CLEVELAND -- The more Cody Allen spoke, the more the Indians' closer's words became emphatic. This was not how Cleveland wanted its season to end, with a quiet Tribe clubhouse and the Cubs celebrating on the field, but it may have served as a kind of beginning.
The Indians pushed the Cubs to the 10th inning of Game 7 of an incredible World Series and came up short, but Cleveland also did so short-handed. The Tribe nearly pulled it off without Michael Brantley in the lineup and without Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar in the rotation. With those players set to return, and a roster that could be virtually identical, the players are looking forward to Spring Training.
"We're going to have Brantley back," Allen said in the aftermath of Wednesday's season-ending 8-7 loss to the Cubs. "We're going to have Danny back, Carlos back. The season's been over for 40 minutes, and we're champing at the bit to show up in Arizona. I can honestly say, 'I am ready to get to Arizona,' because I want to get this thing started again."
The good news for upset Indians fans is that president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff have constructed a roster that should be capable of contending for the next few years. The bulk of the core is locked in place, and Cleveland only has a handful of free agents this offseason in veterans Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp and Marlon Byrd.
The Tribe will pick up the $12 million team option of Carlos Santana, who will be one of eight players with guaranteed salaries for the 2017 campaign, barring any unexpected trades. That group includes Andrew Miller ($9 million), Jason Kipnis ($9 million), Corey Kluber ($7.5 million), Brantley ($7.5 million), Carrasco ($6.5 million), Yan Gomes ($4.5 million) and Josh Tomlin ($2.5 million).
That means that the Indians will have $58.5 million locked into place, with around $30 million projected for the 11 arbitration cases. Allen, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Chris Gimenez, Brandon Guyer, Jeff Manship, Michael Martinez, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Salazar and Bryan Shaw will each be eligible for arbitration, but the chances that Cleveland will retain the entire group via the arbitration process are slim.
The Indians will likely explore whether to re-sign Davis and Napoli.
Davis led the American League in stolen bases (43), but he just turned 36 years old. Napoli, who turned 35 on Monday, enjoyed the best season of his career, posting personal bests in games played (150), plate appearances (645), home runs (34) and RBIs (101). Both players have expressed a desire to remain in Cleveland, through Napoli's chances of being re-signed are probably greater.
"That would be great if we could get us two back, especially with this group of guys," Davis said on Wednesday night. "They're a good group, talented. I think they're ready to learn. I don't make those decisions. I just go out there and do whatever I'm told, really. If I get the opportunity, I get it. If I don't, I'll be somewhere else."
Right now, the Indians can take some comfort in knowing that the bulk of the roster will remain intact.
If Cleveland wants to stick with the same rotation, Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Bauer and Tomlin are all under team control. The bullpen -- anchored by the trade acquisition of Miller just before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline -- can return with the same back-end cast. The lineup, which finished second in the AL in runs scored, could look virtually the same -- and have Brantley back in the middle.
"We do [feel good], and we will be back," Kipnis said. "We're pretty confident in this group we got here. There's a lot of people who probably don't even know who Carlos Carrasco is or Michael Brantley. Those guys have huge roles for us."
After the Game 7 loss, Bauer said he probably would not reflect on this season for quite some time.
"In the future, yeah, I'm sure I'll look back and say, 'That was pretty cool,'" Bauer said. "But this season just ended, and next season just started. So it's time to go out and start working to get better for next year."
The Indians are positioned well for next year, too.
"We know we're a good team," Bauer said. "You can never count on being in the World Series. There's a lot of games to be played between now and then, but everyone in here believes that we're capable of getting back and doing it next year. We all believed that we could win [this year]. It just didn't turn out in our favor."