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Indians will look to build on strong finish

Despite not living up to preseason expectations, Tribe ends '15 on upswing

CLEVELAND -- Preseason predictions do not matter much once the first pitch is thrown in a season. The Indians learned that quickly and harshly this year, when an assortment of national outlets pegged them as World Series contenders or favorites.

Cleveland does not want to make too many magazine covers in 2016.

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"We're going to be a little more cautiously optimistic next year," Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We're not going to read into anything. We're not going to expect anything. I think that's how it should be. We're going to go out and play hard. That's the best way to go about things."

A third-place finish in the American League Central was not what the Tribe had in mind for 2015, and the team will expect to do much better next year. Cleveland believes in its core (Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen), and it has confidence that the final two months of this season showed the team's potential.

Late-season pushes have been the norm the Indians over the past three years. In each of those seasons, a slow start, especially in April, cost the club down the stretch.

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"I wish we had a magic answer for how to play [like we did in th second half] for the entire year," Kluber said. "We'll continue to keep working at it and keep trying to get better, and have that confidence that eventually, when we do get to the point where we're playing the way we're capable of, we know we can be a really good team."

Video: STL@CLE: Kluber takes no-no into 7th, strikes out 18

Attempting to solve the start of the season will be a goal for the Tribe this offseason, along with supplementing the roster that is already in place.

"We tried so hard for those first four months, and we just spun our wheels," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Then, all of a sudden, you get new faces in and we seemed to kind of jell. ... I do know that we worked really hard. As frustrated as we were, we worked at it. I can't tell you how many times I talked to guys. More this year than ever before, because I was really frustrated, and I felt like I wasn't doing my job.

"For whatever reason, things got much better, and I'm glad. I just wish I could figure out the beginning still a little better."

Here is a glance at the Indians' situation as the offseason begins:

Arbitration-eligible: Allen, outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, left-hander Nick Hagadone, right-hander Jeff Manship, right-hander Zach McAllister, right-hander Bryan Shaw and right-hander Josh Tomlin.

Free agents: Utility man Mike Aviles, right-hander Gavin Floyd and right-hander Ryan Webb.

Options: Utility man Ryan Raburn's contract includes a $3 million team option or a $100,000 buyout.

Rotation: This is the strength of Cleveland's roster. Led by Kluber and Carrasco, and strengthened through the middle by Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, the Indians have a starting staff that many teams would envy. The late-season emergence of Cody Anderson and return of Tomlin also give the club two more Major League options for 2016. The Tribe will be in the market for back-end depth, but don't rule out seeing the club weigh trading a starter to improve the offense.

Bullpen: Anchored by Allen and setup man Shaw, the Indians could head into 2016 with virtually the same relief corps. McAllister has developed into a solid reliever, and the team found a diamond in the rough in Manship this past season. Internal lefty options include Hagadone, Kyle Crockett and Giovanni Soto. Others in the mix will be Austin Adams, Shawn Armstrong and C.C. Lee. Cleveland will surely explore adding depth to the 'pen through both Major League and Minor League deals.

Video: CLE@MIN: Allen strikes out Hicks to earn the save

Catcher: The Indians love the tandem they have behind the plate in Gomes and Roberto Perez. Both are young, sound defensively and have shown promise with the bat. Gomes, who won an AL Silver Slugger Award in 2014, was slowed at the plate this past year after an April knee injury. Perez filled in admirably as a starter at times for the Tribe. Expect Cleveland to open '16 with the same alignment. As was the case last year, the Tribe will likely look to add Triple-A catching depth as insurance for its Major League duo.

First base/designated hitter: As of now, Carlos Santana (under contract for $8.25 million for 2016) and Chris Johnson ($7.5 million in '16) would be the likely candidates to split time between first and DH next year. Santana served more as a DH after Johnson was acquired via trade in August. Santana has value in his on-base ability and power potential, but his inconsistency over the past few years might make him a trade candidate. Jerry Sands (best when used against lefties) will also be under team control, but he is out of Minor League options.

Second base: Following a disappointing 2014 campaign, Kipnis rebounded with a strong campaign worthy of AL Comeback Player of the Year Award consideration. He won the AL Player of the Month Award after a scorching-hot May and cruised to his second career All-Star Game nod. While slowed a bit in the second half by a shoulder issue, Kipnis' move to the leadoff spot this year helped spark the top of the lineup and helped him turn in an impressive season.

Video: 2015 MLB Awards: Best Bounceback Player - Kipnis

Shortstop: Cleveland handed the keys to shortstop to the 21-year-old Lindor in June, and the young infielder took flight. Lindor displayed some of the best defense for a shortstop in the league and was one of baseball's hottest hitters in the second half. Lindor is a lock to be the Tribe's Opening Day shortstop in 2016 -- and several years to come. His work in '15 could net him the AL Rookie of the Year Award, an honor not won by an Indians player since Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1990.

Third base: This could be a position that the Tribe looks to address over the offseason. As of now, the primary in-house candidate would appear to be rookie Giovanny Urshela, who offered plus defense but inconsistent offense in his first big league stint. With Aviles hitting free agency, the other internal option would be Jose Ramirez, who was used late in the year as a utility man (second base, shortstop, third base and left field).

Outfield: Left field is occupied by Brantley, who isn't going anywhere. Right field is, surprisingly enough, now the main position for Chisenhall, whose second-half switch to the outfield was one of the stories of the season. In center, midseason trade pickup Abraham Almonte was solid down the stretch, but he might profile better as a fourth outfielder. Cleveland could target help for center field. And if Raburn's option isn't picked up, the team might look for a right-handed-hitting complement to Chisenhall for right. Sands would be one internal candidate for that kind of role.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.
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