SEATTLE -- There was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that helped overcome the disappointment that came with falling short of winning the World Series two years ago for the Indians. They got there with an injury-marred roster, and still pushed the Cubs to extra innings in a dramatic seventh game
SEATTLE -- There was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that helped overcome the disappointment that came with falling short of winning the World Series two years ago for the Indians. They got there with an injury-marred roster, and still pushed the Cubs to extra innings in a dramatic seventh game in Cleveland.
The same feeling did not exist following last October's early exit.
"Not even close," said Paul Dolan, the Indians' chairman and CEO. "This one hurt a lot more."
Sitting in his office at the Indians' spring headquarters on a recent afternoon, Dolan discussed the lingering pain of losing to the Yankees in the American League Division Series last year, and stressed the belief that the current team remains in prime position to bring a World Series title to Cleveland. Even after a quiet winter for the franchise, the roster is built to realistically contend for the team's first crown in 70 years.
Within Cleveland's clubhouse, there is a sense of urgency growing among the veteran players who came up together and helped grow the current run of successful seasons. Next winter, key players like Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Michael Brantley and Josh Tomlin could hit free agency, along with a handful of others. There is still young talent locked in place, but a heightened level of uncertainty exists beyond 2018 and could gain momentum in the years that follow.
Dolan, too, feels the importance surrounding the season at hand.
"We've won five years in a row. You don't win forever. We are peaking as a team," Dolan said. "You can certainly look down the road and think that, if we're going to continue to succeed, we're going to have to do it with an evolution of talent. But, with the talent we currently have together, this is the time to do it."
Prior to the 2016 campaign, the Indians' payroll had never reached the $100 million plateau. That has changed in the past two years, which included a franchise-record payroll at the end of each season. As things currently stand, the Tribe's payroll for '18 will be right around $130 million, though the bulk of that came via internal raises.
The only major external addition for the Indians this past winter was signing free-agent first baseman Yonder Alonso to a two-year contract worth $16 million guaranteed. A year earlier, Cleveland made a big free-agent splash by reeling in slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million pact. It was an opportunistic signing for the Indians, who waited out the market and saw Encarnacion's asking price drop into their operating range.
Dolan said a similar turn of events just never materialized this past winter.
"We're counting on the continued improvement of some of our younger guys," Dolan said. "And we have a lot of guys in the primes of their careers. So, there's no reason not to expect similar performances. ... I don't know that an opportunity like [the Encarnacion situation] really arose for us this offseason. But, too, frankly, because we moved on Encarnacion and made a couple other moves, we didn't have the financial capability to make a big move like that."
Recent history shows that Dolan has approved and provided resources for in-season moves when it made sense.
Two years ago, Cleveland sent a package of prospects to the Yankees in order to land Miller, who proved pivotal in the World Series run. Last season, the Indians landed outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets, and took on the remainder of his contract, and he had an immediate impact down the stretch. Dolan said the latter is the best example of how the Indians will likely approach the July and August trading periods.
"If a Bruce-like opportunity surfaced," Dolan said, "where we had an obvious need and a high-quality player like Bruce was available, and we didn't have to surrender prospects to get him, I'd be very surprised if we didn't act on that. I have no idea whether or not we would consider a high-volume prospect [deal] -- an Andrew Miller-like deal."
Dolan has been thrilled with the support from Indians fans, who have already purchased more than 13,200 season-ticket packages (the highest total since 2008). Last year, the team drew over 2 million fans for the first time since that '08 season as well. Dolan believes the combination of five consecutive winning seasons and the improvements to Progressive Field have driven those figures.
"The fans have responded," Dolan said. "They're enjoying this team and I like to think they're enjoying the ballpark as well, with what we've done there."
Dolan also said he is understanding of fans who were displeased with the franchise's decision to no longer feature the Chief Wahoo logo on the team's on-field uniforms, beginning in 2019. Dolan said that decision was a difficult one, but he feels the Indians and Major League Baseball found a good middle ground. The logo will still have a limited availability in retail, which will allow the team to maintain the rights to the mark.
"We think we're in the right place," Dolan said. "The world has changed. Society looks at things a little differently now, and we're about winning baseball games, not defending one view or another about symbols. So, we tried to find a compromise."
Above all else, Dolan wants to end his city's World Series drought.
Last season, the Indians won 102 games and rattled off 22 consecutive wins between August and September, recording the longest winning streak in AL history. Cleveland did not win the World Series, though, and Dolan knows that is all that really matters in the eyes of the team's fans.
"It goes down as one of the greatest years in the history of our franchise," Dolan said. "But, six months later, it still stings that we fell short, and we fell short in a hard way. ... You only have so many years where you're going to come into the season as a favorite to win the World Series, and position yourself to actually win it and be there, and then it didn't happen.
"I hope this is that year where we again position ourselves to win it, and then we do it."
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.