring, that likely won’t be the case.
Francona reaffirmed on Saturday that plan is to have Clevinger stretched out as a starting pitcher, both for his long-term development and to add to the organization’s starting pitching depth at Triple-A Columbus. That could change during the course of the season, but for now, Clevinger figures to open in the rotation at Triple-A.
“I don’t think [he’ll be an option for the bullpen] in spring training,” Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “You don’t know how things are going to go during the year, but for a couple of reasons: One, you need depth starters; Two, for his development, throwing multiple innings, using all his pitchers, is really in his best interest. And then the other thing is you can always bring him back to the bullpen. If you put a guy in a bullpen role, it’s really hard to stretch him out. For a number of reasons, I don’t think it makes sense.”
Clevinger finished 2016 with a 3-3 record, 5.26 ERA and and 50 strikeouts in 53 innings between 17 total appearances and 10 starts. Coincidentally, one of the biggest moments of his rookie season came on Aug. 21, when he came out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and struck out Edwin Encarnacion, then with Toronto, to end the inning.
The Indians in the past have maintained a similar message when discussing Cody Anderson, who is still returning from offseason elbow surgery but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. Anderson, like Clevinger, has shifted between the starting rotation and the bullpen, though the Indians have wanted to view their future in the system as a starter.
Major League Baseball on Tuesday approved a rule change in which teams will be able to give a signal from the dugout to initiate an intentional walk instead of having a pitcher throw four balls. The rule has also been accepted by the Players Association and will be in effect for the 2017 season.
It’s another attempt by the league to improve the game’s pace-of-play, though it’s also one of the smaller possible changes. Pitchers no longer throwing four balls for an intentional walk will likely only save a minute or two every couple of games.
Simply giving a batter first base won’t have much of an effect on the game. Though some players, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis included, pointed out on social media that players have taken bases on bad throws or even scored runs during an attempted intentional walk.
Indians manager Terry Francona has applauded the league for how it has handled rule changes over the last two years in terms of communication with teams and the changes’ implementation. He is perfectly fine with this next change. After all, it’s a small alteration that doesn’t get in the way of how the game is played on a broader scale.
“I’m OK with it. Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal,” Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “I know they’re trying to cut out some of the fat. I’m OK with it. … I just think if maybe you’re going to dig your heels into something, I’m not sure this would be it. For me, it’s not that big of a deal. … Major League Baseball in my opinion does a really good job with rule changes and things like that.”
Another rule proposal that’s been brought up by commissioner Rob Manfred and the league is giving managers a time limit, perhaps 30 seconds, to challenge a play. As the rules have been applied with relation to replay, managers currently can wait to hear from a replay coordinator to tell him whether to challenge the play. Players and umpires stand on the field waiting, which comes before the time it takes to actually have the replay crew in New York review the play. Francona would be on board with that change as well.
“I actually wish they would [give managers at time limit],” Francona said. “I think they would hustle it up. And if we can’t tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn’t be doing it anyway. … If we can’t make our mind up, my goodness, maybe we ought to just leave it alone.”
And so continues the league’s crusade to shorten the average major-league game.
Three players are vying for the utility role on the Indians’ bench, per manager Terry Francona.
That list includes Erik Gonzalez, Michael Martinez and Ronny Rodriguez. That role is often valued by Francona, as it allows him additional flexility and insurance to make moves and play matchups late in games. Currently, those three all fit the description as a utility player, though that roster decision as much as any other could come down to what the club needs at the end of spring training. In this case, like many, need can play as much of a factor as individual performance.
“Some of it will maybe be determined by what we need,” Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “If somebody’s nicked up and you need an outfielder, those things. That’s why you try to get a handle on guys the best you can. Need really does matter. You want guys to fit. You want the guys’ game to complement everybody else’s.”
Gonzalez, 25, could have the inside track, as he’s already on the 40-man roster. He made his major-league debut last season, appearing in 21 games and playing shortstop, second base, and right field. He went 5-for-16 (.313 BA) but also struck out in nearly half his plate appearances (eight in 17). Gonzalez primarily played shortstop at the Triple-A level, where he hit .296 with a .329 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 31 doubles in 460 plate appearances in 2016.
Martinez, 34, is the veteran of the group and more of a known commodity for Francona. Now in camp as a non-roster invitee, Martinez appeared in 59 games for the Indians and four games for the Boston Red Sox in 2016 as a super-utility player capable of playing just about every position except for pitcher, catcher and first base. Indians fans will likely remember him just as much for one play in November as anything, as he made the final out in the 2016 World Series.
Rodriguez, 24, is in major-league camp as an internal invitee, a prospect not on the 40-man roster. Rodriguez has primarily played second base in the minor leagues (81 starts in 2016) but last season also received time at third base, first base, center field and right field. He hit .258 at Triple-A with 24 doubles, 10 home runs and 59 RBI. He also hit .306 in the Dominican Winter League in 44 games, playing each infield position, left field and right field.
In the outfield, Francona indicated one of the two veterans—Abraham Almonte or Austin Jackson—will likely nab the remaining spot available in the outfield, or potentially two spots depending on Michael Brantley’s status at the end of March.
The Indians have three young outfielders in camp—Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen and Yandy Diaz—who were potential candidates to vie for a spot on the big-league club. This spring, barring something unforeseen, will be more about experience gained than anything else.
Last year, Tyler Naquin was given a message of opportunity to break camp in Cleveland instead of Columbus, due to a need on the major-league roster and the timing in his development. Zimmer, Allen and Diaz did not receive that same message.
“I think they kind of fall into the group of younger guys trying to make a good first impression,” Francona said. “Crazy things happen in this game, I get that, but I think we all feel like it’d be in their best interest to play in Triple-A. Again, crazy things [happen]. If you’re in camp and you’ve got a number, you’re in camp and you’ve got a number. That’s the way it is.”
In both cases, individual statistics will likely play only a small role in determining who breaks camp with the major-league club on Opening Day. Rather, it’s how a player is performing that plays a larger role, as well as numerous other factors that go into a manager’s decision. A hitter can have a terrific spring numbers wise, but if a major swing flaw that will be exposed at the major-league level still is present, those gaudy spring numbers can be fool’s gold.
Francona used the example of a pitcher only working on his fastball. He might be able to get a hitter out with a changeup in a certain situation on that dya, but he’ll continue to just work on that one pitch. Statistically, that one bad outing could make his spring as a whole look much worse than it was, though in terms of getting ready for the games that count, it was a positive appearance.
“You have to be careful because one, say they hit .500, everybody wants to anoint them the next whatever,” Francona said. “Their season is going to define who they are, when they’re ready. You can make some mistakes evaluating in spring training. We try to learn as much as we can about them, but I think you can make really some bad mistakes by thinking you have the end-all, be-all evaluation. But it just isn’t the way it is.”
Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has progressed to soft toss, the next step in his long road back to the field.
Brantley had been hitting off a tee as the club continues to be cautious with him in his rehab from bicep tenodesis surgery last season. That will continue to be the case as he builds up to game speed, which will come after he progresses enough to begin hitting in the cage and then on the field.
“He’s doing real well, just want to be fair to him,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “This kid has done everything. Because he is pushing. When I say not pushing, I mean putting a timetable on it and things like that. I don’t ever want it to sound like he isn’t showing up. This kid has been pushing for a long time. We want to give him the best chance possible to not just come back but to be able to come back and be himself and have some fun.”
The Indians have yet to set their lineup, in part due to the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and in part due to the uncertainty with Brantley’s health.
The Indians will have plenty of options of how to configure the top of the lineup. Encarnacion and Brantley could slot in fourth and fifth, respectively, which would allow the top third to remain the same. With Rajai Davis now in Oakland, that would mean Carlos Santana hitting leadoff, Jason Kipnis hitting second and Francisco Lindor hitting third.
Santana, especially, gives the Indians some flexibility as a hitter who can act as a run producer and one who gets on base consistently at a high level, making him a quality leadoff option as well. Kipnis also has experience hitting leadoff, which could allow Lindor, Encarnacion and potentially Brantley to move up in the order and receive more at-bats throughout the season.
As of now, those decisions haven’t been made.
“I think knowing Carlos can do it [hit leadoff] is a good feeling,” Francona said. “I guess as we get to the middle and start to get to the end of the spring, you start to kind of see how things could look. We’ll see.”
The Indians this week added left-handed pitcher James Russell to their crop of non-roster invitees in major-league camp. Chris Narveson was another late addition as a non-roster invitee pitcher.
The Indians have been honest with Russell about his chances in the bullpen. He’ll be given a shot, though the club does have plenty of options in camp and on the 40-man roster. Part of every spring, and every club, includes players coming to camp just hoping for an opportunity to catch on somewhere.
“He was a late sign,” Francona said. “He was having a hard time getting into a major-league camp. So we kind of told him, and he was ready to pitch, we said, ‘Come on in, because things happen.’ There’s a spot or two in the bullpen. We told him, ‘We’ll be honest with you, if it’s not with us, there are scouts at every game.’ I just think that’s being honest. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being honest to a guy. I think they appreciate it. And he’s going to get a chance to pitch because we didn’t have a lot of pitchers in camp. Narveson came into camp late, too. We wouldn’t bring them in if they weren’t going to pitch.”
The World Baseball Classic is Major League Baseball’s way of making the game a more global one, as well bringing some patriotism into it.
But, the reality is that there will never be a convenient time to hold the tournament, which this year runs from March 6 to March 20-22. It leaves teams having to hope that players return in the same condition as when they leave their respective camps in Arizona or Florida.
“MLB sponsors it, and it’s a great event,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “And I think the guys that want to go, it’s an honor to represent your country, which I understand and support. Saying that, we’ll be thrilled when they come back just like they left.”
That’s especially true for pitchers. This year, that primarily means the Indians will be holding their breath awaiting the healthy return of Andrew Miller, who will be representing Team USA. Pitchers are normally eased into things throughout the duration of spring training. When pitching in the World Baseball Classic, they’re now competing with an intent on winning instead of focusing solely on their progression through camp.
“You’re asking pitchers who have been in camp for a couple weeks, some of these guys don’t even throw their breaking ball on a normal spring util the end of camp,” Francona said. “Now you’re gonna ask a guy to come in with a man on third and get somebody out, he’s going to go right to the breaking ball, and you’re going to try to execute pitchers you may not be ready to execute. .. We value the repetition but we don’t want them doing it with a runner on third trying to throw their best one. That’s how guys get hurt. So yeah, our heart’s in our throat a little bit.”
The Indians have been bitten before. In 2013, Vinnie Pestano hurt his elbow pitching in the WBC and struggled to ever regain his form. The Indians have greatly invested in Miller to the tune of four prospects and $9 million to be paid out this season and next.
“And he gets it, he’s a smart kid,” Francona said of Miller. “And I’m happy for him. I’m proud of him. He wants to represent his country. And I think he was even a little bit torn because he knows his responsibilities, but we support him. We all know how important he is to our club.”
The Indians will also be represented in the WBC by Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico), Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic), Roberto Perez (Puerto Rico) and others. And in every case, like every team, they’ll welcome the day of their safe return.
There’s no competition at the catching position in Indians’ camp this spring.
Indians manager Terry Francona made it clear on Thursday that Yan Gomes is the club’s starting catcher, with Roberto Perez serving as the No. 2 option.
“No, we have two good catchers,” Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz. “We’re fortunate to have two good catchers. Gomer’s been our catcher, just for different reasons, whether it’s been injuries, Roberto stepped in and really did a great job. So it’s my responsibility to make it work for both of them, and we will.”
By many accounts, Gomes had a disastrous 2016 season. He hit just .167 and played in only 74 regular season games, eventually warranting a sacrificial ceremony by his teammates in Minnesota in an effort to snap him out of the slump. He was later placed on the disabled list with a separated shoulder and then, in the final at-bat of his rehab, was hit by a pitch and fractured a bone in his wrist.
Gomes was miraculously available to the club for the postseason about a month ahead of his scheduled return date, but was still limited. That pushed Perez into the spotlight as the primary catcher through the postseason run.
Perez responded, handling a depleted pitching staff and even belting two home runs in Game 1 of the World Series. It opened up a potential question as to how the Indians would handle the position in 2017 with both healthy.
As of now, it’s Gomes’ job. Though, Perez could find his way into the lineup more often than other backup catchers around the league.
“The way Berto’s played, we want to find games for him, heck yeah,” Francona said. “I think he deserves that. If we have a situation where we have two catchers and we just can’t find at-bats, because they’re so good, man, good for us. That’s a headache I’ll take any day of the week.”
Gomes is in the middle of a six-year, $23-million deal—including a $500,000 signing bonus—that he signed in 2014. He’ll make a base salary of $4.5 million this season, $5.95 million in 2018 and $7 million in 2019. The Indians then hold club options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, valued at $9 million and $11 million, respectively.
Francona’s hope is that 2016 was just one bad nightmare rather than a recurring reality.
“He got off to a slow start and it just snowballed,” Francona said. “And it got to the point, you could see him make an out in the game, first at-bat, and he was feeling it from the day before, shoulders were kind of sagging. That’s a hard way to be successful. It’s easier to look back now than when you’re in the middle of it. … Hopefully he did learn from it, because it’s happened to everybody. It’s terrible to go through, you just hope he’s learned from it so he doesn’t go through it again.”
Outfielders Michael Brantley and Austin Jackson will both be behind other position players as workouts begin and, on Feb. 25th, the Indians begin their spring training slate.
Brantley, rehabbing from biceps tenodesis surgery, is still hitting off a tee. The club doesn’t have a defined timetable and like last season will work off of how he feels. But caution will be the primary factor in how he progresses.
“Not having him for a whole year, I want to do it right,” Francona said. “He deserves to do it right. He’s worked so hard. To have him back will be so nice that we’re going to do it right so he can have his best chance to be successful.”
Jackson underwent surgery last June to repair the medial meniscus in his left knee. The Indians signed him to an incentive-laced, minor-league deal this offseason.
“Some of it, I think, you’re going to have to almost almost guard him from him because he wants to come in and show what he can do,” Francona said. “But it’s different when you get into camp and it’s pounding every day. We’ll keep an eye on him. I think he’ll be 10 days, a couple of weeks.”
The Indians on Tuesday hired Grady Sizemore as an advisor to player development. He’ll be assisting both the major-league and minor-league camps at different points this spring.
“The majority of it will be with [bench coach Brad Mills] and the outfielders,” Francona said. “Certainly, when you have a guy with that stature, he’s welcome to help wherever he can. And we’re happy to have him. Guys like Grady, he won’t be here I don’t think all spring, but he’s welcome to help out when he’s here. And we’re looking forward to it.”
A fan favorite of the past who had a promising career sidetracked due to a string of injuries is again back with the club, this time in an off-the-field role.
On Tuesday, the Indians announced the hiring of Grady Sizemore as an advisor to player development. Sizemore will be at the Indians’ camp in Goodyear, Ariz. this spring. He’ll first assist the major-league staff for the next few weeks before moving to minor-league camp in March.
Once the regular season hits, Sizemore will serve in a role resembling a special assistant in player development and baseball operations.
Now 34 years old, Sizemore was a three-time All-Star in his eight years with the Indians as a player. He was also a two-time Rawlings Gold Glove recipient and a Silver Slugger winner in 2008, when he posted a 30-30 season (33 home runs, 38 stolen bases) and drove in a career-high 90 runs.
Sizemore’s career spanned 10 seasons with the Indians, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Rays. He finished with a career .265 average, .349 on-base percentage, .806 OPS, 150 home runs and 143 stolen bases.
For those who enjoy the World Baseball Classic, which is set to begin in just under a month, the Indians will have 11 players spread out across the 16-team field.
Here’s the list:
Andrew Miller (USA)
Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico)
Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic)
Roberto Perez (Puerto Rico)
Joe Colon (Puerto Rico)
Giovanny Urshela (Colombia)
Chris Colabello (Italy)
Luis Lugo (Italy)
Ping-Hsueh Chen (Chinese Taipei)
Shao-Ching Chiang (Chinese Taipei)
Tyler Krieger (Isreal)
A 12th member, Bruce Chen, will be pitching for Team China. Chen, who retired in 2015, is currently an employee of the Indians as a cultural development coordinator.
The Indians’ bolstering of the bullpen that in part carried them through their postseason run became official on Tuesday with the announcement of left-handed relief pitcher Boone Logan’s one-year deal that includes a club option for a second year.
The Indians and Logan came to a reported agreement last week. His deal is worth a reported $5.5 million in 2016 with a $7 club option and $1 million buyout in 2017. To make room on the 40-man roster, relief pitcher Austin Adams was designated for assignment.
Logan gives the Indians and manager Terry Francona an additional left-handed weapon in the bullpen along with Andrew Miller. He’s held left-handed batters to a .233 batting average and .670 OPS in his career. Last year, with Colorado, Logan held lefties to a .142 average.
“As we started out the offseason, one of the things that we sought to do was to find some balance to our bullpen and specifically from the left side,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. “We think it’ll provide Tito with another option later in games to match up against some of the tougher left-handed hitters in our division and within the league.”
Logan’s addition essentially means six of the seven bullpen spots are locked down. He’ll join Cody Allen, Miller, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister in the bullpen. A slew of pitchers both on and off the 40-man roster will vie for the seventh and presumably final spot. That list includes Nick Goody, Shawn Armstrong, Joe Colon, Kyle Crockett, Perci Garner, Carlos Frias, Steve Delabar and others.
The signing also means the Indians’ payroll for this season will eclipse $120 million, the highest total in franchise history. Along with Edwin Encarnacion’s three-year, $60 million deal that could be extended to a four-year, $80 million contract, the Indians have reached new financial boundaries. The support from ownership has allowed the Indians’ front office to dive into new, aggressive waters on the free-agent market normally reserved for the larger markets. It’s netted them their top two targets and filled their two biggest needs on a roster that reached Game 7 of the World Series.
“It continues to be a significant stretch by our ownership,” Antonetti said. “I think they’ve demonstrated over the course of the offseason incredible support and belief in our team by extending far beyond where we thought we could potentially go payroll-wise, first by signing Edwin and addressing one of our primary needs on the offensive side and then being able to sign Boone, which addresses one of our primary pitching needs.”
The Indians have said they didn’t think signing Encarnacion was a real possibility when the offseason began. He’s now locked into the middle of the Indians’ lineup for at least the next three seasons. Logan, per Antonetti, fit into that category as well. Now, the Indians have both, making for one of the most well-rounded rosters in the majors.
“At the start of the offseason I didn’t think we’d have any opportunity to sign Edwin or Boone, let alone both of them, given how well they’ve performed, the markets we expected them to command and also where we expected our payroll parameters to be,” Antonetti said. “Because of the incredible leap of faith in ownership, we were able to acquire two of our very top targets at our primary needs.”