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.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.