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Manager Terry Francona recognizes Cleveland Indians’ balancing act, but says: “We’re not going backward”

LAS VEGAS – Manager Terry Francona says the Indians aren’t going anywhere.

Whatever you want to call what they’re doing this winter, he says the goal is the same – to win the AL Central and get to October.

“I don’t think we’re going to do anything to make us worse,” said Francona, who met with reporters Wednesday morning at the winter meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort. “That’s the best way I can answer it.

“They’re trying to balance some things, which I think Chris (Antonetti, Indians director of baseball operations) has talked to you guys about probably every day. But we’re never not trying to get better. We’re just trying to do it differently.”

Whether differently means trading Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or Edwin Encarnacion to relieve some of the pressure from having the biggest payroll in history, Francona has not lowered his goals.

“We’re not going backward,” he said. “We don’t want to go backward. We want to continue to try to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The Indians have won three straight AL Central titles. Their margin of victory has been 13 games, 17 games and eight games. Overall, they’ve had six straight winning seasons with Francona as manager.

But if the Indians trade Kluber or Bauer and perhaps Encarnacion or Yonder Alonso does that give their four division rivals a chance to draw closer? The Twins, White Sox, Tigers and Royals are in various stages of rebuilding, but they won’t stay there forever.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria, whose team finished 29 games behind the Indians last season, thinks there may be a shift in power in the division.

“We have three clubs that are changing their direction a little bit,” said Renteria, referring to the White Sox, Twins and Indians. “So absolutely (this could open the division up) . . .I still think that you’ve got to look at what you’re capable of doing as a club. And maybe we can take advantage of what’s happening.”

The White Sox have acquired right-hander Ivan Nova from Pittsburgh and right-hander Alex Colome from Seattle this winter. Nova went 9-9 with a 4.19 ERA in 29 starts last season, while Colome went 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 47 games. Colome is expected to close some games for the White Sox.

Chicago is trying to make a big splash on the free-agent by courting Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. They think either player could be a cornerstone to help them turn into a contender.

Royals manager Ned Yost was asked about the Indians’ grip on the Central loosening. He had a different answer than Renteria.

“This time of year you’re looking at a lot of numbers,” he said. “I don’t fully trust these numbers, but our people have Cleveland winning 97 games (in 2019). Even though they’ve made some changes, the analytics people still hold them in very high regard.

“I think Chicago is getting better. I think the Twins have made really big strikes this winter. And I think we’re going to be better.”

The Royals finished last in the AL Central last season, 33 games behind the Indians. The Twins finished second.

Kansas City has signed free agent center fielder Billy Hamilton and utility man Chris Owings. Yost said the injection of speed from Hamilton and Ownings, to go along with AL stolen base leader Whit Merrifield, was something the Royals needed.

“We just didn’t have it last year,” he said. ”We just didn’t have that speed that we had with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore. Those little weapons you have on the bench. We definitely have them now and that’s exactly what we wanted to get back to.”

The Twins have added C.J. Cron, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and utility man Ehire Adrianza since the end of the season. They’ve expressed an interest in relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, free agents from the Indians.

The Tigers have signed three free agents – left-hander Matt Moore, right-hander Tyson Ross and shortstop Jordy Mercer.

“I expect the teams in our division will continue to work to improve and they’ll be better in 2019 than they were in 2018,” said Antonetti. “Everybody in baseball has the same goal as we do, which is to try and win a World Series.

“They’re trying to build on that path. So yes, we expect them to be better than they were last year.”

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