Tribe's core is back, aims for World Series crown

February 24th, 2018

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians' players would like to remind fans that there is still a lot of talent occupying real estate in the team's clubhouse.

Much of the focus over the offseason was on the players who left Cleveland and signed contracts elsewhere: went to the Phillies. joined the Rockies. and Joe Smith headed to the Mets and Astros, respectively. Still, the Indians are heading into the 2018 campaign with mostly the same roster that captured a second straight American League Central crown last year.

"Don't get me wrong," Indians ace said, "the guys who are in different places, they got to free agency and there's a reason people wanted to pay them. They're really good players. But, we have a lot of the same guys in here, a lot of the same guys that have had success over the last few years. That's just not what catches headlines over the offseason.

"Obviously, the focus over the offseason is people moving to new places and things like that. But, I think in the locker room, we feel good about the group we have in here. We wish those guys were still with us, but I think we have no choice but to move forward with the guys we have in here and forget about it."

When MLB Network set up camp in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday for its visit with the Tribe as part of this spring's 30 clubs in 30 days tour, there were still plenty of familiar faces working out. Kluber's stoic personality was on display with the pitchers. was smiling out at shortstop and was strutting to the batting cage. was turning batting practice into his personal home run derby.

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"Hopefully," Indians closer said, "the guys in this clubhouse right now are the ones who are leading us to the promised land at the end of the year. But, if there's a significant need, we understand that our front office and ownership, they're going to do everything they can to help us win ballgames."

Here is a look at the Indians' situation as Opening Day approaches:

What's the goal?

The players inside Cleveland's clubhouse have one singular focus: Winning the World Series. Two years ago, the Indians made a surprising run to the Fall Classic with an injury-plagued roster, and nearly pulled off the improbable -- only to lose a winner-take-all Game 7 to the Cubs. Last year, the Tribe had a formidable roster, ran away with the AL Central, won 102 games and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. And then, the Yankees bounced Cleveland out of the playoffs in the AL Division Series.

"We ain't curling up. I guarantee you that," Lindor said. "We're going after it, man. We want to win. I want to win. There's no one here saying we don't want to win. Everybody wants to win and finish the thing. We understand that winning makes everything a lot easier and smoother, and keeps everybody happy. We want to do that. We want to accomplish our dreams."

What's the plan?

The backbone of Cleveland's roster is pitching. It was a quiet offseason for the Tribe, but the team's continued optimism about contending stems from the core that remains in place. That begins with the rotation, which is led by Kluber (the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner) and (fourth in Cy Young voting last year). As a group, the Tribe's pitching staff set a single-season record for combined WAR (31.7 per FanGraphs) in 2017. It was a historic staff, and nearly the entire cast returns for '18.

The bullpen will once again be anchored by Allen and relief ace , while Lindor and Ramirez will return as the focal point of the Indians' offense. Cleveland's combination of strong pitching, a versatile lineup and solid defense led to a plus-254 run differential in 2017. That was first in the Majors, and second-highest -- they had a plus-272 in 1948 -- in team history. The Indians will be relying upon a similar recipe in the upcoming campaign.

What could go wrong?

Injuries and depth are two concerns for Cleveland right now. The Indians picked up 's $12 million team option over the winter, but the All-Star left fielder is still recovering from right ankle surgery and will start the season on the disabled list, although he is not expected to be out long. Righty (right shoulder soreness) came to camp already a couple weeks behind the rest of the starters. Outfielder , who was a weapon against lefties in 2016, has been recovering from a left wrist issue but will be ready for Opening Day.

The Indians have a strong rotation, but the depth chart is thin behind the top seven options. Similarly, Cleveland's outfield is filled with uncertainty, given the ongoing comebacks for Brantley and Guyer. The Indians' bullpen also includes some question marks. There is one vacancy this spring, but no clear-cut candidate, and any setbacks among the main arms could expose thin depth in that area, too.

Who might surprise?

The Indians are looking forward to seeing what will be able to do over a full season, and the big center fielder certainly has the tools -- especially defensively and on the basepaths -- to make a strong impact. Cleveland's No. 1 prospect, , may open at Triple-A, but he is knocking on the big leagues' door. Mike Clevinger impressed as a starter last year, and the right-hander also looks positioned to take a big step forward in the upcoming campaign. -- built like a body builder and one of the best in baseball in hard-hit rate last year -- is also a very intriguing hitter for the Tribe.