With Terry Francona in fold, Indians can’t be so cheap

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The Indians’ move to hire Terry Francona looks like a coup. Getting a two-time World Series-winning manager to come to Cleveland and take over a team that hasn’t finished over .500 in five years makes for quite the turn of events.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see if it does any good. Francona was a great handler of personalities in Boston and kept a roster loaded with big salaries and big egos pointed in the right direction for the vast majority of his tenure.

This will be an entirely different kind of gig for Francona. He won’t have to worry about handling a Manny Ramirez or a Josh Beckett or a David Ortiz. Of course, he also won’t have any of those kind of talents to rely on.

Here’s a truth about the Indians: even as salaries have continued to increase throughout the game, their franchise-high payroll came back in 2001. They spent $93 million that year. The last three years, they’ve come in at $61 million, $49 million and $65 million.

Now the good news: Travis Hafner’s awful contract is finally off the books. At $13 million, he was the team’s only player to make more than $5 million this year. Also, the guy who made $5 million, Grady Sizemore, likewise contributed nothing and is now a free agent.

That leaves five guys, all of whom will get raises over $5 million if they’re kept in 2013: Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Chris Perez. Many view Choo and Perez as trade candidates. Cabrera and Masterson could be as well. Jimenez has a $5.75 million option that could be declined after his rough year.

Essentially, the Indians have the ability to start over and build around Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis if they want. And that might have been a good idea had they chosen Sandy Alomar Jr. as manager. The Francona hiring suggests that they want to contend in 2013. And they need to after drawing just 1.6 million fans this year.

So, it seems a lot more likely today that the Indians will be keeping Cabrera, Choo and Masterson. They’re not going to be major players in free agency, but they need to bring in at least one first base/DH-type, an outfielder and a starting pitcher. A Perez trade might fill one of those needs.

Fortunately, the Indians won’t need to be a great team to contend for a playoff spot in the AL Central. If Kipnis and Santana can play their best for full years instead of half-seasons and some young arms come along, it’s hardly a hopeless cause.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.