Trades and deals have Tribe feeling positive
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cleveland Indians had a plan.
It wasn't working.
Over an 11-year period, they had advanced to the postseason once. The last five seasons, they hadn't even had a winning record.
Throughout that time they reworked the roster, but the focus was on adding young players they could develop around a home-grown core they thought could help them regain the American League Central dominance that saw them advance to the postseason six times between 1995 and 2001, and twice reach the World Series.
They changed managers, from Charlie Manuel to Eric Wedge to Manny Acta.
The results, however, remained the same.
"We realized at the end of last year we needed to make adjustments," said general manager Chris Antonetti. "We were not good enough. We needed to improve."
And so, while the flash-and-cash of the Dodgers, Angels and Blue Jays stole the offseason headlines, the Indians underwent a massive roster adjustment that has given them reason to feel they can be a factor, along with the Royals, in challenging the Tigers' bid to repeat as the best in the AL Central.
"Obviously, it started with Tito,'' Antonetti said of the hiring of Terry Francona as manager on Oct. 6.
And Francona does bring 12 years of big league managerial experience, four in Philadelphia and eight in Boston, where he led the Red Sox to two World Series championships -- the first, in 2004, snapping an 86-year title drought.
The remake, however, didn't stop with Francona, and it may not even be done yet. So far the Indians have pulled off a series of trades and signings that figure to bring at least nine veterans to the Opening Day roster, the most recent of which was the signing of center fielder Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal last week. That led to speculation that Antonetti and his staff may have yet another move in the works, one that would bring in an experienced starting pitcher.
"We already have [had inquiries]," admitted Antonetti, "but we are not inclined to move any of these players. We made the acquisitions based on how the players fit with us, not how they may fit somewhere else."
Antonetti likes the potential of the Indians' pitching staff, and he feels it will be improved simply because the defense is improved, particularly an outfield that was nightmarish at times a year ago but now features three players capable of being elite defensive center fielders.
Bourn is going to take over in center, which is where Drew Stubbs though he was going to be playing after his December acquisition from Cincinnati as part of a three-team deal that also brought in right-hander Trevor Bauer and led to last year's center fielder, Michael Brantley, being moved to left.
Now Stubbs is getting ready to work on playing right field, where his past exposure was a few games during the Arizona Fall League five years ago and a couple of games during his college days at Texas. And that means that Nick Swisher, a Jan. 3 free-agent signee to play right field, is now heading to first base, with Mark Reynolds, another offseason free-agent signee, moving from the first-base slot on the depth chart to designated hitter.
"Our intention was to build a roster with flexibility, and we feel we have been able to do that," said Antonetti. "With the exception of Drew, we are not asking people to do something they haven't done before at the big league level, and the athlete and outfielder Drew is, we don't see right field as being a major issue for him."
And none of the moves should be a major issue.
If anything, what the Bourn deal did was underscore the commitment of owner Larry Dolan, who has been the target of frustrated fans for not spending more money in the past decade.
Antonetti didn't have to initially stretch the budget to make additions. Roughly $36 million was taken off the payroll simply by offseason departures, including the trade of Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati, and the free-agent departures of DH Travis Hafner, outfielder Grady Sizemore and first baseman Casey Kotchman.
That covered the likes of Stubbs; infielder Mike Aviles; Reynolds; Swisher; right-handers Brett Myers, Bauer and Daisuke Matsuzaka; and DH Jason Giambi.
Bourn, however, will carry the Indians into a new payroll strata.
"Our ownership really stepped up," said Antonetti.
That created a positive feeling not only among fans but among the players, even the new guys.
Stubbs, who is being moved out of his natural position for Bourn, is among the strongest supporters.
Coming over from the Reds, who won two of the last three National League Central titles, Stubbs said it was initially difficult for him to be dealt from the organization that signed him as a No. 1 pick and go to a franchise that has struggled in recent times.
"One thing I thought right away was [that] I was leaving a division winner and that Cleveland had been having some tough times," said Stubbs. "Those thoughts were quieted quickly with the moves they made.
"I think [management] has turned some heads. It has shown everybody they are ready to win and are ready to do whatever has to be done."
And over the coming season, the Indians will find out if this time they have hit on a successful plan.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.