Indians not ready to tackle uncertain future

Free agency, options could disrupt team's core for 2018

Indians not ready to tackle uncertain future

CLEVELAND -- They stood together talking quietly in a hallway outside the Indians' clubhouse. Josh Tomlin, the longest-tenured player in the organization, leaned against a wall. Michael Brantley, often described as the heart and soul of the team, kept his hands inside the pockets of his sweatshirt.

There will undoubtedly be more conversations in the days and weeks to come, but the realization that this could be the end of the line for several members of Cleveland's core was sinking in. After a 5-2 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night, sealing the Tribe's defeat in Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, players like Brantley, Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce were faced with uncertain futures sooner than anticipated.

"I started a quest back in 2009. I want to finish it the right way," Brantley said. "I don't want to go out like this if it's my choice. It's not. I just look forward to hopefully being back here with this group of guys. I have amazing relationships with everybody in this locker room. Great teammates. Great team. I just look forward to being part of it for a long time."

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 5 CLE 4, NYY 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 6 CLE 9, NYY 8 (13) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 8 NYY 1, CLE 0 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 9 NYY 7, CLE 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 11 NYY 5, CLE 2 Watch

Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, made his way around the home clubhouse after Wednesday's loss, shaking the hands of his players. Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona were hoping to avoid discussions about the 2018 roster until after the World Series. Instead, the Yanks are moving on and the offseason came early in Cleveland.

There will be a lot on the front office's plate. Relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith will be free agents, along with veteran outfielder Austin Jackson. Tomlin also has a $3 million team option for 2018. The biggest decisions, though, will revolve around Brantley ($11 million team option or $1 million buyout), Santana (free agent) and Bruce (free agent).

"Oh boy," Francona said. "I don't know if I'm ready to even think about guys moving on. ... The game's still a little too raw to go into that, yet."

That did not stop such thoughts from seeping into the minds of the impacted players.

For the players with options, Cleveland will need to make a decision by three days after the conclusion of the World Series. For the free agents, if the Indians want to net Draft compensation, they will need to extend a one-year Qualifying Offer, which will be in the range of $18 million for next season. The player would then need to reject the offer and sign a contract of at least $50 million in order for the Tribe to get a pick between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A in next summer's MLB Draft.

While Bruce was surrounded by a large pack of reporters, Santana sat alone at his locker, scrolling through messages on his phone. Santana came to the Indians as a Minor Leaguer via a trade with the Dodgers in 2008. The switch-hitter began as a catcher and eventually became a reliable first baseman. He has logged at least 600 plate appearances in seven straight years with the Tribe and ranks fourth in club history in walks (726) and 11th in home runs (174).

"I don't know if I'll sleep tonight," Santana said. "I don't know. I don't know what's in my future. I'm hopeful that I can come back. This is my house. This is my family. I know everybody. Everybody knows me. So, we'll see. We'll see. Me and my family, we'll have to wait."

Bruce -- acquired from the Mets in an August trade -- ended this season with 36 home runs, 101 RBIs and an .832 OPS. He is coming off a seven-year, $63 million contract, which included a $13 million salary this season. The right fielder made a big impact on the Indians over the final two months, immediately fit into the clubhouse's culture and quickly emerged as a veteran leader on and off the field for the club.

After the loss, Bruce was not ready to think about his future.

"I'm going to take some time," Bruce said. "There's not really any rush for me. Nothing really starts happening until after the World Series anyway. I've got a family that I need to be there for, internalize this and just get some rest. We'll see what happens."

Brantley's situation may be the most complicated of the three.

The two-time All-Star was an AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate as recently as 2014, but a variety of injuries cost him a significant amount of time over the past two seasons (101 games combined). Brantley has spent nine years with the Indians after being acquired as the player to be named later that completed the July 2008 trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers. In a cruel twist of fate, Sabathia helped the Yankees defeat the Indians on Wednesday night.

Brantley said it is hard to head into the offseason with so much uncertainty surrounding the team.

"Absolutely. They're your teammates. They're your brothers," Brantley said. "We have so many good baseball players, teammates and people in this locker room. It's going to be tough, but I love every one of these guys in here."

Tomlin, fighting back tears, agreed.

"This could be the last game you play with a group of guys you care about, that you enjoy, that you love," Tomlin said. "That's probably the hardest part of everything. You don't want it to end."

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.