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Michael Brantley advances to soft toss; Indians’ Lineup not yet set

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 18, 2017

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.”

Lineup decisions

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.”

An opportunity

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.”

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World Baseball Classic leaves teams holding collective breath; Indians among them with Andrew Miller

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 17, 2017

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.

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Yan Gomes to act as Indians’ starting catcher with Roberto Perez as backup; Injury updates

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 16, 2017

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.”

Catching up

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.”

Extra help

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.”

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Indians hire Grady Sizemore as advisor to player development

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 14, 2017
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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.

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Andrew Miller, Francisco Lindor headline Indians’ 11 players in World Baseball Classic

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 9, 2017

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.

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Indians make Boone Logan signing official, DFA Austin Adams

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 7, 2017

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.”

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Indians sign left-handed relief pitcher Boone Logan, per reports

By Ryan Lewis Published: February 2, 2017
Logan

The Indians continue to cross off needs around the roster in the wake of the Edwin Encarnacion mega-signing. On Thursday, the club added left-handed relief pitcher Boone Logan to the bullpen mix, per reports.

Logan, 32, gives the Indians a left-handed reliever who can come in and play the matchup game, primarily facing left-handed hitters. Andrew Miller was the lone left-hander available in the Indians’ bullpen, though he isn’t as tied to the handedness of the batters he faces.

Few managers like to manipulate matchups as much as Terry Francona. Logan provides some additional flexibility in joining Miller and right-handed options Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister and Nick Goody, in addition to other options available on the 40-man roster.

Logan, who spent the last three seasons with the Colorado Rockies, had a 3.69 ERA and 1.014 WHIP to go with 57 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings pitched in 2016. He also held left-handed hitters to a .142 average. In his career, left-handed hitters are batting .233 with a .670 OPS off Logan, while right-handers have batted .294 with an .855 OPS.

The club has not yet confirmed the signing, which was first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Per multiple reports, it’s a one-year deal that includes a club option for a second year.

The Indians in January also signed outfielder Austin Jackson to an incentive-laced deal that gave the outfield additional depth and protection in the event of Michael Brantley continuing to be sidelined for longer than expected. Jackson’s deal has a base salary of $1.5 million and includes up to $4 million in performance bonuses.

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Indians acquire RHP Carlos Frias from Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 30, 2017
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The Indians added some pitching depth to the 40-man roster on Monday, acquiring right-handed pitcher Carlos Frias from the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated infielder Richie Shaffer for assignment.

Frias, 27, has a career 4.50 ERA at the major-league level in 33 appearances—including 15 starts—across three seasons. He missed a significant amount of time in 2016 while dealing with a right oblique impingement that warranted two trips to the disabled list.

Shaffer was recently claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds. At that time, Jesus Aguilar was designated for assignment. Now, Frias has replaced Shaffer on the 40-man roster.

Pitching depth is often a concern of many teams entering any season. The Indians, certainly, would like to protect themselves from another doomsday scenario, such as two key starters both hitting the disabled list in September. Frias has an option remaining, which gives the club some flexibility.

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Indians speak to dealing with Game 7 loss, look to turn page to 2017

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 28, 2017

Everywhere Francisco Lindor went, he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes open.

In early November, Lindor and the Indians were coming off their improbable ride to the World Series, which ended with an extra-innings loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 7. Physically, it pushed their offseason back a month compared to most expectations when the postseason began. Emotionally, it was a draining mix of celebrations in Boston and Toronto and heartbreak in Cleveland.

For a week after Game 7, the Indians’ 23-year-old, always-smiling shortstop took on more of a zombie form.

“I was falling asleep everywhere I went for the first week,” Lindor said on Friday. “For the first week, I was falling asleep everywhere I went. At the mall, I'd sit down and just be mentally exhausted. On the couch, there was no one keeping me up. I didn't watch TV for the first week. That probably helped me sleep a lot.”

When Lindor was asked if he’d been able to completely get over the loss, he said, “I’ll let you know.”

Lindor, as well as many other Indians players who attended TribeFest this weekend, said they have’t gone back to watch Game 7. That includes Cody Allen, who said in the clubhouse after Game 7 that he wanted to go right to Arizona for spring training and get started again.

He looked then like he’d run through a wall to start the 2017 season the next night. Though, after getting about as close to winning it all without actually doing so, the time away might have offered some positives.

“It was good to get home, flush everything, take some time, decompress and move past 2016,” Allen said. “I think that was probably key for a lot of guys, just move past 2016 and just focus on what’s ahead of us. I think some time at home to decompress, it was good to do that. But after a couple weeks at home, the holidays come around, the itch, regardless with how you finish up, it’s like, ‘All right, it’s time to get going.’ That clock inside you is saying it’s time to get back to Arizona.”

Indians manager Terry Francona hasn’t spent too much time dwelling on Game 7, either. And he didn’t see a need to go back and rewatch it.

“No, I never—I was there,” Francona said. “I enjoyed it. I like the journey. I think the journey is fun and then I’m ready to move on pretty quick. Win, lose or draw, I’m ready to do the next thing.”

That next thing will be pitchers and catchers reporting on Feb. 12. The full squad reports on Feb. 16. Like every spring, it’ll be begin with a larger team meeting, led by Francona, to lay out what the Indians want to be about and how they’d like to do things. Francona isn’t always a huge speak-in-front-of-the-team manager, but he sees value in this larger message at the beginning of a lengthy spring camp and season.

This year, the Indians enter as the clear favorites in the American League Central and, to a certain extent, to return to the World Series. Part of this spring is turning the page and finding the balance between learning from experiences and not dwelling on any one thing for too long.

“We try to draw from everything, good or bad,” Francona said. “But once you draw from that, it’s time to move on. Even though you have a lot of the same names back and faces, it’s a different team. It’ll be another personality, their own, the 2017 team. That’s something we’ll talk about in the first meeting. We don’t want to be that team that come July is still talking about last year, because this year’s not so good.”

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Indians OF Michael Brantley hitting off a tee; Club hopes to avoid ‘confounding’ season of setbacks

By Ryan Lewis Published: January 27, 2017

With Michael Brantley and the Indians, a wait-and-see approach will be the only real option as he progresses his way through spring training, regardless of how positive the reports are pertaining to his rehab.

Brantley’s 2016 season was more of a nightmare, laced with setbacks and near returns, only to have him on the bench for all but 11 regular season games. Now with a surgery to repair a torn labrum in November of 2015 and another to correct biceps tendinitis in August behind him, the latest attempt to build up enough strength in his surgically-repaired shoulder is on-going.

Brantley said on Friday that he’s currently hitting off a tee three times a day, about 40-50 swings in succession. So far, so good. Though he and the club have been in this spot before.

“I'm happy with where I'm at,” Brantley said. “I still understand that there's hurdles in the process to go and I look forward to tackling them. It's one step at a time. I'm not looking too far ahead. I want to make sure I stay on course and do everything I can the right way to get back as soon as possible.”

Like last year, a definite timetable hasn’t been put into place. The belief is that Brantley will be in line with other hitters at the beginning of camp, but nothing has been “set in stone.” Position players have to report to camp by Feb. 16.

“That all depends on where I'm at in the progression,” Brantley said. “Spring training is still a couple weeks away for us to even report, so I've got to make sure the next week goes well, the week after that, and then we'll make a decision from there. So, I can't say anything for another at least a couple weeks, so I know where I'm at hitting wise, progression wise, and in how I'm feeling.”

Brantley flew past his hitting progression milestones last spring. He, the club and the medical staff were positive about his eventual return to the lineup on multiple occasions. Despite the positivity, Brantley’s shoulder wouldn’t cooperate for long.

Indians manager Terry Francona said on Friday that it “confounded” the club.

“It’s been well documented that when he got into games, that’s when he ran into trouble, but I think he feels he’s making great progress,” Francona said. “You just gotta let it play itself out. There’s a program in place, he follows it to a T, and hopefully as he gets into games, we won’t run into that last hurdle. … I don’t know what else we could have done differently. Our medical people spent so much time trying to think, ‘What is the right thing with Michael?’”

Brantley’s return to the lineup would be a boon for the Indians, particularly compared with the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The Indians were second in the American League with 777 runs scored in 2016 and now have the potential to add Encarnacion, one of the top hitters in the game and Brantley, one of the better left fielders in baseball when healthy, to the middle of the lineup.

The Indians’ addition of Encarnacion was a costly, aggressive move to add some muscle to the middle of the lineup. That could only be half of the equation. The other half, though, is all up to Brantley’s health.

Despite last year’s frustrations, he wouldn’t change anything.

“Of course I've thought about it, but absolutely not,” Brantley said. “I did everything in my power to get back. Strengthening wise, medical wise, anything I could do. It just didn't work out. It's something that I learned from and I'll only get better for it, and it'll only make me hungrier to get back out there. I cant wait to do it.”

Brantley and his injured shoulder are on the offensive again.

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