CLEVELAND -- The older gentleman who stepped up to the microphone had heard enough of the serious baseball discussion for the time being. He greeted Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and asked if it was fine to introduce some levity. Antonetti laughed, and the man proceeded with his question during Friday's town hall meeting inside the Idea Center at Playhouse Square. "My question of you," he said, "is when the Fausto Carmona facts became known, where were you, what was your first reaction and what did you do after that first reaction?"
The crowd of season-ticket holders in attendance offered a collective chuckle and Antonetti smiled from the stage. Many topics were addressed during the Town Hall Meeting, which will air on SportsTime Ohio at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, but the discussion was dominated by the ongoing Carmona situation. Carmona, whose name is believed to actually be Roberto (Heredia) Hernandez, was arrested on Jan. 19 in the Dominican Republic on charges of using a false identity. Cleveland has placed the pitcher on baseball's restricted list, meaning he will not receive pay until his legal and visa issues are resolved. Antonetti has generally refrained from commenting publicly on the situation, but the GM loosened up a bit after the lighthearted inquiry. "That's a great question," Antonetti said. "I was actually getting ready to go away with my wife for our anniversary. So I got that news and -- obviously, there were a lot of other things going -- so my first reaction was, 'My wife's going to kill me.'" Antonetti's audience laughed once again. "Thankfully," added the GM, "my wife was very understanding as we worked through that." Then, the fan cracked up everyone in attendance with one final one-liner. "Did you give any consideration to suggesting that you go on your anniversary celebration to the Dominican Republic?" he asked. It was a good-natured moment within a wide-ranging chat about various issues facing the Indians heading into the 2012 season. In the wake of the news that slugger Prince Fielder signed a mammoth contract with the Tigers, Antonetti and manager Manny Acta were asked how they expect to keep pace with Detroit in the American League Central. That seemed to be the biggest concern after the Carmona situation. Cleveland's fans watched as a division rival broke the bank with a nine-year, $214 million contract to reel in Fielder. Meanwhile, the Indians have misfired on multiple attempts to add some offense, and to this point have mostly added a variety of players on Minor League contracts to provide depth. That depth, according to Acta, has been the missing ingredient for the Tribe. "Everybody knows that the issue that we've had over the last two years," Acta said, "has been the lack of depth. In order to stay on top, we need to have just about every one of our guys healthy and playing up to their capabilities. "When we haven't done that, we've had to go and reach for a kid that's just trying to hone his skills in Triple-A and it hasn't panned out. Now, we have a few guys that are going to be able to close that gap." As things currently stand, the Indians project to begin the season with a payroll in the neighborhood of $70 million -- roughly $20 million more than in 2011. Still, there is a growing feeling among fans that Cleveland's ownership is not willing to put up the money necessary to contend. Antonetti said no one should question the team's commitment to winning. "I can assure you that's our goal," he said. "That's why I do what I do, to win championships. We have the exact same goals as the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox. That's to win the World Series. Our job is to figure out how to do it within our market, within Cleveland. "We're passionate about that and we try to do that every day. We wake up every day with that as our goal. But, we have to do it a little bit differently. As we demonstrated in 2007, and in a variety of other years in the past, we have the ability to build good teams without necessarily having the highest payroll." Acta said payroll should not be considered a stumbling block for his team. "We never care about what anybody else thinks outside our clubhouse," Acta said. "We told our kids from the get-go, we're young and we have a low payroll, but that's not an excuse not to win." Both Antonetti and Acta emphasized that the Indians are expecting to begin the season with outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore and Michael Brantley at full health. Combine that with the promise of young hitters like Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, plus a potentially solid pitching staff, and Cleveland believes there is reason to be confident. That said, the Indians are still looking to acquire a hitter this winter. "I'm hopeful," Antonetti said, "that we'll be able to improve the team between now and the start of Spring Training. If we can't, then we'll continue to try to do that through the course of Spring Training and through the course of the start of the season." Acta added that he hoped something could get done sooner rather than later. "I do hope that something happens," said the manager. "Chris has worked really hard and I'm a witness to that, about trying to acquire a hitter or two. It's not a secret, we need some help offensively. "You guys saw that last year, especially knowing that it's not guaranteed that every one of these guys are going to stay healthy. So, hopefully something will come up before Spring Training." As for Carmona -- the Indians' plan on referring to the pitcher by that name until his issues are officially sorted out -- Cleveland is not sure when he will be able to return to the ballclub. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 19, but it seems unlikely Carmona's issue would be resolved that swiftly. "It's a complicated matter," said Acta, who has spoken with Carmona multiple times since the pitcher's arrest. "All I could do was support the man, the man that I've been around, the man that's shown me he was a good son, a good father and a good teammate." For now, the Indians will move forward without Carmona, and with a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. Then, when Carmona is eventually eligible to return, it sounds as though the Indians would welcome him back. "You just can't give up on the guy," Acta said. "He's so talented."