Santana starting at third far from set in stone
Francona, Tribe won't rush decision, will see how it plays out at camp
CLEVELAND -- The Indians might have a new third baseman on their hands in Carlos Santana. Then again, Cleveland might not. All that has been decided to date is that the catcher is working on potential transition to the hot corner.
During a sit-down with local media on Wednesday afternoon, Indians manager Terry Francona said that patience is the key to the Santana situation.
"I probably shouldn't read too much," Francona said, "because every time I read something I get confused. Carlos offered to go play third base in winter ball, which we all thought was terrific. And it sounds like he's improving. But we don't need to make any kind of decisions today, nor will we at the beginning of Spring Training.
"If he can handle playing third -- some, a lot, little -- we'll see. That's all part of Spring Training. If he can handle it, it gives us another option with our middle-of-the-order bat."
A recent report quoted Santana in Spanish, indicating that Cleveland's former starting catcher was concentrating on becoming the team's new third baseman. During winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Santana has worked exclusively at the position, which he previously played regularly eight seasons ago as a Minor Leaguer in the Dodgers' system.
With Yan Gomes now assuming the No. 1 catching duties for Cleveland, Santana expressed a willingness to give third base a try again. At the moment, Santana is in the plans as the Tribe's second catcher, but he could also see action at first and third base, as well as designated hitter.
Francona was not willing to estimate how much time Santana might see at third.
"I've never even seen the guy play third, so I would never make a comment on that," Francona said. "We've got a lot of time to let that play out. But, we will give him a chance to play some in Spring Training."
Francona did say that he is comfortable with the switch-hitting Santana as the team's cleanup hitter now that he is no longer the primary catcher. Last season, Santana hit .268 with 20 homers, 39 doubles, 74 RBIs, 93 walks and an .832 OPS overall, and he posted a .288 average with an .828 OPS in 264 combined at-bats as a first baseman and DH.
"Early on, because we had spoken so much about his catching being a priority," Francona said, "I thought it was a little unfair to hit him cleanup. So we hit him down in the order. But, when he wasn't catching, yeah, he looked pretty good in that spot. He hits from both sides of the plate, he takes a walk, he hits good pitching. There's not a lot not to like."
Francona eyeing in-house candidates to fill rotation
CLEVELAND -- There is uncertainty at the back end of the Indians' rotation and the free-agent market still includes some big-ticket arms. Cleveland could spend money to bring in an experienced veteran or give a few in-house options a chance at winning the job.
Indians manager Terry Francona sounds content with the latter scenario.
"I think we're pretty settled," Francona said on Wednesday. "I know [general manager Chris Antonetti] is always trying to make us better, but if we go to Spring Training tomorrow, I'm fine. ... When you start looking at the dollars you can allocate for pitching, I think we'd rather see [the internal] guys pitch."
The Tribe's rotation projects to include Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister, with Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Shaun Marcum entering the spring as the main candidates for the final job. Last season's No. 2 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, remains a free agent, and lefty Scott Kazmir left to sign a two-year, $22-million deal with the A's.
Francona feels the arms already in the fold can make up for the innings lost.
"We have guys in place that we want to see either pitch or play," Francona said. "We've got [Yan] Gomes behind the plate now. We want to see him. We want to see Carlos Carrasco pitch. We want to see Josh Tomlin pitch. So rather than go out and spend some money on guys, we want to see our guys.
"We have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar, hopefully, for a full year. So we have guys in place. We made some moves last year with [Nick Swisher] and [Michael Bourn] and we knew that those were probably our moves. Now, we just have to go see how well we can play."
Francona is especially excited about Salazar.
"Like you can't believe," said the manager. "The sky is kind of the ceiling for Danny, but you don't want to make too many proclamations on a guy that's only made eight or 10 starts. But I can't wait to see him log 34 or 35 starts."
Asked if the Indians might still be in the mix to re-sign Jimenez -- should the asking price drop closer to Cleveland's range -- Francona played it coy.
"That's probably better suited for Chris," Francona said. "I'm not comfortable talking about the free agents who are out there, because they're not technically our players right now. I agree that Ubaldo was fantastic in the second half of the year."
Quote to note
"Usually after Christmas and the beginning of the year, everything kind of winds down. You do all your stuff for the holidays and then you get to the start of January and you start getting that itch back, that internal clock. It starts kicking in. You're thinking about talking to coaches, and what drills you're going to run in Spring Training. You start to get that itch."
• Francona sounded satisfied with the idea of opening the 2014 season with Santana as the team's cleanup hitter, but the manager was not willing to discuss the rest of his lineup. Francona said too much can happen between now and Opening Day, and throughout the season, to start making out a batting order.
"Things happen," Francona said. "Whether it's injuries or somebody's struggling, those types of things have a way of working themselves out. I literally don't ever make up batting orders in the winter. I think everyone thinks we're all like mad scientists, writing them on the bathroom wall and stuff. I never think of batting orders. It'll kind of write itself out."
• On Wednesday, the Indians extended Spring Training invites to six non-roster prospects: shortstop Francisco Lindor, second baseman Joe Wendle, outfielder Tyler Naquin, and catchers Tony Wolters, Jake Lowery and Roberto Perez. Francona said the experience can only benefit the Minor Leaguers.
"We'd much rather bring in our young kids," Francona said, "than bring in veteran guys that really didn't have a chance to make the team. I think it sends a couple messages. One is, if you bring in too many guys competing that really aren't competing, I don't think that's fair. So you bring in the younger kids to give them a little taste."
• Francona emphasized that there is no favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation. Carrasco, Tomlin, Bauer and Marcum will each be in the mix this spring. It was noted earlier this winter that Carrasco (out of Minor League options) will be on the 25-man roster as a starter or reliever, barring injury.
"We certainly want to see Carrasco pitch," Francona said. "I think that's a given with his stuff and things like that. He made some alterations in his delivery. He's got his arm up a little higher to create some deception. I think we'd like to kind of see him take off with that, but I don't know that we need to anoint our rotation today."