Francona expects Indians to improve in 2014

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona looks at his list of non-roster invitees and sees a slew of players who can realistically contend for the Opening Day roster. If Francona's first spring at the helm for Cleveland was any indication, that group is undoubtedly valued.

Consider that four non-roster invitees -- Scott Kazmir, Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Rich Hill -- made the Opening Day roster last spring and played key roles during the season.

"To be honest with you, we really don't know who's going to break with us," Francona said. "We're going to have some pretty healthy competition and we have some veteran guys to do it. I think the game's changed a little bit. Guys see guys coming in non-roster, and that's not the end all, be all."

Giambi, who is a favorite of Francona's for his veteran leadership and pinch-hitting ability, returns as a non-roster invitee this spring. Others among the Tribe's 24 non-roster candidates include outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan, infielders Elliot Johnson and Bryan LaHair, relievers David Aardsma, Matt Capps and Scott Atchison, catcher Matt Treanor, and starters Shaun Marcum and Aaron Harang, among others.

With one spot open in the rotation, two or three jobs available in the bullpen and a bench spot or two up for grabs, the non-roster players are in a good position this spring.

"It's just a way of doing business in winter and you're able to bring in guys," Francona said. "We had four non-roster guys last year that made it. That's the reality of baseball now. Every team does it."

Marcum gets back on the mound

Indians to give Marcum a shot at rotation spot

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Shaun Marcum arrived at the Indians' spring complex in January to continue his comeback from a neck and shoulder issue that hindered him last season. After the introductions, Cleveland's medical staff immediately asked the pitcher to take his foot off the gas.

"They kind of slowed my throwing program down," Marcum said on Tuesday morning. "That was probably a good thing, because I was champing at the bit to get on the mound."

Marcum was finally cleared to step back on a mound on Monday, when the right-hander worked through a 25-pitch bullpen session consisting of only fastballs and changeups. The veteran signed a Minor League contract in December and is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he is well aware that the Indians have a vacancy at the back end of the rotation.

The Indians are giving Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Aaron Harang, Trevor Bauer and Marcum a chance at competing for that starting role. In Marcum's case, though, Indians manager Terry Francona has emphasized that Opening Day is not an etched-in-stone deadline for the pitcher's return to the big leagues

Marcum is returning from a July procedure to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome and Cleveland is taking a precautionary approach. The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Robert Thompson, involved removing Marcum's first rib, as well as two scalene muscles in his neck and some scar tissue.

"He's worked too hard," Francona said. "It never fails, you come to Spring Training, everybody's all geared up, the volume of throwing increases and then you have looming Opening Day. But I think that's an artificial deadline. We tried to beat that home with a lot of guys, that that is not the end all. Keep the big picture in mind."

Across the 2007-12 seasons with the Blue Jays and Brewers, Marcum went a combined 54-32 with a 3.67 ERA in 148 games, but he sat out all of 2009 after Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Marcum had bouts with elbow and biceps problems in 2012 with Milwaukee and he now believes the thoracic issue was behind those injuries.

Last year with the Mets, Marcum went 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 starts before shutting things down. He experienced stinging and burning in his neck, weakness in his throwing shoulder and his hand would go cold and numb in the middle of outings. Following his surgery, Marcum is hoping the array of issues are firmly in the rear-view mirror.

"This is a playoff-caliber team," Marcum said of the Indians. "It's definitely a team that can go deep in the postseason. I got stuff from the training staff and the front office about how they were able to bring players back from injuries. That played a big factor in [signing]. Seeing there was possibly a spot open in the rotation, that also was a factor. It was a lot of different things.

"It'd be nice to be on that team [for Opening Day], but we just have to take it slow."

Indians happy to receive extra Draft pick for Ubaldo

Antonetti has high hopes for the Indians in 2014

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians were never going to offer Ubaldo Jimenez the kind of contract he reportedly has in place with the Orioles. Barring a total collapse of the pitcher's market, Cleveland was always going to happily accept the Draft-pick compensation.

If Jimenez passes a physical and indeed signs the reported four-year pact worth $50 million with Baltimore, the Tribe will net a compensatory pick between the first and second round of the First-Year Player Draft. As things currently stand, that would give the Indians four picks before the end of the second round.

"Any opportunity we have to acquire talent is an important opportunity for us organizationally," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "Our long-term success will be predicated based upon how successful we are at acquiring and developing our own talent.

"The model that we need to follow is the one where we add and supplement through free agency, but not build teams through free agency. So having those additional Draft picks, we're excited about that opportunity and excited about that opportunity to add a lot of talent into the system."

The Orioles would forfeit the 17th overall pick in the first round by completing their deal with Jimenez, helping the Indians slide from 22nd to 21st in the Draft's opening round. Right now, Cleveland's pick in Compensation Round A falls in at No. 30 overall, but that will change if free agents Kendrys Morales, Nelson Cruz or Ervin Santana sign prior to the Draft.

The Indians will also have a selection in the Competitive Balance Round, which comes before the second round. Cleveland currently has the 37th and 62nd overall picks before the third round begins, though that could change.

Antonetti said acquiring as many picks as possible helps a team in Cleveland's position.

"When you're dealing with amateur talent in the baseball Draft, it's not a perfect science," Antonetti said. "There's a lot of different things that can happen from the time a player is drafted from high school and college throughout his professional career. There's a really high attrition rate, so the more picks you have, and the higher those picks are, the more you stack the deck in your favor."

Quote to note

"It goes to show that it's a good market and he's a good player. He did great things. I think for them, they believe in what he did there in the second half, and he's going to be able to continue to do that. I think that was the hardest thing for teams to do -- with any player -- is this what we're going to get or is it not? It takes someone to say, 'All right. This is what we're going to get.' I thought he got a great deal for himself."
--Indians starter Justin Masterson, on Jimenez's reported deal with the Orioles

Smoke signals

• Catcher Yan Gomes enters camp as Cleveland's No. 1 option in the plate, but Francona is not mapping out how many games he might catch this season. Francona said the only thing Gomes needs to worry about is getting ready for the increased responsibility.

"We told him to come to camp prepared to be the main catcher," Francona said. "He's never done that before, so we'll try to use some common sense and certainly keep an eye on what's going on with him. The more he stays strong, I think he has a better chance of being productive. Saying that, that's not the main thing. Catching is the main thing."

• Right-hander Danny Salazar is a virtual lock for a spot in the Tribe's rotation, but the team is taking things slow with the young pitcher out of the gates this spring. Salazar currently has two days between mound sessions (most players have only one) and the Indians might work in extra days off early in the season.

"We just have him probably on a little slower schedule than some other guys," Francona said of Salazar, who underwent right elbow surgery four years ago. "We just walked it through all winter and this spring and it seems to make sense. We want him to throw a few more bullpens, just because of everything he's been through."

• To this point in camp, the majority of Cleveland's pitchers have been working off the mound in bullpen sessions every other day. Francona indicated that live batting-practice sessions, during which hitters stand in against pitchers for the first time, will likely begin on Friday.