CLEVELAND: In an effort to get to know each other better before the season began back in April, Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti and first-year manager Terry Francona took their long-standing friendship to another level by sharing a house in Goodyear, Ariz., throughout spring training.
It was the beginning of melding their previous relationship into a solid work partnership, one that carried the club through the ups and down of a 162-game regular season and into a one-game playoff that landed the Tribe in the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Along the way, the Indians (92-70) enjoyed their biggest one-year turnaround in team history by winning 24 more games than they did in 2012. They won 21 games in September, including a 10-game winning streak to finish the season.
“That’s one thing I really think our guys will take from this season,” Antonetti said. “From experiencing the postseason, seeing what that atmosphere was and what it was like to earn that opportunity to get there, I think guys will be exceptionally motivated to get back.”
On Monday, Antonetti and Francona met with the media in the clubhouse to discuss a season that ended five days earlier with a 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in front of a sellout crowd at Progressive Field.
By the end of the hour-long question-and-answer period, it was clear that Antonetti and Francona are planning on spending many more springs rooming together in the Arizona desert as they look to build on the success of their first season together.
“I’d just like to go through next year with the same people, just play longer,” Francona said.
They declined to discuss the team’s current free agents, including starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, and refused to talk about potential offseason trades that would help fill some of the team’s holes heading into next season, including the pursuit of a middle-of-the-order hitter. But they talked passionately about a variety of the team’s returning players and other related topics:
• “Getting back to the postseason and re-establishing a winning culture was important for us,” Antonetti said. “It’s a long process, and ongoing. But getting back to the postseason was meaningful to us as an organization. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that was a good first step. The job Tito [Francona] and his staff did to create an unbelievable environment from day one in spring training set a tone.”
• The starting pitching staff, which picked up considerably during the season half of the season, helped carry the Indians down the stretch.
“If we had our preference — obviously that group preformed very well — we’d bring them back,” Antonetti said. “But the thing we’re encouraged about is the depth we have there. To be able to have Justin [Masterson] back and Corey [Kluber] and the progress he made this year and Danny [Salazar] for a full year, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin — that’s a good foundation for us to build and have seven or eight guys going into the offseason that we think can be effective major-league starters.”
• Antonetti said current indications point to slugger Nick Swisher’s troublesome shoulder not requiring surgery, which should keep him in line to start next season at first base or in right field without any delay.
“I think [Swisher] tried to do a little too much, whether it was being new or his contract,” Francona said. “When he tried to dig himself out of it, I don’t think his shoulder helped him. Toward the end of the year, he turned it up. [Next season], I think you’ll see more consistency out of him.”
• Regarding shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera’s up-and-down season, “Asdrubal persevered through the entire season,” Antonetti said. “The numbers may not have been up to what he expects of himself, but until the last day, he was a really good teammate and really cared about winning. He was probably as heartbroken with the season ending as any guy on our team.”
• Just a few years after moving from the outfield to become a second baseman, Jason Kipnis earned his first All-Star nod this season.
“Organizationally, it’s unbelievably fullfilling because he’s a guy who we drafted that made a transition to a difficult position,” Antonetti said. “Through a lot of hard work he put in and a lot of effort from our player development staff, he got an opportunity at the major-league level and has continued to improve.”
Added Francona: “Kip was fun to watch. After he started out slow the first few weeks everyone kept asking, ‘When are you going to drop him in the batting order?’ And I said, ‘Just leave him alone.’ And we watched him turn into one of the better players in the league … he took it about as hard any of the players when we lost that last game. He’ll be very hungry to want another shot at it.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.