LAS VEGAS -- It's no secret that the Indians' clubhouse could look drastically different in 2019 than it did the year before. With a handful of core players on the market as free agents and potential trades looming, manager Terry Francona believes maintaining the culture the team has built in that room falls on his shoulders.
"That's why we worked so hard at it in Spring Training, to build a base, and we'll do it again," Francona said. "You're right, we may not know yet who some of those names are. And it looks like this year we may have some turnover, maybe more than we've had in the past. But that will never be an excuse."
While most of the focus this offseason has been what players the Indians may be losing, as a manager, Francona has to keep his focus on the names left on his roster to begin prepping for the next season.
One of the two main areas of need for the Indians is the outfield with Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera and Lonnie Chisenhall on the free-agent market. Despite the current holes, Francona seemed optimistic about his remaining options, especially right fielder Tyler Naquin.
"You know what, the whole thing is fluid right now," Francona said. "Because so often one movement necessitates the next. Like where Jason Kipnis plays. I mean, I know Naquin feels really good. And that's good, because that was hard for him what he had to go through. But he's in a really good place. Bradley Zimmer is coming. We know he's not going to be our center fielder at the beginning of the year. But that doesn't mean that he won't be at some point."
Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Oliver Perez and Josh Tomlin are all up for grabs as free agents, leaving little to fill the bullpen. But one of the relievers remaining on the 40-man roster who has impressed Francona is 30-year-old Jon Edwards, who posted a 3.12 ERA in nine appearances last season.
"I think Edwards is a huge sleeper," Francona said. "He was pitching well enough last year where he had probably earned the right to be on the playoff roster. I think we thought enough about him and his future and what he's been through to not put him on the roster, and we told him that. Just because he had been rehabbing for a year and a half, to throw innings with that kind of intensity at that time of year, we didn't think was fair to him. We think he might actually be a really good bullpen guy."
Cleveland also has Brad Hand at the back end of the bullpen, and Francona said he believes Adam Cimber tried to do a little too much last year and will be good going into 2019.
With so much up in the air, Francona is excited about Carlos Carrasco. The right-hander received an extension through 2022, locking him in for next season's rotation.
"We're not going backwards. We don't want to go backwards," Francona said. "We want to continue to try to give ourselves a chance to win. And Carrasco wanting to be here, not grabbing every last top dollar, allowed that to happen. So I'm thrilled. Carlos has turned into one of the top probably 10 pitchers in baseball."
Plenty of rumors have surrounded the Indians since the team made it public that it would be willing to listen to potential trades involving starters Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, but Francona made it clear to not believe everything you hear.
"I've seen the rumors," Francona said. "I would say so far 99.9 percent are not correct. I mean, [president of baseball operations] Chris [Antonetti] and [general manager Mike] Chern[off] talk to every team. They do their due diligence, but I think that some of this stuff just -- it's the Winter Meetings. It gets a life of its own; that's just the way it is."
No matter what, if any, trades end up happening, Francona knows that the result will only benefit his club despite the possibility of losing an ace.
"Well, I know I have faith," Francona said. "[Antonetti and Chernoff] are always so supportive. So I kind of just try to be supportive because this is their area, and they're good at it. And they've proven they're good at it. And at sometimes under some challenging circumstances, but they're trying to keep us healthy, competitive for the future. For next year, for the year after that, for the year after that."
Danny Salazar, who underwent season-ending right shoulder surgery in July, is throwing again and has reached 90 feet. Francona said the timetable of his return will be completely up to Salazar.
Francona also noted that outfielder Leonys Martin is about six pounds away from reaching his weight prior to sustaining a severe bacterial infection in August.