Francona, Santana are definitely returning
CLEVELAND — Two days later, the pain has diminished — a little.
The cruel sting of losing Game 7 hasn’t completely left the Cleveland Indians.
“We all want to hoist that World Series trophy,” team president Chris Antonetti said Friday, “so it hurt when we lost.”
At the same time the Chicago Cubs were parading down Michigan Avenue after winning their first title in 108 years, the Indians — who pushed the NL champions into extra innings in an unforgettable season finale before losing 8-7 — took the first steps toward getting back to the Series in 2017.
For Antonetti, who has been with the club for 18 years, there is some comfort in what the Indians did this season. But he’ll never be satisfied completely until Cleveland’s title quest is finished.
“We went to Game 7 of the World Series, that in and of itself is an accomplishment,” he said. “Not the ultimate one we’re striving for, but still a great organizational accomplishment.”
With deadlines approaching and no time for pity, the Indians jumped right into the offseason by locking up manager Terry Francona through 2020.
The club exercised its contract options for 2019 and 2020 on the 57-year-old manager, who did a remarkable job in steering the Indians around numerous obstacles to get them to their first Series since 1997.
Cleveland overcame key injuries, suspensions and questions about their legitimacy as title contenders under Francona, who in his fourth season got the Indians within one win of their first title since 1948.
“He did a masterful job,” Antonetti said. “The way in which Tito is constantly thinking about how to place individual players in a position to be successful, to most impact the team, is always extraordinary. He does that first and foremost by building really deep relationships with guys, where they know he cares and he has their best interest in mind, and he’s always going to find a way for them to be the best versions of themselves.
“He’s done that from the day he got here. As high as our expectations were for Tito when we hired him, he’s gone beyond that. We’re really fortunate to have him.”
Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff also praised Francona’s willingness to include everyone in Cleveland’s front office on major decisions.
“He’s five steps ahead of all of us (on the field),” Chernoff said. “That’s just a small part of it. He’s broken down barriers organizationally for us, whether it’s scouting, player development, that connection people feel internally, and he’s done it on the field with the team and in the clubhouse. And the culture he has helped to build, a lot of the resiliency you see, the grit you saw in this team, is a product of that culture. It’s not any one move that he made.”
The Indians have had four straight winning seasons under Francona, who won two titles with Boston. He’s become wildly popular in Cleveland, where he can be seen riding his motorized scooter to the ballpark and where fans have embraced his everyman persona, enthusiasm and self-deprecating sense of humor.
Along with rewarding Francona, the Indians exercised their $12 million option on slugger Carlos Santana for next season. The move was expected after Santana belted 34 homers while splitting time at first and designated hitter.
Cleveland declined a $13 million option on outfielder Coco Crisp, who gets a $750,000 buyout.
Antonetti also said the club has expressed to first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Rajai Davis that they would like to re-sign the potential free agents. The team has until Monday to make qualifying offers to both. Napoli’s is worth $17.2 million.
In his first season with Cleveland, Napoli reached career-highs in homers, plate appearances and RBIs. The 35-year-old struggled in the postseason, but Antonetti said the team will take into account “the balance of the season.”
“Mike did a phenomenal job for us,” he said. “He made a huge impact for us on the field and in the clubhouse, and I think that’s the lens through which we’ll view it.”
Davis, too, helped the Indians to their first AL Central title since 2007. The 35-year-old led the league in stolen bases and helped them offset the loss of All-Star Michael Brantley.
And for a little while, Davis hit the biggest homer in Cleveland history. His two-run shot in the eighth inning of Game 7 off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman tied the score 6-6 before Chicago scored two in the 10th.
Antonetti and Chernoff were together in a suite and couldn’t contain their emotions.
“I didn’t even try,” Antonetti said.
“I almost fell out of the booth,” Chernoff said.
And next time, they hope to celebrate after the Series.