December 20, 2014

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Indians: Alomar Jr. first to the plate

CLEVELAND — Sandy Alomar Jr. took the first swing Thursday, and Terry Francona will get his hacks today. There is still no word on whether anyone else will get an at-bat.

In the midst of his interview with Alomar Jr., Indians general manager Chris Antonetti met with reporters at Progressive Field and wouldn’t reveal whether there are other candidates that will join the race to become the next Indians manager.

“We’ve conducted our due diligence to this point,” Antonetti said. “We have a plan in place. It will begin with Sandy (Thursday) and Terry (today), and then we’ll move forward from there.”

Antonetti said the team would like to name its manager as quickly as possible and could work with Major League Baseball to make an announcement during the postseason. Unless there is a candidate among the playoff teams, there is no rule preventing them from naming Manny Acta’s replacement before the completion of the World Series.

Alomar Jr., one of the most popular players in franchise history and an assistant coach under Acta the past three years, got the first crack at the job and his first opportunity to manage in the big leagues, serving the role on an interim basis over the final six games of the regular season.

“As expected, Sandy did a great job,” Antonetti said. “There was a lot to work through, especially for someone who does not have that extensive managing experience. He did an exceptional job of preparing for it.

“It’s hard to make too much out of any six days. I think we felt all along from the time Sandy was a player he had leadership abilities. He demonstrated that as a coach and that certainly was magnified in his six days as the manager.”

If it comes down to Alomar Jr. and Francona, Alomar Jr. is clearly the fans’ choice and has developed a solid relationship with Cleveland players over the past three seasons.

“I think I got a pretty good feel as we conducted exit interviews (with players) over the last three days,” Antonetti said. “I can tell you Sandy is held in very high regard among our players.

“I wouldn’t give anyone a leg up in the process. I would say we feel very good about the two initial candidates that we’ve identified.”

Francona, who managed in Philadelphia and Boston, winning two World Series titles with the Red Sox in 2004 and ’07, has the decided edge in experience. But Chicago’s Robin Ventura and St. Louis’ Mike Matheny have proven that rookie managers can succeed, and Antonetti thinks that could hold true with Alomar Jr.

“I have no reason to think otherwise,” Antonetti said. “I fully expect that he is ready to do the job and be successful at it.”

If he does get the job, it will be a much different role for Alomar Jr., but he plans on staying the same.

“I feel like you don’t have to change (from coach to manager),” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the culture of a manager or a tradition. If I have to tell you something, I’ll tell you to your face. I don’t have to lie to you. That’s the bottom line.

“I don’t see where that separation comes from. You have the same name on the front (of your jersey). You’re fighting for the same thing. That’s my opinion.”

Decision deadline

The Indians have until three days after the World Series to decide whether to exercise 2013 club options on Travis Hafner ($13 million with $2.75 million buyout), Ubaldo Jimenez ($5.75 million with $1 million buyout) and Robert Hernandez ($6 million).

“Some of the decisions are more challenging than others,” Antonetti said.

Though it’s unlikely, the Indians could bring back Grady Sizemore and Hafner at reduced rates.

Sizemore signed a one-year, $5 million contract after the Indians declined his option last offseason, then failed to play in a single game, dealing with back and knee injuries. Hafner, who made $13 million, played in only 66 games, and batted .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs, missing time with knee and back injuries.

“It’s possible,” Antonetti said when asked if the oft-injured duo could return. “I think the level of investment would be very different than it’s been in the past.”

Closing time

Antonetti was not immune to criticism from closer Chris Perez, who knocked Cleveland fans, the front office and Acta during a tumultuous season for the outspoken right-hander.

“It comes from a good place with Chris,” Antonetti said. “He’s an exceptionally competitive guy that badly wants to be a contributor to a winning team. That’s where it’s coming from. Chris went out and did his job arguably as effectively as anyone on our roster did. Now, I wish he would choose his words differently and maybe use the opportunity to discuss some of then more privately or in a different forum.”

Antonetti called his exit meeting with Perez, “Long.”

“I appreciate his candor when it’s behind closed doors,” Antonetti said of Perez. “I think everyone would be best served if he chose his words more carefully. But I want guys that care as much about winning as Chris Perez cares about winning.”

No movement

Antonetti defended his decision to remain idle at the trading deadline this year.

“We explored a lot of things,” he said. “We tried a number of different ways to improve the roster, but ultimately we just didn’t find that right fit. I’m not sure prescribing too much to that would explain what happened to us in the second half.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.