Antonetti explains plan at Town Hall Meeting
Indians GM expects a competitive, young group this season
CLEVELAND -- A line of fans stretched along a wall and up some stairs inside an auditorium at the Idea Center at Playhouse Square on Thursday night. Each person headed to downtown Cleveland armed with questions, hoping for straight answers at the Indians' Town Hall Meeting.
One man stepped up to the microphone, looked down at Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and manager Manny Acta and said he always is optimistic this time of year, when Spring Training is just around the corner. Outside expectations for the Indians are low at the moment, though, so his question was simple.
"What would make me feel better going into this year?" he asked.
Antonetti understands that Cleveland's fans are longing to celebrate a championship-caliber ballclub and the rookie general manager wants to be the one to deliver precisely that. Despite what the prognosticators might say about the Tribe's chances this year, Antonetti believes the team has great potential for 2011.
"We expect to be a competitive and contending team," Antonetti said. "Now, we need some things to go right. We really need this group of young, talented players that we have to take that next step. ... I wouldn't suggest limiting your expectations."
Indians fans have every right to be frustrated. The team hasn't won a World Series since 1948 and is coming off a 93-loss, fourth-place finish in the American League Central. This winter, the club's biggest free-agent splash was signing outfielder Austin Kearns to a one-year, $1.3 million contract, and the payroll has been trimmed dramatically.
Cleveland ended the 2010 campaign with the youngest roster in the Major Leagues and the club will again field a youthful group this season. That is an aspect that Antonetti does not view as a negative, though. The group might be green, but the Tribe believes it is talented enough to form a future core.
In the midst of a rebuilding phase, the Indians believe now is the time to test its young group. That is the message Antonetti delivered when another fan asked for his blueprint for getting the Tribe back to the playoffs.
"It centers upon the young talented nucleus and developing that nucleus into a championship core," Antonetti explained. "From there, we need to then be able to strategically add to it to build a championship team.
"It's going to start with the guys that we have internally, both the young players at the Major League level as well as the guys that are coming through our farm system. That's one of the things we're most excited about, the level of talent we have in the organization.
The entire Town Hall Meeting -- emceed by SportsTime Ohio's Matt Underwood -- will be aired Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. ET on STO. During the question-and-answer portion with Antonetti and Acta, fans inquired about a variety of topics, expressing plenty of hope as well as concern.
Antonetti shot down recent reports indicating that he was considering trading center fielder Grady Sizemore or right-hander Fausto Carmona. Sizemore is progressing well in his rehab from left knee surgery and the Indians hope he will be ready for Opening Day. Carmona is expected to head a rotation that features Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot and Carlos Carrasco.
The fifth rotation spot remains up for grabs with a long list of candidates. The Indians also have holes at second and third base. With little time left before the start of Spring Training -- Indians pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 15 -- Antonetti is still actively exploring outside help to solve the team's needs.
Most of the holes, however, will be filled internally.
"In order to find out about some of the talent we have on the roster," Antonetti said, "we have to give them the opportunity to play. We were mindful of that going into the offseason. We did not want to just bring in a guy just to say we had another player.
"We'll continue to look at opportunities leading up to Spring Training. I would expect that we'll bring another guy or two into the fold."
Right now, Antonetti emphasized the hope that getting Sizemore back, as well as seeing healthy returns for catcher Carlos Santana and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, will act like major acquisitions. All three players missed significant time in 2010, taking a toll on the ballclub's performance.
One fan brought up the fact that Cleveland lost stars such as Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome in free agency. More recently, star pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee were dealt away in exchange for packages of prospects. Antonetti was asked how the Indians could work to keep those type of players.
"Different teams have different resources," Antonetti said. "The way we look at it, our job is that we have to continually have guys to replace Manny Ramirez or to replace Jim Thome when he leaves. That's the way we have to operate. It puts more pressure on our scouting and player development system, but it's a challenge that we embrace.
"What I'm actually most hopeful of is that we can develop players that are that elite caliber of player. If we do, then we're going to have a lot of great years."
After asking about the Sizemore trade rumors, one woman had a message for Acta.
"I just want to add one thing," she said. "I'm the only person in the city of Cleveland who showed up in '07 to greet the team at 4 a.m. after they blew their 3-1 lead [in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox].
"What I'd like to tell Mr. Acta is bring us back a competitor like that and you'll see me there again."
Acta smiled. Like Antonetti, the manager believes the current team has the potential to surpass outside expectations.
"I want to prove these guys wrong," Acta said. "You never know, and our attitude is convince those guys that we can do it every single day. If it happens before some people planned or expected, then why not?"