The unpredictable nature of a new baseball season can be intriguing for a franchise starving for their first World Series title since 1948.
For the Cleveland Indians and their manager Terry Francona, the 2017 campaign yields a championship caliber roster and an opportunity to transform a dream into a reality.
The second half of Francona’s interview with the media covered the momentous 2016 postseason, Francisco Lindor, Ryan Merritt, a second lefty in the bullpen and more.
Q (media): You’ve watched Francisco Lindor since he got here in June 2015. What do you expect from him this year?
A (Francona): Same as everybody, you show up – I mean it’s obvious he had a great winter, just keep trying to get better by natural progression. You know he’s a smart kid, the thing I love is he’s starting to understand the league, what they’re (opposing pitchers) trying to do to him, pays attention, so that bodes well for us. By the course of showing up every year, you’re not going to just go .300, .310, .320, it just doesn’t work like that. But there’s other ways for guys that are smart to help win and I think it bodes really well for us. We got a really talented player that’s smart and loves to get better.
Q: Along those lines, you made it to Game 7 of the World Series, but what areas do you need to improve this year?
A: You know what, you don’t know. I mean it’s such a long year. There are times in May, June, July, you may not look like the team that ultimately is in the World Series, you go through so much. When we played that game in Toronto (19 innings) that wiped us out for a couple weeks, it messed up our roster and we didn’t play very well for a couple weeks, that’s part of the game. We also never lost three in a row so it didn’t get in the way of us winning. There’s so much you go through during the year, sometimes you just have to keep your head above water for a while, you may not want to admit it, that’s kind of the way the game is. Hopefully you put yourself in a position where, okay, now let’s see how good we can be. I think there’s a fine line between winning and losing. You think back to the first (ALDS) game against Boston, I bring (Andrew) Miller in and 48 pitches later I was like, ‘Oh my God what am I doing?’ If we lose that game, things don’t look real well. So there’s not a lot of difference between being smart and being dumb and I know that. You could do the same thing again and it might not work, you do the best you can and answer the questions and move on.
Q: In the big picture, does Ryan Merritt fit in somewhere on this team?
A: Well, he’s on our 40-man roster and he already has shown us he has the ability to certainly throw the ball over the plate and effectively get major league hitters out. I think barring an injury, there’s guys ahead of him that have won a lot of games in the major leagues. It will be interesting to see where Ryan’s – not only his season, but where his career goes. We’re excited about his maturity and his strike-throwing ability is fun to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up in spring (training) and will look more mature, stronger, because he’s got a little bit of success under his belt. Knowing he’s not going to be arrogant, but I mean he’s preparing himself more confidently and it will be fun to see where that takes him.
Q: Having a second lefty (in the bullpen), what could that do for you?
A: It’s not just having a second lefty, it’s having one you can depend on. There’s a little bit of a difference and I’ve been through it both ways and you can get in trouble. One is, you’re not willing to use guys in a situation that’s hard. You get that lefty going in to face the other team’s best lefty, they can’t respond. Having a second lefty is good, but it’s also about doing what’s asked, when asked. In a perfect world, you have Andrew (Miller) not give up as much, the only thing I’d say to that is we don’t care if it’s left or right, he’s coming in to pitch.
Q: Chris (Antonetti) and Mike (Chernoff) both said that when the off-season began, they didn’t expect to be able to get Encarnacion. What was your expectation?
A: I give Chris and Mike a lot of credit, they do a really good job of being realistic about where we’re doing our shopping. The year before it was Napoli and Raj (Rajai Davis), they stayed after it, got it done. This year, Encarnacion was not on our radar, but they did enough of their homework and their due diligence, things started slipping back towards us. They were in a position to get it done. It could have been a number of teams, he could’ve gone anywhere. We got it done. I thought that was outstanding. On another note, my first text was to Nap (Napoli), it was kind of bittersweet. You’re talking about this guy we’re excited (about), but it also meant Nap wasn’t coming back and that was meaningful to a lot of people. I know it’s hard, I get it. We always say the same thing every year, we care but we always have to do what’s best for our team. We can’t ever not do that.
Look for additional Tribe Fest coverage posted throughout the weekend.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.