While the 2017 Major League Baseball season just came to a close with the Houston Astros’ Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series on Wednesday night, teams and players are already hard at work preparing for the 2018 season.
For fans who have not gotten their fill of baseball for the season, there is plenty of action of all varieties still going on around the globe.
With some big questions looming over the Indians roster for the 2018 season, two of those were answered on Friday as Cleveland announced that team options on outfielder Michael Brantley and starting pitcher Josh Tomlin were picked up, giving the two long-time Tribe veterans at least one more season in town.
The decision on Tomlin’s option was much easier to make than Brantley’s, but both players were retained as Tomlin provided another consistent season for the Indians while Brantley lost a half season while dealing with significant injuries for a second straight year.
While Major League Baseball is down to its final games of the 2017 season, the Cleveland Indians are, unfortunately, working through the decisions facing the club as the Tribe prepares for the 2018 campaign.
While most players are resting up from what was an exciting, but ultimately disappointing season, a handful of minor leaguers are working their way through fall and winter league activities. Most notably in the mix are two of the club’s top two prospects, Francisco Mejia and Bobby Bradley, who are among eight players participating for the Indians in the Arizona Fall League. Mejia has put up a .400/.405/.571 slash through eight games while working to add third base to his list of defensive skills. He has hit a pair of homers and driven in five. Bradley has provided a little more in the power department, hitting two doubles, two homers, and a triple while driving in six, but the strikeouts have been plentiful for the big slugger, who has gone down on strikes 18 times in 44 at bats in eleven games.
The Indians have been well represented by their prospects in Arizona. Mejia will represent the Tribe and the Glendale Desert Dogs on the AFL West Fall Stars roster and will be joined by reliever Argenis Angulo (High-A Lynchburg) on the team. Bradley is part of the Final 2 vote for the team, as he will need to pull in more votes than Royals shortstop prospect Nicky Lopez and Rangers minor league outfielder Yanio Perez in order to participate in the All-Star Game.
How much money are the Cleveland Indians willing to put toward their vaunted bullpen?
That is something Tribe fans may find out this offseason. Arguably the best relief corps in baseball, the team has two key free agents in Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith. The bullpen would definitely have a different feel to it without Shaw, but to what lengths should the Tribe actually go to keep a reliever who is not one of its top two pitchers?
The Cleveland Indians’ season may be over and the World Series nearly half way complete, but competitive baseball continues to be played at spots across the globe.
Eight different Tribe prospects are in Glendale, Arizona, working in Arizona Fall League play. Four more have headed to South America to work in the Venezuelan Winter League, while nine more have taken up temporary residence in the Caribbean while participating in the Dominican Winter League.
Three different Tribe position prospects and six pitchers are scattered throughout the six-team Liga de Beisbol Dominicano.
One of the big questions looming over the Cleveland front office this offseason was answered on Thursday morning as the Indians announced that Carl Willis has been named as the team’s pitching coach for the 2018 season.
The Indians were quick to fill some very big shoes on manager Terry Francona’s coaching staff after losing the successful Mickey Callaway to the New York Mets on Monday, where he will serve as the team’s manager.
When a team finds sustained success on the field, they oftentimes run the risk of losing some of the coaches that helped get them there as opportunity knocks for those working behind the scenes.
On Sunday, the New York Mets hired former Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway after spending five years building a force of a pitching staff in Cleveland.
On Tuesday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the hiring of Matt Quatraro, Indians’ assistant hitting coach, to serve as the third base coach on Kevin Cash’s coaching staff.
Nearly four years ago, I met Mickey Callaway for the first time. He had just completed his first season with the Indians as the pitching coach on manager Terry Francona’s big league staff in Cleveland after spending the previous three seasons as the team’s minor league pitching coordinator (2012) and as a pitching coach (2010 at Class-A Lake County and 2011 at High-A Kinston).
Speaking to him one-on-one for 15 minutes or so, I had a feeling that there was plenty more in store for the former pitcher who was only just beginning his second career in the pro game after spending five seasons in the Majors (with Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Texas) and parts of 13 years in the minors, in independent ball, and overseas in Seoul within the Korean Baseball Organization.
After four seasons of guiding the Indians pitching staff and helping turn several players’ careers around, Callaway’s name came up as a candidate for several of the managerial openings in the Majors. Despite no professional experience as a manager, he will get his shot on an awfully big stage as he was selected by the New York Mets on Sunday to be the team’s 21st skipper in club history.
Every offseason, every Major League Baseball team has tough decisions to make. Most teams – even the good ones – rarely start a new season with every player that they had the year before. Expiring contracts, contract options, and free agency are facts of life for all MLB clubs.
That is why this past season felt so special for the Cleveland Indians. Very few tough decisions had to be made last winter. The ones that were ended up being greeted with happy returns. Mike Napoli had to go, but the Indians upgraded with Edwin Encarnacion. Rajai Davis was not retained, even after his near-heroics in the 2016 World Series. Cleveland did not miss a beat without him. Those players represented the only difficult decisions that the Tribe’s deep thinkers needed to make last offseason.
It will not be so easy this winter.
Cleveland has more free agents and contract options to consider this time around. At the core of every decision the team makes this winter, may be the greatest debate of all – the question of Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana?
On Thursday morning, the Cleveland Indians announced that left fielder Michael Brantley had undergone surgery the day before to help stabilize the ligaments in his injured right ankle, an ailment that deprived him of much of the final two months of the regular season and left him as a bit contributor to the team during its brief postseason run.
In the minutes and hours after news of the procedure hit the press, Cleveland social media burned to the ground.
The Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams may have come to a crashing halt with the nightmare scenario of losing slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the first inning of Game 2 in the American League Division Series, one lost in five games to the New York Yankees.
They may have also started much sooner than that, despite the club winning the first two games of the ALDS.