Preparing for a season is a daunting task for any manager in the major leagues. The manager has to be able to convey his vision to a group of men and most importantly have them buy in with a clear understanding of the direction, work ethic, and dedication it will take to achieve this. Imagine how difficult it must be to throw a bunch of grown men from different countries and backgrounds together into a clubhouse and trying to get them to follow the same path.
Now imagine the task facing Terry Francona, who has had very little interaction with most of the players who will be in camp. His coaches are new to both the players and to each other, and he has six weeks to meld a group of 25 players together that are going to embark on the grind of a major league baseball season which includes grinding travel schedules and 162 games in 183 days.
This is not an impossible task for Francona, but his time in Spring Training will have to be split in some fashion between being a social coordinator who has to meld personalities together through team building exercises. Francona and the coaching staff also will have to reveal enough of their personalities to the players so that they know how and when to approach them when they are troubled, struggled, or just need to vent. This line of communication is vital in being able to diffuse situations before they explode on the team.
At the beginning of the offseason, Francona named his 2013 coaching staff: bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., pitching coach Mickey Callaway, bullpen coach Kevin Cash, third base coach Brad Mills, first base coach Mike Sarbaugh, and hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo. While Alomar, Callaway, and Sarbaugh will have more familiarity with some of the returning players, they haven’t spent time with the other coaches or the many new additions to the roster from a busy 2012-2013 offseason.
Turnover has been high on the field, too. The Indians’ 2012 Opening Day lineup included Carlos Santana, Casey Kotchman, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jack Hannahan , Shelley Duncan, Michael Brantley, Shin Soo-Choo, and Travis Hafner. Only Santana, Kipnis, Cabrera, and Brantley will be back for 2013.
It is possible that as many as 12 players who weren’t with the team at the close of the 2012 season will break camp with the Indians: Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Nick Swisher, Brett Myers, Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and Chris McGuiness are all strong candidates to make the Opening Day roster. Other newly acquired players that may press for playing time in 2013 include Scott Kazmir, Ben Francisco, and Yan Gomes.
The result of the Indians’ busy offseason is that Spring Training will not be filled with battles for starting positions. This will enable Terry Francona to focus his time and energy on getting the players on the same page during spring training in terms of baseball but allow the majority of the 25-man roster to begin the process of becoming a socially cohesive unit.