Results tagged ‘ Chris Antonetti ’
ICYMI: Terry Francona signed a contract extension through 2018 this morning, and Tribe GM Chris Antonetti joined Bill Wills on WTAM this morning to discuss the news.
Click the play button above to listen to Antonetti discuss why the man they call “Tito” is so valuable to the Tribe.
Indians Manager Terry Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti chatted with media on Monday, a day after the club’s season finale against Tampa Bay on Sunday. They addressed a number of topics, including offseason goals, positives from 2014 and more.
Skipper first …
MANAGER TERRY FRANCONA
It’s still hard today … We don’t have all the answers.
Couple things I do know: We were faced with w lot of challenges: Some health, some guys not quite doing what we thought they’d do. Through it all, we managed to compete all the way to the end. That wasn’t our goal; our goal was to win. … I was really proud of the effort, of the players, of the front office guys. We always seem to do it together.
This year, it wasn’t enough to get us over the hump and into the playoffs, but it helped give us our best chance.
When it’s all said and done, you never want to leave it on the field, to have regrets. If you do, you’re kicking yourself if you end up a game or two short. That’s opposed to leaving it all out there, and not really having any regrets. It wasn’t good enough for us but we have no regrets.
We’re happy with how some of the young guys did, but we still need to get better. I’m not just talking about going out and getting players … I’m talking about everything, putting players in the best position to win.
On the team’s defense
There were a number of reasons where we weren’t really clean. It was flat out making errors, to maybe not getting to some balls earlier in the season. We spent a majority of the season trying to unshoot our foot. That’s a hard way to play. What we talk about is the more work we can get done at high intensity, the better.
Re: positives of 2014
We are disappointed. The goal is to get to the Postseason and keep playing. But part of what excites me so much fi the effort our guys gave to get us to where we got.
Look at some of the core group we have in place:
- Yan Gomes is a bona fide All-Star. There’s a lot to like there : his energy, his game-calling ability.
- Brantley turned into one of the top position players in the league. And his impact goes far beyond the numbers.
On Corey Kluber
I don’t know if he’s going to win the Cy Young or not, but he should. Look at (Seattle’s) Felix (Hernandez) and you look at Kluber — If you took their names off of it and put their resumes side by side, Kluber would win the Cy Young. That’s the best endorsement I can give Klubes. The reason I say that is that I went and did it – didn’t want to be a homer. I actually felt like Kluber deserved it, and I didn’t know whose numbers was who.
There are three reasons why I’m so happy here: One is our players, I love the players. Another is the atmosphere Chris and his guys have fostered here, which I think is remarkable. The third one is, I just like the city.
I grew up around here, spent first six years of my life here. There are challenges ahead of us, but it’ll be more special when we figure it out and put it all together.
GENERAL MANAGER CHRIS ANTONETTI
It’s disappointing to not still be playing. Our goal is to win the World Series and to do that you have to be in the Postseason.
But stepping back from that, I couldn’t be more proud of our players and coaching staff and how they persevered. No matter how difficult the loss the night before, they showed up ready the next day. Tito, our coaches and players deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled things.
After you get past the disappointment of not making it and reflect back, there were a lot of positives this year – especially when you look at the development and progress for a lot of our younger players. We were alive on a really young roster to make a postseason push.
We had developments from Michael Brantley’s emergence as star, to Yan (Gomes), to Lonnie (Chisenhall)… Up and down, see progress they made. You see that and look forward and that’s incredibly exciting to us. We’ve never gone into an offseason in a better position of strength.
Our younger guys gained incredible experience. We asked a lot of them – to make the transition to the big leagues and the environment, and then make a postseason push. In exit meetings, a lot of guys referenced that experience. We’ll benefit from that.
This year obviously was not the script we drew up. We had some injuries, some inconsistencies from our veterans, and we placed a big burden on some of our younger guys.
There are a number of ways we improve this offseason:
- The young guys who contributed this year can continue to progress
- Our veteran guys return to health and perform the way they’re capable
- And we’ll look externally and find ways we can improve
Re: Swisher’s surgeries
It’s important to get the surgeries out of the way, especially as we look to next year. Retrospectively, I don’t think we knew what he was trying to battle through and perform through. It’s easy to look back now and wonder if we could have done it differently, done the surgeries sooner. To his credit, he worked hard and tried to play through it for the team. Encouraging: He should come in to Spring Training ready to go and contribute the way we all know he’s capable of contributing.
On the positives from 2014:
In the rotation, look at the emergence of young, extraordinary pitching staff. We set the MLB record for strikeouts, which is an incredible accomplishment given youth. They’ll all be here for the foreseeable future. Look at the progress they made and where they go forward, it’s exciting.
Michael Brantley has emerged into what we believe is a star player in the league. Yan Gomes established himself as one of the best catchers in the AL if not baseball. Lonnie (Chisenhall put together a very good season especially for a young player. There were a lot of individual performances in all aspects of the club that are promising.
Our defense is an area we need to better in. It was better in the second half than the first half, but we have to be better there.
(Editor’s note: This story reprinted with permission from the Akron Beacon Journal.)
BY MARLA RIDENOUR
Akron Beacon Journal
BOSTON: Bryson Bourn and Giovanni Brantley chased each other around a table in the Indians’ clubhouse after a recent Sunday home game. It was not an unusual sight; baseball players’ sons have been coming to the park with their fathers for decades.
But what was going on nearby was not the norm. At another table sat three little girls who looked to be ages 4 to 6, who were eating, chatting and ignoring the raucous boys.
All season, Indians’ fathers have been bringing their daughters into the postgame clubhouse on Sundays at Progressive Field. The idea came from designated hitter Jason Giambi, who said he was thinking outside the box as he prepared to interview for the Colorado Rockies’ managerial vacancy before the 2013 season. Giambi has a 2½-year-old daughter, London.
“I had to take a step back. ‘If I’m managing, how would the team represent me?’ ” Giambi said Saturday before the Indians faced the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. “That’s what you have to do, you have to have that connection with your players. There’s so many little girls, and daddies always have their little girls. It would be something cool they could share.”
Manager Terry Francona, who grew up going to major league games with his father, Tito, and General Manager Chris Antonetti signed off on the plan. The Indians were overwhelmingly in favor.
“We’ve got like 35 to 40 kids on this team. This is by far the most I’ve ever been a part of,” nine-year veteran Nick Swisher said.
“Obviously everybody was OK with it because there’s 900 daughters on this team,” said Mike Aviles. He has three — Kyla, 9, and twins Adriana and Maiya, 3.
Home clubhouse and equipment manager Tony Amato loved the idea and found garment racks that the Indians hang their street clothes on when they dress before the game. The racks are rolled into the shower area near the trainers’ room for later, when the doors open for the kids.
Right fielder David Murphy, with daughters Madison, 6, and Faith, 5, and son Cole, 3, likes that the Indians are teaching their children equality, even if they don’t know it yet.
“Ever since they’ve been old enough to realize my son can come in the clubhouse any time, they get a little jealous,” Murphy said of his girls. “We try to make this game and the organization as family-friendly as possible, but in a lot of situations it has to exclude females. I think it’s awesome the way the girls have gotten to come in the clubhouse because they want to see what daddy does as much as our little boys do. It makes them feel special and I guess it makes them feel on the inside of things as opposed to the outside.”
Nick Swisher said his 1-year-old daughter, Emerson, grabs the bag in his locker and plays with the baseballs. She’s enjoying a little of what Nick saw as a kid when his father, Steve, played for the Cubs, Cardinals and Padres.
“She’s having a blast,” Swisher said. “I grew up in the locker room; it’s the only thing I’ve ever known in my life. Now to be able to give that gift — I guess you could call it a gift — to my daughter. There’s so many guys who have daughters. We said, ‘We can’t be pushing them out and just letting the boys come in.’ ”
Aviles said Swisher once taped his twins’ wrists, so they go straight for the tape.
“They pull it out and think it’s a lasso,” Aviles said.
Aviles said Ryan Raburn’s daughter Taytum, 3, wants to go to the batting cage. Murphy’s daughters love the candy. On the recent Sunday, Corey Kluber cracked a rare smile as his daughters Kendall and Kennedy spun around in the black leather chairs in front of his locker.
“That’s a big day,” Giambi said, acknowledging Kluber’s stoicism.
The first time London Giambi visited, the Indians had just returned from spring training, and the families’ personal items and kids’ toys lined the hallway to the dugout.
“She was like, ‘I want that bike and that bike.’ She thought it was Christmas,” said Giambi, 43. “I’ve been a lot of years in this game and I never had that. When they’re old enough, girls will take those memories with them.”
Ever wonder what the inside of a MLB team’s draft room looks like? Here’s a sneak peek into ours.
–Photos by David Cleveland
You probably saw this photo on Friday, in our Photo Gallery from the Home Opener against Minnesota, and wondered, just what the heck is Jason Kipnis doing ?
Here’s a little back story: In the news conference Friday morning to announce Kipnis’ new six-year deal – he remains one of 16 current Tribe players under team control through 2016! – General Manager Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona joined Kipnis on the dais.
After Antonetti and Kipnis shared their thoughts on the deal and how it got done, Tito was asked by MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, “You heard about Kipnis before you got (to Cleveland), you’d seen him before. What have you felt about his growth as a player?”
With his young second baseman sitting right next to him, it was slightly awkward, thus Kipnis’ faux-adoring, “How am I doing, dad?” pose for the cameras during the question.
Tito’s response: “He’s sitting right here, man, this is hard! Last year, everybody kept asking (during Kipnis’ early season struggles), ‘When are you going to hit him eighth?’ I said, ‘He’s a good player, he’s going to be fine.’ And then last June he literally played himself onto the All-Star team.
“The part about Kip that sums it up in a nutshell was the other night in Oakland, when he didn’t get a bunt down. He found a way to extend the at-bat, put the ball in play and then ran to first like his pants were on fire (to eliminate a double play). That swayed the game in our favor. We all see what he can do, banging the ball off the wall, stealing bases, hitting home runs. All the contract is going to do is to allow him to enjoy the game. He’s never going to back off the gas pedal, but this will allow him to enjoy the game a lot more, with some security.”
And that’s how a funny photo happens.
–TribeVibe contributor Joel Hammond/Photo by David Cleveland
Chris Antonetti and Jason Kipnis discussed the second baseman’s contract extension with members of the media on Friday morning, an extra bonus for the Opening Day festivities at Progressive Field.
Check out each’s comments:
We’re thrilled we were able to get (this contract done). Talking to Kip, it’s a long story: Since he arrived in the majors in 2011, he’s emerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball. He has a unique combination of power and speed, which has made him one of the best players at his position and in the American League.
Even more remarkable, when you look back and realize he was drafted as an outfielder and was converted to a second baseman, that speaks to Kip and his work ethic and his determination to become an All-Star and an MVP-caliber player.
That work didn’t happen alone, so I wanted to recognize our scouting and player development staffs. Our amateur scouting group got to know Kip better than any other organization. Our player development staff then spent a lot of time with him, and through a lot of hard work, he established himself as a great player.
As we sit here today, I wanted to reflect back on where we are as organization. We have 16 players under club control through the 2016 season. That would not have happened without the incredible support of the Dolan family and our ownership, who have made a significant financial impact to make this happen.
Today’s very special. It’s an amazing feeling to get something done. I’ve wanted to stay here, I’m excited about being here. When you sign guys like Brantley and Gomes, you have core guys coming back, guys you’re going to be with for a long time. It’s the ownership showing us that they believe in us, that we have the guys who can win games now. I’m excited to be a part of the core that’s coming back.
It was a long day on Thursday – we got in about 8AM (from Oakland) and I had to (undergo a physical) – the last two days, the ball was rolling and we were getting things done for it were exciting.
My phone’s been going off since the Indians announced it. It’ll be nice to get back to baseball today. I’m just happy we were able to get it done.
Then to now
When I got drafted here, the organization was in a rut. I wanted to be a part of the transformation of the organization, be a part of a group of players that could get this going in the right direction. Signing back here, I wanted to see us and Brantley and Gomes turn Cleveland around. We want to finish the job.
How important was last year
It made it easier for me, proving that we had the guys in the locker room, having Tito here. We knew we were going in the right direction. The management is backing it up, by signing guys and keeping guys here. That made it a lot easier for me to sign up for the long-term. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?
–TribeVibe contributor Joel Hammond
Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti and outfielder Michael Brantley met with media in Goodyear on Thursday afternoon, shortly after the Indians made Brantley’s four-year contract extension official.
Here’s a look at what the duo had to say:
Opening Statement from Chris Antonetti:
On the field, Michael is a complete player. He impacts the game offensively and defensively and he plays the game the right way. Beyond what he does on the field, Michael earned this extension for the way he approaches the game. He is a tireless worker, a great teammate and a complete professional in every sense of the word. When you are making an investment of this magnitude, those are the things you look for. He really embodies everything we look for in our players. There is no one more deserving of this than Michael.
Opening Statement from Michael Brantley:
First off, I want to thank the Cleveland organization for giving me this opportunity; I very much appreciate it. I want to thank the Dolan family as well, and everyone who helped me get to this point: the front office, my teammates, the clubbies, and the coaching staff; they are all a big part of this. I have to thank my family, my mother and father for raising me the right way and getting me to the field. I want to thank my wife for being such a good supporter and my children. This is a great day, it’s a blessing and I’m very happy to be part of the Cleveland organization.
On the motivation behind wanting to sign a long-term deal:
MB: First of all, Cleveland gave me the first opportunity to play at the Major League level. That does not go unnoticed, and I really appreciate that. We made some great strides last year and I feel like we can player even better as a group. We have such a great group of guys in the locker room and I’m excited to be part of it for years to come.
We have a great group of core guys – we are young and coming up. We feed off each other, we have great energy, great team chemistry; when you have that, it’s fun and exciting to come to work every day. I think we did great last year, but we can do even better this year. Everybody in that right room right now is all smiles; it’s just really part to be a part of (this team).
How tough was it to give up three arbitration years and one year of free agency?
MB: It’s not tough at all. The front office takes good care of you and that’s where you want to be. My family is comfortable here, I’m happy here and to put on Cleveland Indians uniform each and every day is a blessing. I’m excited to do that for years to come.
On his versatility:
MB: I always believe team comes first. I am a team player first and foremost. I want to pick up my teammates as much as they pick me up. We have a great group of guys in that locker room that makes sure we stay positive each and every day. When you go through rough patches, your teammates are there. When you have that great group of guys with you every day, it’s easy to play baseball here.
I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I want to win baseball games. I don’t care what it takes — I want to win. The strides we took last year, we are moving forward in a fast direction – it’s fun and exciting and a really great time to be a Cleveland Indians fan.
On how he approaches each at-bat:
MB: I am a firm believer in the game dictates what is going to happen (in each at-bat). If you are a leadoff hitter, you only lead off once a game – you just start the game off. I feel like the game dictates what you have to do in each situation. If nobody is on, you have to get on base for the guy behind you. If a guy is on third with fewer than two outs, you have to get him in. Little things like that will dictate the approach that I’ll have at the plate during that time. Moving up and down in the lineup, if it helps the team, I’m willing to do it.
How much does Michael’s versatility help the team?
CA: Michael’s contributions had a huge impact. Not only did he provide versatility in the outfield, but versatility in the lineup and how Tito constructed the lineup. It’s not easy to do what he did – to bounce selflessly between any spot in the lineup. He was willing to do whatever he could to help the team. That’s a huge advantage for us as an organization and Tito as a manager in putting the best team forward every night.
As I said earlier, it’s a competitive advantage. As Michael said, what enables him to do that is his entire focus is on the team and how we can win games. A lot of guys talk about that, but Michael lives that every day. He does it with how he approaches the game, his work ethic, the teammate he is in the locker room and with how he supports other players. He lives that. I think that approach allows him to view it that way.
On his father’s impact on his career:
MB: We always talked about going to the plate each time with an approach. That started when I was really young. I just made sure that I kept that same mindset and focus each and every at-bat. I try to never give an at-bat away and just making sure that I can do the best for my team. I feel like if you have an approach and a plan at the plate it is easier to execute each and every time.
On the core of the team:
MB: That’s what made us thrive so much last year – we had great leadership. The guys that we brought in plus the young core that we had all came together as one. When you all play as one team, and are all pulling on the same rope as they say, good things are going to happen. I look at it as each and every day we come to work, we have fun doing it, and with the strides that we made last year we are going to continue to get better. I am here, I am a part of it and it’s going to be fun.
CA: The continuity is important. Like Michael said, we feel really good about the core group of guys that we have and we want to try to keep them together for as long as we can. To do that it takes not only an extraordinary commitment from ownership, but also willingness from the players to want to be here. We are lucky that guys like Michael have placed an importance on wanting to be here and staying a Cleveland Indian.
On being traded to Cleveland:
CA: When you make a trade you have some sense from your scouting reports on what a player’s on-field abilities might be and you try to get the best you can to understand of their makeup and what makes them tick. With Michael, we had some sense of those things, but I don’t think we could fully appreciate how great of a worker and teammate he really is. It’s difficult to access those things, but I think having the chance to be with Michael for a couple of years it’s fun to be able to reflect back on bringing him over and he’s been able to excel in the way that he has.
MB: It was a tough transition. I was the player to be named later so I didn’t come over until after the season was over. There were a lot of rumors and speculation that I was going to be a Cleveland Indian. Once I got over here the front office and coaching staff really welcomed me with open arms and made it an easy transition. When I came over here I only knew the guys that I got traded with. The teammates and the good guys that we have all took care of me. It wasn’t a situation where it was tough to gel or make friends. It was an easy transition and that has a lot to do with the front office and who they had in here before me. They made it comfortable for me to be here at that time.
On Dr. Smooth:
MB: I embraced it! The fans embrace it, I embrace it – it’s fun. It’s a cool nickname.
On potentially winning a Gold Glove in the future:
My job is to do the best I can for my teammates. There is no other way around that. If I play well in the field then I am happy. The gold glove, all the extra stuff is just bonus. It’s about winning baseball games.
–Michael Stimpert, Indians Communications/Photo by Dan Mendlik
Tribe manager Terry Francona is in Cleveland this week for pre-Spring Training meetings, Tribe Fest and various other activities in the community.
He met with local reporters on Wednesday to discuss some Tribe-related topics. Here’s a sample of that chat:
Question: Did you ride the scooter today?
Terry Francona: Yesterday. (GM) Chris (Antonetti) picked me up today. I almost froze my (butt) off yesterday. My eyes almost froze shut.
Question: When do you get that itch to get back?
TF: Usually after Christmas. Things wind down for the holidays and at the start of January, you get that internal clock, it starts kicking in. You start talking to coaches, what drills you’ll run in Spring Training, etc.
Question: How do you organize players in Spring Training?
TF: I didn’t know what to expect last year, I don’t think anyone did. My expectations were never going to change, regardless of who was playing what position. We were just trying to win that day. There’s a process that goes into that; it starts in Spring Training. We’re pretty open and honest in Spring Training, and guys usually fall into three groups:
- Guys who know they’re going to play and are preparing for a lot of time
- A group of young kids that is trying to make a good first impression
- A group trying to make the team.
You try to be respectful of all groups. You form relationships with players, form an identity of the team.
Question: What do you think of the offseason so far?
TF: Getting David Murphy was a really good addition for us. We’re in a unique spot. No one’s sitting here saying we’re the 1927 Yankees, but we have guys in place that we want to pitch and play. We have Yan Gomes in place, we have Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin who we want to see pitch.
So rather than going out and spending money on guys, we want to see our guys. We have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar all for hopefully a full year. Again, we have guys in place. … Now we just have to figure out how well we can play.
Question: How’s Carlos Santana doing at third base?
TF: Carlos offered to go play third base in winter ball, and it sounds like he’s improving. Now, we aren’t going to make any decision today or at the start of Spring Training. If he can handle third, he gives us another option with our middle-of-the-order bats. We will give him a chance to play there in Spring Training.
Question: What’s the state of the roster?
TF: I think we’re pretty settled. Chris is always going to try to make us better, but if we go to Spring training tomorrow, I’m pumped. We’re not the type of team that can just throw the bats and balls out and someone is going to hit a three-run homer. It can happen. But we have to play good baseball to win, and that’s fun. We’ve proven that when we play that way, we can win.
Question: Do you like Santana in the cleanup spot?
TF: I did last year. Early on, we talked so much about his catching duties, I thought it was unfair to hit him cleanup. When he wasn’t catching, he was pretty good in that spot. He hits from both sides, he takes a walk. There’s not a lot not to like.
Question: You had success with Swisher in the No. 2 spot. Do you like that again for 2014?
TF: We wouldn’t make the lineup out yet. The season is so long; those things happen, whether it’s injures or someone is struggling. We’ll see. They have a way of working themselves out. I never make up batting orders in the winter. It’ll write itself out.
Question: Last year you took a chance on Scott Kazmir; this year you’re taking a chance on Shaun Marcum. Are you looking forward to seeing him?
TF: I think he’s a little bit behind where Kaz was last year. But I think it’s a good sign because when he’s healthy he competes his rear end off. He’s done it in the AL east.
Question: Re: the team’s versatility
TF: We want Jason Giambi on our team. We’ve said that until we’re blue in the face. To do that, you have to have the right guys on your team so it works. Having guys that are versatile really helped us last year.
Question: Re: Danny Salazar
TF: The sky is the ceiling for Danny. You don’t want to make too many proclamations on a guy who has had 8 to 10 starts. I can’t wait to see him after 35 starts.
Q: Re: Josh Tomlin
TF: He’s a strike-throwing machine. He’s going to give up the occasional homer because he’s around the plate. We really want to see him pitch. We think he can help us win. When you start thinking about the dollars you can allocate for pitching, I think we’d rather see these guys pitch.
Q: Re: the bullpen
TF: Always the big question: Whether the names are the same or not, you never know. Vinnie (Pestano) struggled last year, and Chris (Perez) had his struggles. Sometimes the names change, sometimes they don’t. Bullpens always make themselves over. You want to have guys in Triple-A because you know you’re going to have to make changes due to struggles or injuries. You have to know you have options.
Q: Re: Trevor Bauer
TF: He’s been very good, and it’s been very encouraging. He’s coming into camp this year closer to the pitcher he wants to be. Last year, it was a lot of experimenting and trying to get comfortable in his delivery. It was tough for him at times. He was very open with us on everything. He’s tried very hard this winter in trying to get comfortable. He’s sent video into (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) and the guys in Baseball Ops. Whether he makes the team out of Spring Training or not, we’re really excited about watching him pitch.
Q: Re: bringing Indians prospects to Spring Training (Six non-roster invitations to Spring Training were announced on Wednesday, including Francisco Lindor)
TF: With Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin, we’d rather bring those guys to Spring Training rather than older free agents that don’t really have a chance to make the team. It helps us as a staff to get to know these guys and see how we do things.
Q: Re: the starting rotation
TF: We want to see Carrasco pitch, he’s created a little deception with his delivery. But I don’t think we need to anoint our rotation. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Normally, in Spring Training, someone will get beat up. It happens. Go in prepared and get everyone ready to play.
I’ll take my chances with Danny Salazar, with Corey Kluber for the full year.
Q: Re: instant replay
TF: I’m still learning as we go. It’s going to be new for everyone. You can bet that the day it was announced that the day it was announced that 30 managers were scheming and using it to their advantage. With technology being what it is, I think we’re going in the right direction. Does it go flawless? Probably not. But we’re going in the right direction.
Q: Re: what’s next?
TF: I hope that was the beginning. We need to go get busy, and we have to do it the right way. It’s fun. Our guys go into doing it the right way.
Q: Re: September
TF: I wanted us to get there with a chance. If we could survive some of those road trips, and keep our heads above water, I thought if we had a chance, we could make a run at it. And we did. I didn’t know we’d have to win 10 in a row, but nobody lost. It was fun because we were doing with some guys who hadn’t done it before, some had. That’s what you’re dying for as a manager. You can’t wait to get to the ballpark. You’re tired, and you’re nervous, but it’s a great feeling.
Q: Re: the end of the season
TF: The playoff game stung. I had to talk to the team after the game and it was hard for me to do that. You have to do it so quick. It hurt. Season don’t wind down, they crash to a halt. There’s no better example of that than last year.
The Cleveland Indians on Thursday signed free agent RHP JOHN AXFORD to a Major League contract.
Axford, 30, owns a career Major League record of 22-19 with a 3.29ERA and 106 saves in 281 relief appearances (273.2IP, 240H, 100ER, 329K) with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals since debuting in 2009. He tied for the National League lead (Craig Kimbrel/ATL) with 46 saves in 48 opportunities in 2011 and finished 6th in the NL in saves (35) the following season. His 49 straight save conversions stretching over 2011-2012 represent the fourth longest streak in MLB history. The Simcoe, Ontario native, who played collegiately at Notre Dame and Canisius (NY), began his professional career in 2007 in the Yankees system before latching on with the Brewers organization prior to the 2008 season.
The hard-throwing right-hander split the 2013 season between Milwaukee and St. Louis, going a combined 7-7 with a 4.02 ERA in 75 relief appearances (65.0IP, 73H, 29ER, 26BB, 65K). He finished tied for 4th in the NL in games pitched and recorded a Postseason ERA of 1.59 in 6 games for the National League Champion Cardinals (5.2IP, 2H, 1ER, 9K, .105AVG) after posting scoreless outings over his final nine regular season appearances (7.2IP, 11K) for St. Louis. After recording an April ERA of 8.44, Axford enjoyed a stretch from May 15-July 24 where he allowed just 1 run (1ER/28.0IP) over 32 outings. He has never been on the Disabled List over his five-year big league career.
In order to clear a 40-man roster spot for Axford, the Indians designated RHP Trey Haley for assignment.
Both Axford and Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti chatted with reporters via conference call on Thursday to discuss the deal. Below are their comments:
Signs of a bounce-back season
Chris Antonetti: He has maintained all of his stuff. He still has an elite fastball and a very good secondary pitch. He made some adjustments towards the end of his year when he got to St. Louis that got him back to the pitcher he was when he had all of the success in Milwaukee. As we look at a lot of information from our scouts, video analysis and analytics they all pointed to a bounce back year after looking at the way he pitched in September. We thought it was the right guy to take a chance on, and we are confident that he will help stabilize the back end of our bullpen. As we have seen, roles in the bullpen can evolve over the course of a season, but our expectation is that John will be our closer.
On Axford’s challenging 2013 season
Antonetti: I think he got ramped up early for the WBC [World Baseball Classic] and then he fell into some challenging habits early at the start of the season. If you look at him after his first four outings, his results were actually pretty good. I think he threw 60+ innings, and his ERA was under 3.00 with good strikeout and reasonable walk totals. His first four outings of the season were challenging. I think he gave up runs in each of those outings. Whether or not that was attributed to the WBC directly or not is hard to say, but I think once he stabilized after the first 10 days or so he pitched pretty well for the balance of the year. He threw especially well at the end of the season and into the postseason.
Confidence in Axford and current bullpen alternatives
Antonetti: We feel that we have a number of quality options for the back end of our bullpen. We feel that John will fit in seamlessly out there. He has experience pitching in high-leverage situations and pitching on competitive teams. We think he will have a tremendous amount of success in that role but we also, as is important for us to do, have alternatives and options. Our job is to build the best bullpen we can, and build in as many quality, late-inning options that we can. As we saw first-hand last year, things don’t always go as planned.
On Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and others filling vital roles
Antonetti: Both guys did an extraordinary job in the roles they were in. We feel either guy would be capable of expanded duties, whether that was pitching in a closer role, or even in the primary set-up role. We still feel those guys are capable of doing that, but in bringing a guy like John aboard give us someone back there with a little bit more experience and improves our options. I think we feel better about the guys that we have now than we did at the start of the offseason. We feel that we have improved our options, but if there is a way for us to continue to improve we will continue to look to do that, whether that’s in the bullpen or the rotation.
On deciding on Axford
Antonetti: We examined all of the alternatives out there, but in the end we felt John was a very good fit, not only for our team on the field, but in the clubhouse. He is very well-respected as a teammate in the places he has pitched recently. We feel like he will fit in well in our clubhouse and be a leader in our bullpen.
On going through the free-agency process
John Axford: It definitely was difficult. I had to take a lot of different things into account. This was my first experience in the free agent market and I enjoyed it too. It was fun but it was also difficult.
On his desire to play for Cleveland
Axford: The opportunity to step into a closers role was a big part of it. There were quite a few factors including the team itself and how well they played last year. It’s always good to play for a contending team and a team that’s done well and had success. The makeup of the team and the clubhouse seems like a fit that I will enjoy and that I will enjoy being with for an entire season. Obviously talking to Terry Francona as well before even signing [played a role in my decision]. Hearing everything from him, and the approach he wants to take – he was just very up-front with me about the way he feels about me, the team, the city and the organization. All of those things were telling of a team and organization that I wanted to be a part of.
On challenging 2013 season
Axford: I really don’t want to make any excuses for myself, but in all honestly I just don’t think my arm was ready at the beginning of the year. I pitched in the WBC, and I loved every minute of that – it was great to pitch for my country, but there is something telling about throwing 98 mph. against Team USA and then not being able to hit 91-92 mph. in the second outing of the season. It could have just been a dead-arm issue since I got ready a little too early, but my velocity was definitely down for the first couple games of the year. After those games were out of the way my arm started feeling a lot better and everything kind of clicked again. If you erase those first four games my year last season was actually a decent one. Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of every bad game.
On interest from other clubs
Axford: There were certainly other teams in the mix and that was the most difficult part. I’ve never had to make this decision before of actually choosing between teams. As a non-drafted free agent twice, teams never really wanted me. When I signed with the Yankees originally in 2007 it was the only team that I tried out for. With the Brewers, it was the only team that actually came out to a tryout that I was pitching at. This is the first time that I’ve ever had that opportunity. The difficulty of making that choice was tough, trying to put all the pieces together of what would work, and like I said, it really seems like a great clubhouse. The guys that I have talked to, including Terry, said it’s a great clubhouse and they love every moment of enjoying time with the guys. The team had a good season last year, and they are really stepping into the forefront of where baseball in Cleveland should be.
Close to home
Axford: Cleveland is very nearby to my home. It’s very drivable, I can see my family and they can come see me a lot easier which is fantastic. I live literally northeast on the other side of Lake Erie in a town called Port Dover – my family and I only live about 4 hours away.