Tribe abuzz with optimism as pitchers, catchers report
After flurry of offseason moves, club ready to put pieces in place this spring
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians' player development complex has been a hive of activity in recent days, but it was quiet throughout the building on Sunday morning. While pitchers and catchers were required to report to Arizona, many use this day as the final respite before the real grind begins.
A handful of players trickled in and out of the complex during the day, heading to a practice field or to the weight room to get in a light workout. The first official workout will be held on Tuesday, when all of Cleveland's pitchers and catchers will be required to be in camp.
The anticipation is already beginning to build inside the Tribe's clubhouse.
"It's definitely exciting," Indians reliever Joe Smith said. "When we went into the offseason, it was a question of, 'OK, which way are we going from here?' We've got some guys in this clubhouse who are finally starting to make some money.
"You didn't know if they were going to be traded and dealt for prospects, or if we were going to try to build around them and try to make this team really good. It's definitely exciting when an organization feels like we're on the right path and they start bringing in guys."
The Indians brought in a new manager in Terry Francona and reeled in prized free agent Nick Swisher, as well as Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer, among others. Both Francona and Swisher will be prominently featured on Cleveland's 2013 media guide, which also includes images of second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher Carlos Santana.
The time has come to see exactly what the Indians have in the making for this season. A disappointing showing last year was followed by an aggressive winter, resulting in an overhauled roster that has that kind of optimism in the clubhouse. And this particular clubhouse is packed to the gills.
In all, Cleveland currently has 64 players -- including pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who agreed to a Minor League contract on Sunday -- scheduled to be on hand this spring. To help accommodate the long list of players, the team has set up four temporary, removable lockers in the middle of the clubhouse.
The position players are required to report on Wednesday, with the first full-squad workout scheduled for Friday morning. Cleveland's first Spring Training game is a matchup against the intrastate-rival Reds on Feb. 22 at Goodyear Ballpark, which is shared by the two clubs. The Indians will serve as the home team, and the first official pitch of the Tribe's preseason is slated for 3:05 p.m. ET.
The Indians' returning players were impressed with the team's approach over the winter.
"I was like, 'Wow. This team really wants to win,'" Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez said. "I think everybody is on the same page. All the people from the front office, they want to win. They were aggressive. They tried to get all the pieces together to try to make this a better team."
The Indians began their reshuffling at the top with the hiring of Francona. He brings with him a pair of World Series rings -- claimed in his days as Boston's skipper -- as well as an instant respect from Cleveland's players. Francona's arrival also helped in swaying a handful of free agents to sign with the Tribe.
The rival Tigers return as the reigning American League champions, and they remain the favorite to pace the AL Central this season. Behind Detroit, the rest of the division is difficult to predict. Cleveland, even coming off a 68-94 showing in 2012 that saw it finish in fourth place, might make a push for a higher standing.
"The last two years, we've been in the mix until June or July," Smith said. "I don't think it takes much to push us over that hump. In the AL Central, it's always up for grabs. You look at Detroit, you can compare payrolls or the names to our names, but we play with Detroit every time. It's a battle. We enjoy playing them. It's the AL Central -- it's crazy. Anything can happen."
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, whose prior working relationship with Francona played a role in convincing Francona to become the 42nd manager in club history, kept busy this winter, making more than 50 roster additions or subtractions.
Cleveland's biggest move on the free-agent front was signing Swisher to a four-year contract worth $56 million. Antonetti also used one-year pacts to reel in Reynolds, to take over as the Tribe's regular first baseman, and the right-handed Myers, to hopefully shore up the starting rotation. Bauer and Stubbs were acquired as part of a nine-player, three-team trade involving the Reds and D-backs.
Cleveland's main competitions this spring will include a battle for the final rotation and bullpen spots.
Justin Masterson, Jimenez and Myers will likely occupy the top three rotation slots, while Zach McAllister returns as a favorite for one of the two remaining jobs. Behind that quartet, Cleveland will take a look at Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and Matsuzaka.
The bullpen returns All-Star closer Chris Perez, along with steady setup men Vinnie Pestano and Smith. A few top relief candidates for the remaining four roles include right-handers Albers, Shaw, Cody Allen, Frank Herrmann and Matt Capps, as well as lefties Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, David Huff and Rich Hill.
Another aspect of this spring will be the return of the World Baseball Classic, which includes six participants from Cleveland's camp. Perez and Pestano will suit up for Team USA, while two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera joins Venezuela. Aviles and Minor League lefty Giovanni Soto plan on playing for Puerto Rico, and Santana will don the Dominican Republic's uniform.
The players are ready to get this spring started, especially after the kind of moves made by the team over the winter.
"The way we played last year," Jimenez said, "it was something where probably the team could've gone either way. They could've said, 'OK, we're just going to rebuild. We're just going to get young guys and wait a couple years.' But that didn't happen. I can't wait."