CLEVELAND -- Pessimism is not in Francisco Lindor's genetic makeup. On a cloudy day, the Indians shortstop would probably flash his signature smile and point out that it is not raining. If there is a positive to be found, it will not escape Lindor's attention for long.So, it came as
CLEVELAND -- Pessimism is not in Francisco Lindor's genetic makeup. On a cloudy day, the Indians shortstop would probably flash his signature smile and point out that it is not raining. If there is a positive to be found, it will not escape Lindor's attention for long.
So, it came as no surprise Friday when Lindor looked confused after a question about all the Indians have lost this offseason. Coming off an early postseason exit, Cleveland had Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, Jay Bruce and Joe Smith depart via free agency. That has many wondering whether the reigning American League Central champions have taken a step backward for 2018.
"Backwards?" Lindor repeated, making sure he heard correctly. "No, I don't think so. We have the right group of guys."
From the interview room, where Tribe manager Terry Francona held court with local reporters, to the clubhouse, where the bulk of Cleveland's active roster was on hand on the eve of Tribe Fest, that was the message. Francona has said that his team plans on returning "with a vengeance," and his players echoed that sentiment from every corner of the locker room.
The players repeatedly pointed to the fact that the team -- most of which is returning -- won an AL-high 102 games last season. Francona added that the Indians have actually led the AL in victories over the past five seasons, combined (454). Trevor Bauer mentioned that last season's pitching staff put up all-time great numbers. (The 31.7 WAR, per Fangraphs, was the highest single-season mark in baseball history.)
"You can focus on what we've lost all you want," Bauer said. "But, no one seems to be focusing on what we're bringing back, which is the best pitching staff in the big leagues last year."
The rotation will again be led by ace Corey Kluber -- the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner -- along with Carlos Carrasco and Bauer. This spring, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin will compete for the last two spots. In the bullpen, closer Cody Allen and relief ace Andrew Miller will again anchor a relief corps that led the Majors in ERA (2.89) in '17.
Lindor and Jose Ramirez -- a pair of Most Valuable Player candidates last year -- figure to be the focal point of an offense that ranked second in OPS (.788) and third in runs scored (818) in the AL last year. Ramirez smirked when asked, via translator Anna Bolton, what his message would be to worried Tribe fans.
"I'd tell the fans that they need to trust us, and trust those of us who are here," Ramirez said. "We're the ones who are important for them now, and we're going to keep on giving our very best and we're going to come out every day to win, for ourselves, but also for the fans, because they're so important."
There is no denying that last season's ending came with a painful sting that still lingers.
The Indians held a 2-0 advantage in the AL Division Series against the Yankees, who then won three straight to send the Tribe into an early winter. That came one year after the Indians had a 3-1 lead in the World Series against the Cubs, who won it all in a classic Game 7 at Progressive Field. That is six straight close-out losses over the past two years, and now some key pieces have left the building.
Santana was a fixture in the Indians' lineup for the past seven years, and netted a three-year, $60 million pact with the Phillies this offseason. Shaw, who was Francona's main setup man for the past five seasons, signed a multi-year contract with the Rockies. Bruce and Smith went to the Mets and Astros, respectively.
Cleveland's main answers for the losses to date have been to pick up the $12 million team option for left fielder Michael Brantley (limited to 101 games in the past two years, combined, due to injuries) and signing first baseman Yonder Alonso to a two-year, $16 million deal that includes a third-year option. Last year, Alonso had 28 homers and an .866 OPS in a career year that the Indians are counting on being a sign of more to come, rather than a one-year fluke.
Alonso, for his part, wants to help push the Indians over the postseason hump.
"I had a choice to make," Alonso said. "That choice was relatively simple for me -- that's just being in a winning environment, on a winning team. ... [I've] never been to a postseason, never even had a winning season. For me, the doors have opened and, obviously, I can help out."
Winning the World Series remains the goal, and no one in the Tribe's clubhouse feels like the window of opportunity has closed.
"As long as we have good players like we do in this locker room, the window is always going to be open," Jason Kipnis said. "There may be some moving pieces or mixing and matching some lineups, but when the core of the group that's as talented as it is is here, you're going to have the window open."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.