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Six takeaways entering Indians offseason

By JOE NOGA • Oct 11, 2018 at 7:45 PM

CLEVELAND — Manager Terry Francona, president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff held exit interviews with several players Tuesday following the Cleveland Indians' season-ending loss to Houston in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

On Wednesday, the trio met with reporters at Progressive Field for a post-mortem on the Tribe's season. With the emotion of Monday's loss still fresh on everyone's mind, Francona, Antonetti and Chernoff talked about finishing short of the team's ultimate goal, and what steps are already being taken to find success next season.

"You have emotion for a while and that goes away after a little bit and then you try to get a perspective of 'Where are we? Legitimately what can we do better?'" Francona said. "Because if you make decisions when you're emotional, then you blow the whole place up and that's not healthy."

Antonetti agreed that it is important to separate feelings from the process.

"It's disappointment, it's frustration, it's a lot of things," Antonetti said. "But what we need to do and what we always do is reflect back organizationally and think about what were the things within our control and what can we do better?"

Setting emotion aside, the three talked about the state of the organization and shared some of their highlights from the past season while shedding a few rays of light on what could lay ahead in the offseason for the Indians.

Below are six quick takeaways:

1. An outfield in flux

Antonetti said the outfield will be an area that the organization will spend a lot of time addressing in the offseason. He alluded to "substantial departures" and said a lot of decisions depend on how the team aligns its returning players.

Injured center fielder Bradley Zimmer has been rehabbing his surgically-repaired shoulder in Arizona. He will start a throwing progression next month and a hitting progression in December.

"It's too early to give a precise timeline, but we do expect him to be able to play for the majority of next year," Antonetti said of Zimmer. "Exactly when that will be is determined by how he reaches each of those checkpoints, but he's still on track."

Antonetti said Leonys Martin, recovering in Florida from a life-threatening bacterial infection, is expected to be back at full health next year. Exactly where he fits, the club is still working through.

"He's arbitration-eligible again this season for the last time," Antonetti said. “We'll have to just make an assessment of how that fits within the construct of the rest of our team."

One development from the season that will also come into play is the strides made by Greg Allen both at the plate and in the field.

"Greg — like, right in front of our eyes — was getting better," Francona said. "That's hard to do at the major-league level. He made a lot of strides. It was really, really a bright spot to see him do that in the middle of August."

2. Kluber is healthy — and human

Ace pitcher Corey Kluber had another rough playoff outing in Game 1 of the ALDS after faltering twice in the postseason last year. In July, Kluber received an injection in his knee, and after that, Francona said the righty held up physically as well as anybody could who logged 200 innings.

"He feels like he's in a way better place now than he was at the end of last year," Francona said.

Part of Kluber's frustration, Francona said, was an inability to take his mechanics from his bullpen sessions and carry them into the game.

"What it comes back to is you're human," Francona said. "We've seen him so good that when he's not that good, you think something's got to be wrong with him. He's healthy. He's just … he's human."

3. Brantley gamble paid off

Antonetti said the decision to pick up Michael Brantley’s $12 million contract option last offseason was a difficult one, but even if Brantley had not hit .309 and made his third All-Star team, the impact he had on the Tribe's clubhouse as a teammate and competitor is immeasurable.

"We talk about what it means to be a good teammate and a great competitor and a great leader. Michael embodies all those things," Antonetti said. "We felt like even if Michael didn’t come back to full health, he could still have a meaningful impact on our team."

That speaks directly to Brantley's work ethic, Antonetti said, counting the free agent outfielder alongside pitchers Josh Tomlin and Cody Allen as players who helped re-establish what it means to be a great teammate in the Indians clubhouse.

4. Uncertain future for Kipnis

It was a rough first four months of the season for Jason Kipnis, but Francona said the eight-year veteran still had a knack for driving in runs. Despite Kipnis' batting average being the lowest of his career, all of his other numbers were in line with his lifetime averages.

What the future holds for Kipnis, who is owed $14.6 million next season, depends on where the club decides to go at other positions.

“We know he can play second, we know he can play center,” Francona said. “My guess is he could handle left field just fine. But, we would need to see where we're at and what our needs are.”

Antonetti praised Kipnis' ability to handle all the obstacles presented this season, including trade talks, moving down in the lineup and changing positions for the second year in a row. Kipnis could have “packed it in” but he didn’t.

5. Lindor, Ramirez linked at the core

Francona was asked about the leadership Francisco Lindor displayed during the season, as indicated by his willingness to do whatever it took to help his team from the leadoff spot.

“I have to remind myself sometimes of his age (24), because he's so advanced in so many things on the field, just the way he carries himself,” Francona said. “Sometimes what you see isn't what there is, but with Frankie, it is. That smile, he loves playing baseball. We're really glad that he's ours, because he's so special.”

That said, Francona was quick to point out that Jose Ramirez is equally worthy of recognition.

“We've all talked about his September, and it was tough, it was frustrating and it hurt us,” Francona said. “But he's right there next to (Lindor). He's a special kid. He can't always convey it because he doesn't speak English as good as Frankie, but he is a special young man. He's one of the best players in the game. And he's ours."

Ramirez is signed to a club-friendly contract and under control through 2023. Lindor, on the other hand, will be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and expects to command at least a $10 million salary. The team has tried to sign him to a contract extension in the past without success, and Antonetti would not reveal specifics about whether or not any talks are expected in the near future.

6. Olson, Edwards, Cimber in bullpen

Lefty Tyler Olson and righties Jon Edwards and Adam Cimber look like good bets to be in the mix for bullpen spots next season, if Francona’s comments are any indication.

If free agents Andrew Miller and Oliver Perez depart, there would be a need for another lefty with Olson, who did not allow an earned run in 13 appearances (9 1/3 innings) after rejoining the club in late August.

“When you see (Olson) command the baseball and get people out, you can tell that it’s not smoke and mirrors, and there’s a reason he’s having success. And you can kind of project it out over a season, like, ‘OK, he can help us.’”

The Indians signed Edwards to a minor-league deal in March and he joined the club on Sept. 1. He spent 2016 and 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery. In nine appearances, with the Tribe, Edwards struck out 10 batters in 8 2/3 innings and posted a 3.12 ERA.

Cimber, acquired along with Brad Hand at the trade deadline from San Diego, might not have had the chance to show his best stuff, according to Francona. He came over from the Padres where he had been pitching full innings and was allowed to get himself out of his own jams.

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