AL WC: Gomes throws out Molina to end the fifth

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Indians manager Terry Francona informed Yan Gomes at the end of this past season that the young catcher will return as the team's starting catcher next year.

"I think he kind of knew," Francona said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "The last two months, he was playing just about every day. But, for the sense of being honest with people, we wanted to talk to Carlos [Santana], too, so he could go about his winter. We wanted to sit with him, and we also wanted to tell Gomer, so he could get ready.

"Coming in to catch a full year is taxing -- he's never done it before. So we wanted to give him a head start, because it'll be a wear and tear on him that he's probably never had before."

Cleveland acquired the 26-year-old Gomes from Toronto, along with utility man Mike Aviles, in exchange for right-hander Esmil Rogers last offseason. Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash -- formerly a member of the Blue Jays' front office -- raved about Gomes' potential as a full-time catcher, even though he was bouncing between a handful of positions in Toronto.

The Indians planned on sending Gomes to Triple-A for 2013, but an injury to backup Lou Marson in April changed the team's course of action. Gomes took over as the primary backup to Santana, and then assumed the starting role behind the plate by August. Santana garnered more time at designated hitter and first base in the second half, and will have the same kind of role in the coming year.

Gomes impressed Cleveland with his game-calling and throwing ability, and hit .294 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 88 games.

"It's one of the best stories," Francona said. "I wish I could sit here and say, 'Yeah, I saw this.' I had no idea. ... When he caught, it was just so striking how much of an impact he was making. When we finally did turn it over to him full time, he kind of took it and ran with it."

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is looking forward to seeing Gomes build on last season's showing.

"He set the bar really high," Antonetti said. "The thing that excites me the most about Yan is his continued desire to improve as a player. He's never satisfied."

Francona talks to Masterson about speculation

CWS@CLE: Masterson strikes out a pair in solid return

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Indians starter Justin Masterson is not going anywhere this winter. Cleveland manager Terry Francona wanted to make sure the pitcher understood that, considering the trade rumors that have swirled over the past few days.

Francona called Masterson on Tuesday to inform the right-hander that he was not going to be dealt.

"I told him whether he liked it or not, he's not getting rid of us," Francona said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "I said, 'Knowing you, I doubt you're reading this.' And he goes, 'You're right, but my mom might.' So I said, 'Well, tell her you're not going anywhere.' I thought it was getting a little out of hand."

Cleveland does not plan on trading Masterson this winter, but the club's policy is to always listen to trade offers for any of its players. That led to multiple reports over the past couple of days indicating that a variety of teams were inquiring about Masterson's availability.

Masterson, who is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, earned $5,687,500 in 2013 and could make between $9 million and $10 million in the coming season. The Indians are willing to explore a long-term extension, as is Masterson's agent, Randy Rowley, but the two sides have yet to initiate negotiations.

Extensions talks are often a natural part of arbitration discussions, which are likely to begin after Jan. 1. Teams and arbitration-eligible players are not required to exchange salary figures for the upcoming season until Jan. 17, though a deal can be reached at any point prior to an arbitration hearing.

Masterson's camp is currently preparing its case for a one-year arbitration settlement, but is open to discussing a long-term pact. Rowley indicated that Masterson is simply interested in a fair deal in relation to the kind of contracts currently being signed on the free-agent market.

Last season, the 28-year-old Masterson went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 193 innings for the Indians and made his first American League All-Star team. Over the past three seasons, the sinkerballer has gone 37-35 with a 3.86 ERA and an average of 205 innings per year.

Carrasco expected to win rotation spot

KC@CLE: Carrasco strikes out four over 7 1/3 innings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians believe the time has come for Carlos Carrasco to seize a spot in the rotation.

Indians manager Terry Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash met with Carrasco on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings to deliver that message. The right-hander is out of Minor League options and will be given every opportunity to win a spot on the starting staff during Spring Training.

"We envision him starting a lot of games for us," Francona said on Wednesday. "That's the goal, to come in, be a starter and log a bunch of innings, and kind of take off. I think we all feel it's his time to take the ball and go."

Carrasco, who will turn 27 in March, returned from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last season and posted a 6.75 ERA in 15 games (1.32 ERA in eight relief apperances and 9.00 ERA in five starts). In 16 games for Triple-A Columbus, he went 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings.

In 2011, Carrasco posted a 4.62 ERA in 21 starts for Cleveland before being sidelined with the elbow injury.

"He's done it at the Triple-A level and he's done it at times at the Major League level," Francona said. "Part of it is us giving him the opportunity that, when he does get roughed up, he's not going to be taken out of the rotation. We just need to let him pitch, and when he has a hiccup, know it's a hiccup and just get him back out there. His stuff is so impressive and his delivery is so good. He should log a lot of innings."

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti offered the same message.

"He's big, he's physical, good delivery, he's got good stuff," Antonetti said. "It's just putting all those pieces together and going out and pitching. I think [last season], unlike past years, there was some question of, would he be on the team or wouldn't he be on the team? He knows this year he's going to be on the team going into camp. So he can just focus on preparing for the start of the season."

As things currently stand, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister are viewed as virtual locks for the rotation. Carraso, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have been mentioned for the fifth spot, but Carrasco and Tomline also have the ability to shift into a relief role, if needed.

Tribe seeks late-inning experience in bullpen

MIN@CLE: Allen strikes out Plouffe to escape a jam

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians have internal options for their vacant closer job in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, but manager Terry Francona is not sure he wants to move the relievers out of the roles they filled for the team last season.

"We're going to have to see how the winter plays out," Francona said on Wednesday. "Then, we'll get them aligned."

The Indians have expressed interest in free-agent closers such as Grant Balfour, John Axford and Fernando Rodney, and had an offer out to Edward Mujica, who signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox. During a meeting with reporters on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, Francona made it sound as though he would prefer to solve the closer role with an external addition.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has maintained all winter that the club believes Allen or Shaw could fill the ninth-inning job, if necessary. While Francona echoed that confidence, the manager expressed how much he likes having the pair of right-handers in setup roles.

"I think [Allen] could handle it with very little hiccups," Francona said. "Saying that, I'm not sure that that puts our ballclub in the best position to win. At an early age, we used him in so many high-leverage situations. From the sixth inning on, bases loaded, snuff out a rally, we basically went to Cody. Right- or left-handed didn't matter. He was so good at it, and I would think he'll only continue to get better. It's hard to lose that guy.

"That one guy can make your whole bullpen so much better. So many times you get a save situation, it could be a three-run game with nobody on and the game's already been lost int he seventh or eighth. Same thing [with Shaw]. He could do it in the ninth, no doubt. But, what he does earlier is valuable."

Allen posted a 2.43 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings as a rookie last season, and Shaw had a 3.24 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 75 innings of work.

The Indians had four arms from last season's bullpen -- Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Rick Hill -- hit free agency this offseason, creating a heap of uncertainty. Cleveland is exploring both free agency and trades to replace some of the potential innings lost.

"We just want as many good pitchers as we can in the bullpen," Antonetti said. "We feel that Cody and Bryan are both capable of pitching in that role, if that's the way our roster takes shape this winter. In an ideal world, we would prefer to bring in a guy, or multiple guys, that have late-inning experience."

Infielder Ramirez has surgery on left thumb

CLE@CWS: Ramirez hits first MLB triple in the ninth

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Indians infielder Jose Ramirez underwent a left-thumb ligament reconstruction on Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined for at least two months.

Ramirez, who might be ready for full baseball activities in the early portion of Spring Training, had the operation performed by hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham in Cleveland. The 21-year-old infielder injured his hand on Nov. 22 during a slide in a game for Este in the Dominican Winter League.

Ramirez -- called up to the big leagues from Double-A as part of Cleveland's September promotions last season -- hit .333 (4-for-12) in 15 games for the Tribe. The utility man appeared mostly as a pinch-runner during the Indians' stretch run to the postseason.

In 113 games with Double-A Akron this past season, Ramirez hit .272 with a .325 on-base percentage and a .349 slugging percentage. Along the way, he piled up three home runs, 25 extra-base hits, 38 RBIs, 38 stolen bases and 78 runs in the Minors.

During winter ball, Ramirez hit .287 with nine extra-base hits, seven RBIs and 11 runs scored in 25 games for Este.

Quote to note

"Those guys did an extraordinary job pitching in the roles that they did last year, and were a big part of the success our bullpen had and our team had. So we certainly feel comfortable with hem continuing to pitch in the roles they pitched last year, but also feel they're capable of assuming the ninth-inning duties, if we need it."
-- Antonetti, on relievers Allen and Shaw

Smoke signals

• The Indians have one vacancy on their 40-man roster and planned on meeting Wednesday night to discuss possibly taking a player in Thurday's Rule 5 Draft. Cleveland is in the market for relief pitching, so the club could take a chance on an arm. Since 2006, 28 of the 88 pitchers taken in the Rule 5 Draft went on to spend the majority of the following season in the Majors.

"Typically, those are the guys that have the highest probability of sticking, guys in the bullpen, when you look at the history of the Draft," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "There are individual exceptions for starters and position players, but, on balance, relievers are the highest probability to stick."

• The Indians are one of a handful of teams to have shown interest in free-agent infielder Jamey Carroll, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBS Sports. The 39-year-old Carroll hit .211 with a .518 OPS in 73 games between stints with the Royals and Twins last season. The Rays and Rangers are also rumored to have interest.

• The Indians reportedly expressed interest in free-agent starter Bartolo Colon, who pitched for the Tribe from 1997-2002. Cleveland was only willing to offer a one-year contract, but the 40-year-old Colon has agreed on a two-year, $20-million contract with the Mets, according to a source.

• Indians first-base prospect Jesus Aguilar launched two home runs for Leones del Caracas on Tuesday, giving him 16 homers in 176 at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 687 at-bats in 2013 between Major League Spring Training, Double-A and winter ball, Aguilar has posted a .287/.357/.476 slash line with 32 homers, 34 doubles, 99 runs and 152 RBIs.