The final out of the World Series initiates a countdown to a pair of decisions that will influence the Tribe's approach to the coming winter months. Three days after the Series, the Indians need to determine whether they will exercise their club options on center fielder Grady Sizemore and starter Fausto Carmona.
"We obviously have some meaningful and significant decisions coming," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said one day after the regular season ended. "The direction we go with those decisions will largely shape what needs we might have."
The decisions on Sizemore and Carmona are not of the cut-and-dry variety. Both have been All-Stars, performing at times at a level that made them cornerstone players in the eyes of the organization. They have also encountered a variety of issues, making them expensive risks if kept in the fold for 2012.
Sizemore still has the ability -- when healthy -- to be a catalyst for a Cleveland offense that has sorely needed one over the past two seasons. Carmona -- when on top of his game -- can serve as a workhorse, eating up innings and overpowering hitters with his signature sinker. But Sizemore has been prone to injury and Carmona to lapses.
The Tribe needs to decide whether the players are still worth the gamble.
"The one thing that we know," Antonetti said, "is that when Grady is healthy, he's been a very productive Major League player. With Fausto, we're constantly working with him to get more consistent with the start to his delivery, and his mentality.
"If he can get more consistent with his delivery and executing pitches, and continue his development and understanding of how to attack hitters, there's no reason to think he couldn't be successful next year."
Part of the equation is the cost of keeping Sizemore and Carmona. The Indians have a $9 million club option for 2012 for Sizemore, or the team can elect to pay a $500,000 buyout and allow him to hit the free-agent market. Carmona's club option is worth $7 million, though the pitcher would still be eligible for arbitration if the Tribe declines the option.
That is $16 million in salary for a Cleveland team that operated on a budget around $49 million in 2011. With as many as nine players eligible for arbitration this winter, the Indians' payroll will see a natural increase for 2012. Declining the options on either Sizemore or Carmona -- or both -- would free up more cash to upgrade the roster.
It is not clear yet how much financial wiggle room is available this winter for the Indians.
"That's a process we'll continue to work through," Antonetti said. "It's also trying to have an understanding of what the alternatives are and where else we can re-invest that money, and are we better served by re-allocating those dollars to either someone else or multiple other players. That is also a component of the decision."
This past season, the 29-year-old Sizemore returned from a 10-month rehab after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee, only to suffer a sports hernia and a right knee injury. Both ailments required surgery -- Sizemore's knee was operated on shortly after the season -- but the center fielder is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Even so, there is no denying Sizemore's problematic health history. Since 2009, he has only appeared in 210 games, or an average of 70 per season. There are 334 players who have played in more games over the same span. From 2005-08, only Ichiro Suzuki (646) played in more games than Sizemore (639) did.
Sizemore -- a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner -- hit .224 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 32 RBIs in 71 games for Cleveland this past season. His last full season came in 2008, when he hit .268 with 33 homers, 38 stolen bases, 90 RBIs and 101 runs scored.
It is difficult to know if Sizemore can be that type of player again.
"It's really hard to speculate on that," Antonetti said. "We even saw that this year when he came back from his microfracture surgery on his left knee. He was able to run and had a bunch of extra-base hits, had home runs, and really was a spark offensively for us when he returned. That's something we know."
Carmona, who will turn 28 in December, has remained healthy, but has been a kind of enigma on the mound for the Indians. This past season, the big sinkerballer went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA, marking the second-highest ERA in a single season for a pitcher with at least 32 starts in Cleveland's 111-year franchise history.
One year earlier, Carmona went 13-14 with a 3.77 ERA, turning in a respectable campaign for a 93-loss Indians team. From 2009-10, the right-hander went 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA for the Tribe, but that stretch followed his breakout 19-win showing for the American League Central-champion Tribe club of 2007.
Indians manager Manny Acta believes that Carmona is due to bounce back in 2012.
"I believe that he's going to have a good year next year," said Acta, who was then asked for his reasoning. "Because he had a good one last year, and then he didn't have a good one this year, so I think he's going to have a good one next year again. He's healthy."
Carmona's durability is what makes his $7 million option seem relatively affordable, considering what similar pitchers can fetch on the open market or in arbitration. The right-hander would also give the Indians an experienced layer of depth, which is important given that starter Carlos Carrasco will miss all of 2012 with a right-elbow injury.
As things currently stand, Cleveland's rotation for next season will include Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Ubaldo Jimenez and Carmona, if his option is picked up. David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister are in the running for the fifth spot. The Indians would benefit from increased depth and they will be in the market for a starter or two this winter.
"You can never have enough pitching," Antonetti said. "We will always look at opportunities to add not only depth, but stability to the rotation. That said, it's one thing to say it and it's another to actually have those opportunities out there and be able to do it. There are 28 teams probably looking for starting pitching."
The Indians are currently evaluating the alternatives for Sizemore and Carmona, and comparing those options to the potential cost of keeping them in the fold. Cleveland's decision on both players will be coming soon.
"Our singular focus," Antonetti said, "is to put the best team possible on the field next year with the resources that we have."