Francona prepared to distribute time at crowded spots

Players returning from injury, addition of Moss give skipper three busy positions

Francona prepared to distribute time at crowded spots

CLEVELAND -- The acquisition of slugger Brandon Moss in December created an equation that could be tough for Indians manager Terry Francona to solve. He now has a surplus of players for right field, first base and designated hitter, but only so many at-bats to go around.

Francona always believes the math will work itself out and he has no issues with heading into Spring Training with the crop currently in the fold. Cleveland could always swing another trade to free up the logjam, but the club also has a handful of players returning from injury. That reality means the extra bodies could offer the Tribe some insurance this spring.

"There's some uncertainty there with health," Francona said on Tuesday. "You walk that fine line, because you have guys that expect playing time or are used to playing time. But, at the same time, we can't let our season be derailed by the unknown."

Francona was referring to the fact that players such as Moss, Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn are each coming back from surgery. Moss underwent an operation on his hip in October, Swisher had surgery on both of his knees in August and Raburn had a procedure done on his left knee in September. All three are expected to be ready in time for Opening Day, but the Indians will closely monitor their progress this spring.

Hot Stove: Brandon Moss

Carlos Santana will head into camp as Cleveland's planned primary first baseman, but both Moss and Swisher have the ability to handle that position, too. Moss and Swisher can also play right field, along with Raburn and David Murphy. Last season, Murphy was the Tribe's main right fielder, but he lost roughly a month between August and September due to a right oblique injury.

After the Indians landed Moss from the A's in early December in exchange for Minor League Joey Wendle, it made sense for the Tribe to explore trading Swisher, Raburn or Murphy to help free up some cash as well as at-bats. Given the pile of health questions at the moment, though, Francona said Cleveland does not mind heading to Spring Training with the entire cast intact.

"I thought [general manager Chris Antonetti] did a really good job of protecting us," Francona said, "and at the same time, communicating with the players, saying, 'This is where we're at. This is why we're doing things.' I think it's going to make us a better team and it also protects us from the unknown."

Adding to the Tribe's health concerns is the status of second baseman Jason Kipnis, who injured his left ring finger during a December workout and required surgery. Cleveland has internal contingency plans in place in the form of utility man Mike Aviles or even youngster Zach Walters, but Francona sounded confident that Kipnis would be ready for the regular season.

"I don't think Kip is worried about it," Francona said. "I hope, like everything, that you take a potential setback and turn it into something good. Maybe he takes this month and gets his lower body really [strong]. That's the idea and that's what we spoke about. He seemed all for it."

Kipnis gets out after deflection

The reports on the progress of Swisher, Raburn and Moss have been positive to this point.

Francona noted that Swisher is scheduled to be examined by the Indians' medical staff during his trip to Cleveland for Tribe Fest on January 24-25. The manager said he also recently exchanged messages with Raburn, who is also scheduled to head to Cleveland in the near future for a follow-up exam.

Even with all the unknowns surrounding that group of players, Francona expressed optimism over the roster that the Indians have in place for the 2015 season.

"I'm so excited to start," Francona said. "I've just been more excited than usual -- which is saying a lot -- to get started. You start texting the players or giving them a quick call. Everybody seems to be kind of champing at the bit to get going. Yeah, I do feel pretty good [about our team]. Our division has gotten so much better, but our concern and our energy is going to be spent on trying to see how well our team can play, not on what other teams spent or all that stuff."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.