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.

Watch: Christian Yelich continues to make a case for NL MVP repeat

Christian Yelich
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Christian Yelich simply can’t be stopped. The Brewers outfielder (and defending NL MVP) entered Saturday’s game with a league-leading 11 home runs after swatting two against the Dodgers on Friday night, then clubbed another two homers in the first six innings of Saturday’s game.

The first came on a 2-1 pitch from the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu, who lobbed a changeup toward the bottom of the strike zone before it was lifted up and out to center field for a solo home run in the third inning.

While Chase Anderson and Alex Claudio held down the fort against the Dodgers’ lineup, Yelich prepared for his second blast in the sixth inning — this one a 421-foot double-decker on a first-pitch curveball from Ryu.

Yelich’s 13 home runs not only gave him a stronger grip on the league’s leaderboard, but helped him tie yet another franchise record, too. Per MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, he’s tied with Prince Fielder for the most home runs hit by a Brewers player in a single month, and sits just one home run shy of tying Álex Rodríguez’s 2007 record for most home runs hit within any club’s first 22 games of the season.

It may be far too early to predict which players will finish first in the MVP races this fall, but there’s no denying Yelich has already set himself apart from the competition. Through Saturday’s performance, he’s batting .361/.459/.880 with a 1.329 OPS and MLB-best 31 RBI across 98 PA so far.