CLEVELAND -- The sting of another early October exit will linger for a while, but the Indians' decision-makers must now turn their attention to next year.
This week, manager Terry Francona, along with president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff, have already held end-of-year meetings with Cleveland's players, coaches and staff. The goal is to gather input on this past season, make plans for the offseason months ahead and asssess the direction to take for 2019.
"It's really important to separate the feelings from the process," Antonetti said. "The feelings hurt a lot. It's disappointment. It's frustration. It's a lot of things. But what we need to do and what we always do, is we always reflect back organizationally and think about, 'What were the things within our control and what can we do better?' We do that at the end of every season, and this season will be no different.
"It's already started, in fact. We've had exit interviews with players. We've got feedback from staff. And we'll do our own internal assessment, and we'll reach out to others and get those reflections back from it and try to learn from it. What are things that we can do better as an organization and improve upon for next year?"
With that in mind, here are some FAQs about the Tribe's offseason:
1. How many Cleveland players will be eligible for free agency this winter?
The Indians will have four high-profile free agents this winter in third baseman Josh Donaldson, left fielder Michael Brantley, lefty Andrew Miller and righty Cody Allen. Other players eligible for free agency include pitchers Oliver Perez and Josh Tomlin, outfielders Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis, and utility man Adam Rosales.
2. Will the Indians extend a qualifying offer to any free agents?
Teams have the option of extending one-year qualifying offers (valued at $17.9 million for 2019) to departing free agents prior to free agency. If the players accepts, that is his salary for the '19 season. If the player rejects the offer, the team can potentially net Draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. The player has 10 days to make the decision.
Since Donaldson was traded to the Indians by Toronto this past season, he is no longer eligible for a qualifying offer. The three cases Cleveland will have to weigh are Allen, Brantley and Miller. All three could be in line for multiyear contracts this winter. That said, Allen and Miller are coming off subpar seasons. None of the three are sure-fire bets to receive the offer, but Brantley might top the list.
3. Who will be eligible for arbitration this winter?
The Indians will have eight arbitration cases to sort through. The most prominent names on the list are starter Trevor Bauer and shortstop Francisco Lindor. There is a chance that Lindor challenges the first-year arbitration salary record (Kristopher Bryant, $10.85 million). Other players eligible for arbitration include pitchers Cody Anderson, Nicholas Goody, Neil Ramirez and Danny Salazar, plus outfielders Brandon Barnes and Leonys Martin.
4. Do the Indians hold any contract options for 2019?
Yes, there are two. Cleveland has a $9.75 million team option to retain starter Carlos Carrasco, whose fourth-place finish in American League Cy Young voting in 2017 increased the option's value by $750,000. That one is a no-brainer to pick up. The Indians must also decide on a $3 million team option (or $250,000 buyout) for corner outfielder Brandon Guyer, whose past two seasons have been riddled with health issues.
5. How is the payroll shaping up in light of free agents leaving, arbitration and guaranteed contracts?
The Indians ended this past season with a franchise-record payroll north of $140 million, and there is more than $40 million coming off the 2018 books through departing free agents. That said, the arbitration cases (if everyone is tendered a contract) could account for more than $30 million. Looking at the eight eligible players, that includes roughly a projected $17 million in raises. Assuming Carrasco's option is exercised, the players locked in on guaranteed deals currently account for around $90 million of the '19 payroll. That's roughly $16 million in raises for those 10 contracts.
"The one thing we do know," Antonetti said, "is whatever payroll might be coming off the books with the free agents we may be losing, we're going to need just as much, if not more, to retain the guys through arbitration raises and increases in guaranteed contracts. We had a franchise-record payroll this year just to retain those guys that are under contract. It would be a payroll even above where are right now even before we add anyone externally."
6. Who could the Indians trade to free up payroll for other moves?
The most obvious trade candidate is Jason Kipnis, who is set to earn $14.7 million in '19 and once again has uncertainty surrounding his place on the field. Kipnis could play second base, or the Indians might consider him for center or left field, depending on other offseason moves. If Cleveland could find a team to take a flier on Salazar (sidelined all of 2018 due to arm troubles), he could be dealt, too. Last offseason, slugger Edwin Encarnacion's name also surfaced in trade rumors. That would be surprising, but with Yandy Diaz looking for an opportunity, at least exploring dealing one of Encarnacion or Yonder Alonso would make sense.
7. What are the main needs for the Indians this winter?
Cleveland has the ability to retain its entire rotation, which remains the backbone of the roster and the primary reason the team will return as favorites to win the AL Central again. With Allen and Miller potentially exiting, and given the bullpen issues that plagued the club all year, addressing the relief corps will be critical this offseason. The Indians also need to sort through the question marks that exist at each outfield spot. As things currently stand, there is no clear-cut starter for left, center or right field.
8. When and where are MLB's annual offseason meetings?
The General Managers Meetings are scheduled for Nov. 5-8 in Carlsbad, Calif. The Winter Meetings will follow from Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas. The annual Rule 5 Draft will take place on the morning of Dec. 13.