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Cleveland Indians Enter New Season With Optimism

DiBiasio tells chamber depth should protect from repeat of late-season swoon.

Every team talks playoffs heading into the season, but the Cleveland Indians should legitimately have something to build on from 2011. They were in first place for 95 days with the third-youngest squad in the major leagues, Bob DiBiasio, senior vice president of public affairs, reminded members of the Mayfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Our team goal is first place," he said at a chamber lunch on Thursday. "That is the goal, despite what the other teams are doing."

While the Detroit Tigers added Prince Fielder, the Indians picked up a first baseman in Casey Kotchman. But the biggest news this offseason involved the player formerly known as Fausto Carmona.

DiBiasio said Roberto Hernandez Heredia paid the Carmona family in the Dominican Republic to be able to use the identity of Fausto Carmona in order to appear to be three years younger. When they saw that Heredia was due to make $7 million this year, the family tried to get more money.

"The family says they want more money," DiBiasio said. "Then the mother goes on the radio and rats him out."

DiBiasio explained that Heredia was 20 when he was approached by someone who said he could help him pass himself off as 17. DiBiasio said it typically takes players from the Dominican Republic two years to assimilate, so they have to start at a younger age in order to be considered a top prospect before they're too old.

"The reality of the Dominican Republic is when a kid turns 19 years old, he's no longer considered as a baseball player," DiBiasio said.

DiBiasio said the Indians were disappointed to learn that Heredia had been lying to the team and will miss the 180 innings he pitched last year. Going into 2012, the main emphasis has been to add depth to avoid the falloff that occurred when injuries mounted at the end of the 2011 season.

On Labor Day, the Indians featured an outfield of Ezequiel Carrera, Jerad Head and Kosuke Fukodome because of injuries to Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore and Michael Brantley.

"Our outfield depth just wasn't there," DiBiasio said.

Another offseason emphasis was defense, as shown in the signing of Kotchman, who holds a record of 2,379 chances without an error at first base. DiBiasio said the Indians committed 110 errors last season and teams aren't considered decent defensively unless they have under 100 errors.

DiBiasio said last season saw Justin Masterson ascend to the level of staff ace, while catcher Carlos Santana bounced back from a knee injury and Asdrubal Cabrera emerged as an all-star shortstop.

This offseason, Ubaldo Jimenez worked with a team strength and conditioning coach in an attempt to avoid problems such as a tendon pull in the bottom of his foot that hampered him last year.

The team also has high hopes for second baseman Jason Kipnis this year, DiBiasio said.

"We think of him as highly as Dustin Pedroia in Boston," he said.

DiBiasio also talked about schedule changes made this year to make starting times more convenient for families. He said there are three 3 p.m. Saturday games and three 6 p.m. Sunday contests in 2012.

"We still believe that we are the only major league, family-friendly business out there," he said.

Opening day is April 5, with a 3:05 p.m. game against Toronto.

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