Cleveland Indians President Chris Antonetti talks fiscal losses, covid-19 virus, new rule changes

Matt Loede

Now that a 60-game shortened Major League Baseball season is officially on the table to start at the end of July, teams around baseball are starting to get ready and figure out all the logistics of what has to happen to be successful in this unusual season.

The Cleveland Indians, fresh off a 93-win season in 2019, is another team that is looking to ‘play ball,’ but also be safe and make sure their players don’t contract the covid-19 virus.

Friday team president Chris Antonetti spoke to the Cleveland media via zoom, taking questions about a variety of topics that could answer some questions fans have about how exactly 2020 is going to look.

One big question is about fans being allowed into Progressive Field for the 30 home games that the Indians are going to play.

It sounds like teams are going to have that handled for them by the leaders of their given state, and Antonetti said Friday that is also the case for Ohio.

“I think that’s going to be up to the state of Ohio,” Antonetti said.

“They have to give us some guidance on what they might be comfortable with and then it would be up to us to adapt a plan that we can do that in a safe way.

“Given all of the unknowns that we have and all of the variables, I think our priority right now is making sure that we can get all of our staff and players into Cleveland, get them on their way to preparing and starting games and then reassess and see what the opportunities may be to play in front of fans.”

Likely fans in ballparks is going to be on a ‘wait and see’ approach, and also it will depend on how cases of the covid-19 virus go for each state as the season gets going.

Another topic for the Indians that usually comes up is that of money. Being a mid-market team the Indians are not going to break the bank signing players, and Antonetti did admit in the call on Friday that the team is going to take quite a hit in the pocketbooks in 2020 with the short campaign.

“Our financial losses will be extraordinary this year,” Antonetti said. “But I don’t expect we will have any short-term decisions that will be impacted by finances.”

One of those decisions that everyone is still asking about is that of Francisco Lindor, the superstar shortstop who the Indians have to face reality with sooner rather than later.

Lindor still has two years of team control, but everyone in baseball seems to feel that the Indians are not going to wait around for him to be a free agent, and that he will be dealt before that time.

Antonetti says that the focus with Lindor right now is to have him back this season, and that any plans of moving him are hush-hush at the moment.

“We’re excited to get Frankie back on the field with all of our other players and have a 2020 season and get started. That’s solely where we’re focused,” Antonetti said.

Many think with the recent news of teams having players on their roster who have already contracted the covid-19 virus that playing the entire 2020 season is a long shot at best.

The Indians are not immune to it, as Antonetti said that there has been a few “isolated” cases of members of the organization that have had the virus, but also that the cases have “not spread” within the team.

That’s good news for the club, but does the Indians team president really feel that the season is going to be played in full without there being a stoppage due to covid-19?

“We would have all preferred to get to this point of starting baseball in a slightly different path,” he said.

“But that’s not the reality. I could understand any fan’s frustration that they may have with a lot of parties within baseball right now. But hopefully everybody can look forward and turn the page and think about getting back on the field and the baseball that we have in front of us.”

The next thing on the Indians “to-do” list is to get all their players back in Cleveland for “Spring Training 2.0” which is set to start a few days into July.

As of now Antonetti said they are working through the logistics of getting the players into town, but that no player has given any indication that he has decided to sit out the season due to the dangers of covid-19.

If that was to be the case, Antonetti said that they would stand by any player who feels that it’s too much of a risk to try and be a part of the shortened season.

“We have talked with every high-risk individual to have an individual conversation with them to explain the risks of returning to the environment, the protocols that are in place to try to ensure health and well-being for everyone and have given all of them the option of whether or not they would choose to participate,” Antonetti said.

“We would be fully supportive if anyone felt this wasn’t the right environment for them to participate.”

Then there is the case of the rule changes that baseball is moving forward with in 2020. One of those changes that fans had a field day back and forth with this week is the extra inning rule where in each half inning a runner will start on second base.

Some have blasted baseball for ruining tradition and trying to mess up the game they love, but for Antonetti and plenty of others, they think it could create some excitement around the game and not have games drag on for 17, 18 innings.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to potentially experiment,” he said. “I think it’s been a great rule in the minor leagues in that it does create some intrigue from the 10th inning on, and it has the additional benefit of not having really extended games that can really tax a roster,” Antonetti said.

“Given the circumstances with our major league team this year, and all of the uncertainties, not having to deal with 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-inning games -- I know I’ll sleep a little bit better at night.”