SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Indians are preparing for the World Baseball Classic exodus.
On Sunday, five players — shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela), closer Chris Perez (USA), setup man Vinnie Pestano (USA), catcher Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic), utility man Mike Aviles (Puerto Rico) and minor-league pitcher Giovanni Soto (Puerto Rico) — will leave camp to join their country’s respective rosters.
Obviously, manager Terry Francona would prefer not to lose some of his regulars for the tournament that runs from Saturday to March 19 (March 7-19 for Cleveland players’ respective pools), but he’s not fretting over their departures.
“We’ve done a lot up to this point, so I feel pretty comfortable,” said Francona, who will get the players back with more than a week remaining in the exhibition season. “We’ve put just about everything in. I feel pretty comfortable where we’re at.”
Francona has told his players to enjoy the WBC experience, and they plan on following their manager’s instructions.
“I’m really excited,” Cabrera, a two-time All-Star, said Thursday prior to the Indians’ 10-0 loss to Texas at Surprise Stadium. “To put on my country’s jersey and play in the World Baseball Classic, that’s a big thing. All those fans from Venezuela want me to play for my country in that series.
“It’s really fun. I think that’s going to be really fun to be in the same clubhouse with all those guys.”
Not everyone wearing a Cleveland uniform is sad to see the WBC participants go. The departures open big league exhibition opportunities for some younger players, such as shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor and catcher Yan Gomes.
Gomes, who was acquired along with Aviles in an offseason trade with Toronto, passed on the opportunity to play for his native country of Brazil in the WBC.
“You want to give those guys a chance to see if they can do it,” Francona said of the prospects.
Gomes, 25, isn’t expected to make the opening-day roster, with the Indians preferring he play every day in the minors, while Lou Marson continues to back up Carlos Santana.
Still, Gomes has made a big splash with his bat early in the exhibition season. He’s hitting .500 (4-for-8) with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs in five games.
“It’s been pretty (darn) good,” said Francona, when asked his impression of Gomes. “Catching-wise, we’ve all thought he was pretty solid. He has the ability to impact offensively. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark. There’s nothing not to like.
“The thing we’re trying to figure out is can he be an every-day major league catcher.”
Major League Baseball is still trying to figure out a suitable time for the WBC schedule. It’s not an ideal situation during spring training, but the alternative is to hold it during the MLB playoffs or after they’re complete, or even before spring training begins.
All are far from a perfect scenarios.
“(The WBC is) a great idea, conceptually, but making it work has to be a nightmare,” Francona said.