Chris Antonetti, President of Baseball Operations for the Cleveland Indians, was nice enough to grant me a fifteen-minute phone interview on Monday morning. Antonetti has worked in the Indians organization since 1999, and served as the assistant GM to Mark Shapiro from 2002-2010. Following the 2010 season, Shapiro was promoted to President of Baseball Operations, opening the door for Antonetti to become the next General Manager of the Indians. Antonetti served as the General Manager for the next five seasons until he was recently promoted to President of Baseball Operations after Shapiro agreed to become the next CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.
With Mark Shapiro departing for Toronto, a new era has begun in Cleveland. Since Antonetti joined the Indians in 1999, Shapiro had been his only boss. Chris Antonetti said the transition was a “significant change” and he called Shapiro a “great mentor and close friend.” Antonetti also mentioned that one of the biggest changes will be that he will now report directly to the team’s owner, Bruce Fine, and have more fluid communication with him.
Although Antonetti’s title has changed from General Manager to President of Baseball Operations, he said that the new title will not have a ton of impact. Antonetti noted that the Dodgers and Red Sox have gone down similar roads where “[The President of Baseball Operations] will remain primary baseball decision maker and the GM will assist him.” When I asked him about his relationship with Mark Chernoff, the new General Manager, he said, “I have worked with Chernoff since 2004 and the relationship is good and continues to grow,” and noted that he was a “leader.” How Antonetti and Chernoff work together will certainly be important to the organization’s future success.
There was a lot of optimism in Cleveland about the Indians coming into the 2015 season. The Indians fell short of the playoffs, and Antonetti noted at his end of season press conference that “the fact that we’re sitting here today is a disappointment.” Going off of this, I asked him if there were any positives to take from the 2015 season. Antonetti said that he was “excited about the group we have returning. We have a young group entering or in the middle of the prime of their career.” When I asked about taking the next step in 2016 and making the playoffs, he said, “The challenge is how do we figure out the right additions.”
It is clear that the Indians need help on the offensive side of the team. Their pitching staff is very good with a 1-2-3 punch of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Carlos Carrasco was a name that was mentioned in trade rumors prior to this years trade deadline. I asked Antonetti about the potential of re-examining the possibility of trading Carrasco this offseason to improve their offense. He said that they were “very open-minded in looking at ways to improve the team [and that] most of their resources will be spent on the offensive side.” More specifically on the idea of dealing Carrasco, Antonetti noted that, “part of our role is to see how other organizations value our players, but we are not motivated to move any of our starters.” It certainly sounds as though this could be a busy offseason for Antonetti and the Indians as they aim to improve their offense, whether it be through free agency or trades.
As Antonetti has mentioned, the Indians do have good, young offensive players including Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lindor had an unreal start to his career. When I asked Antonetti if he could have predicted his shorstop to have this kind of success at the start of his career he said, “It is dangerous to predict, but I had a profound belief in his skills and work ethic and he continued to improve each day. I am excited about his year and I give him credit, as he went out and earned an opportunity and thrived in the role.”
Lindor’s ability to build off of his great rookie season will be critical to the Indians success in 2016. Jason Kipnis is another player that the Indians need to continue to grow and stay healthy for them to take another step next season. Kipnis had a historical May, where he had over fifty hits in the month, but then struggled with injuries and at the plate for the rest of the season. Antonetti noted that Kipnis, “battled shoulder fatigue at the end of the season, so he was not playing at 100% health.” The Indians certainly hope that offseason rest will serve Kipnis well.
It is clear that the Indians have a nice foundation of young players with Lindor, Kipnis, Brantley, Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar. However, as Antonetti said, the Indians will need to improve their offense this off-season to improve their roster and increase their chances of reaching the playoffs in 2016. The future is certainly bright in Cleveland with their young core and now the pressure is on Chris Antonetti to add the necessary pieces to make the Indians a contender in the Central as well as in the American League next season.