CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona's reasons for joining the Indians as the team's new manager have been well-documented. It's all about relationships and tackling a big challenge surrounded by a group of people he trusts.

Francona's ties to Cleveland go beyond the front office, though. The manager is also looking forward to once again working with pitcher Justin Masterson.

"He's such a special kid," Francona said. "To be reunited with him is really, really cool."

Francona was manager of the Red Sox in 2009, when the Indians swung the blockbuster trade that sent Victor Martinez to Boston and brought Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price to Cleveland. Francona will never forget when he had to break the news to Masterson that he was being dealt to the Tribe.

"The day that we traded Masty was a bittersweet day," Francona sad. "We got Victor Martinez, but that was a hard conversation to have with Justin."

With the Red Sox -- partly due to the construction of the roster -- Masterson was used as a reliever. Despite a rocky showing this past season, Masterson has developed into one of Cleveand's top starters over the past two years. Francona said he plans on keeping the sinkerballer in the rotation for 2013, too.

Masterson, who has gone 23-25 with a 4.05 ERA with 422 1/3 innings logged over the past two seasons, would have been thrilled to have either Sandy Alomar Jr. or Francona as Cleveland's manager, but the pitcher was excited about working for his old skipper again.

"Our choice for manager this year was between two excellent candidates," Masterson wrote in an e-mail. "I am excited to have Tito at the helm. He does a great job of communicating to his players and is very passionate about the game and about seeing all of his players have success.

"I've always had a great relationship with Tito and he showed me great respect and courage in my rookie year [2008] to give me an opportunity and keep throwing me out in the mix."

Brantley undergoes surgery on sports hernia

CLEVELAND -- One of Michael Brantley's goals this past season was to stay on the field as much as possible for an Indians team that has been plagued by injuries in recent years. To do so, the center fielder had to play through pain at times.

On Thursday, Brantley underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia on the left side of his abdomen -- an injury that bothered him in the second half. The 30-minute procedure was performed by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia and requires a recovery period of approximately three to six weeks.

Brantley toughed it out over the season's second half and ended the year with a career-high 149 games played.

"I'm very proud of that," Brantley said at the end of the season. "I was going out there each and every day and battling with my team and staying healthy. That's something I needed to do. It was something that was in my goals at the start of spring, and it's something I'm looking forward to doing, hopefully, for many years."

Brantley, 25, led Cleveland with a .288 average (a career high) and set personal bests with a .348 on-base percentage and a .402 slugging percentage. The outfielder ended the season with six home runs, 37 doubles, four triples, 60 RBIs and 63 runs scored for the Tribe.

From May 20-June 15, Brantley turned in a 22-game hitting streak that helped him cruise through the rest of the season, offensively. Beginning with May 20, Brantley hit .301 with a .368 OBP and a .418 SLG over his final 111 games, following a .255/.295/.363 slash line over his first 38 games.

"Michael was probably our most consistent player from the beginning of the season to the end," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He's one of those guys that can step forward in a leadership role both on the field and in the clubhouse."

Brantley is expected to be at full strength in time for Spring Training.

Slowey pitching in Dominican winter ball

CLEVELAND -- The Indians acquired Kevin Slowey last offseason with the hope that he could provide some experienced depth for the rotation. A season-ending injury cost Slowey his chance of making it back to the big leagues.

With only eight Minor League starts to his credit for 2012, Slowey will continue his comeback with Azucaeros del Estes in the Dominican Winter League this offseason.

Slowey, 28, went 3-3 with a 5.14 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Columbus before a stress fracture in his rib cage prematurely ended his season. The right-hander earned $2.75 million ($1.5 million paid by Cleveland) in 2012 and will be eligible for arbitration again this winter, making him a non-tender candidate for the Tribe.

Slowey went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA for the Twins in 2011, but that poor showing followed a solid three-year showing with Minnesota. From 2008-10, Slowey went 35-20 with a 4.36 ERA across 73 big league appearances.

Slowey is just one of Cleveland's winter ball participants for the coming months. Outfielder Tim Fedroff (Aguilas Cibaenas), infielder Juan Diaz (Estrellas Orientales) and pitcher Fabio Martinez (Toros del Este) will also be playing winter ball in the Dominican.

Cleveland's participants in the Puerto Rican Winter League include: right-handers Rob Bryson (Criollos de Caguas), Matt Langwell (Gigantes de Carolina) and Joseph Colin (Gigantes de Carolina); left-hander Giovanny Soto (Gigantes de Carolina); and catcher Roberto Perez (Indios de Mayaguez).

In the Venezuelan Winter League, infielders Gregorio Petit and Jesus Aguilar, and right-hander Hector Rondon will suit up for Leones de Caracas. Right-hander Toru Murata will be playing for Navegantes del Magallanes.

Quote to note

"When you talk about pitching, you're going to hear me say this: 'When you think you've got enough, you go get more, or you try to.' You try to have depth, because no team has enough pitching."
--Indians manager Terry Francona

Smoke signals

• The Indians have had no comment on a report indicating that new manager Terry Francona has an out clause in his four-year contract that can be exercised if certain members of the front office are dismissed.

• Outfielder Shelley Duncan, reliever Dan Wheeler and catcher Luke Carlins -- each of whom spent time with the Indians this year -- have elected free agency. All three were on Triple-A Columbus' roster at the end of the season.

• One of Cleveland's biggest needs this winter is starting pitching. In 2012, the rotation posted a 5.25 ERA, which was the fourth-highest ERA in a season since 1921, according to STATS LLC. The 2012 staff trailed only the 1987 (5.37), 2009 (5.30) and 2001 (5.26) rotations.