CLEVELAND -- A massive sign hung from the parking garage beyond the left-field bleachers during the American League Wild Card Game. The Indians hoped to have it on display for a few more weeks, but its five-word message lasted that lone day.
Tribe Town Lives For October.
Cleveland merely tasted October before being sent home for the winter by Tampa Bay in the one-game playoff on Oct. 2 at Progressive Field. The Indians' magical run through September bought them one night in the postseason, and the Tribe's players exited the stadium unsatisfied. The goal now is to find a way to extend the experience in October, and to do so as soon as possible.
"I'm hoping that it's kind of a springboard into next year," Indians manager Terry Francona said recently, "as opposed to a nice little year that ended quicker than we wanted. It was still a fun year. Saying that, it's going to be hard to do. If anything, our goals are set higher."
The Indians overhauled their roster and coaching staff last offseason, turning the page on a 94-loss season in 2012 and assembling a squad that rattled off 92 wins in '13. This winter, Cleveland's roster changes have been less drastic, but the team believes it has a better foundation in place. The Tribe is counting on young pitching and a versatile offense to contend again next season.
With that in mind, here are 10 questions facing the Indians as the calendar flips to 2014:
1. Can the Indians' rotation absorb the loss of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir?
Jimenez and Kazmir turned in incredible comeback campaigns that helped guide the Indians back to the postseason. In September alone, the duo went a combined 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings. Cleveland believes prospect Danny Salazar has the ability to give as much or more than Kazmir did last season. Filling Jimenez's shoes will be tough, but the Indians are hopeful that arms such as Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco are poised for solid seasons.
2. Is Salazar primed to be Cleveland's No. 2 starter?
Salazar was electric in his brief tour with the Tribe last season, even earning the team's trust as the starter for the AL Wild Card Game. His 65 strikeouts in 10 starts marked the most by an Indians pitcher in his first 10 career outings since 1955 (Herb Score). Right now, the young righty projects as Cleveland's third starter, but he has No. 2 potential and could be an ace-in-the-making for the future. The Indians are looking for big things from Salazar in 2014 and beyond.
3. Can the Indians turn talented enigmas Carrasco and Trevor Bauer around?
In their first year at the helm, Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway worked wonders with the likes of Jimenez, Kazmir and Kluber. Carrasco and Bauer present two more projects that could play a major role in Cleveland's success or setback next season. There is no denying that Carrasco and Bauer have the stuff to stick in the Majors, but Cleveland needs to find a way to mold the mental side of each pitcher's game as well. The coming year will be a big test for both right-handers.
4. Will the Tribe see improvement in the eighth and ninth innings next season?
The Indians released former closer Chris Perez in October and saw three other relievers, including former setup man Joe Smith, hit free agency this offseason. A bullpen can be a volatile aspect of any roster, but Cleveland believes it has some solid internal options in Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Vinnie Pestano and Marc Rzepczynski, among others. By adding closer John Axford, the Indians are hoping they have created enough depth to make up for the lost innings.
5. Can Pestano return to his former status as an elite setup man?
The combined struggles of Pestano and Perez created a headache in the Tribe bullpen last summer. Pestano got revved up early by taking part in the World Baseball Classic, and -- whether related or unrelated -- he dealt with an elbow issue that led to some mechanical problems. The Indians are hoping a normal offseason will help the right-hander -- once thought of as the team's future closer -- regain his footing in the 'pen. If Pestano can do that, the bullpen will take on an entirely different look.
6. Will Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn rebound from down years?
By their career standards, Swisher and Bourn -- both signed to long-term contracts last offseason -- endured subpar showings in '13. Swisher dealt with a left shoulder issue and Bourn, while battling an assortment of injury issues, appeared to have trouble adjusting to the American League. There are plenty of peripheral statistics that point to both players as possible comeback candidates. Even with their inconsistent play last season, Cleveland ranked in the top five in the AL in runs scored.
7. Is Yan Gomes ready to handle being an everyday catcher in the Majors?
The Indians handed the keys to the starting catching role to Gomes in the second half, and he will continue on in that role come Opening Day 2014. When Cleveland acquired Gomes from Toronto last offseason, the club felt he was a future everyday catcher. The Tribe did not realize the young backstop was poised to claim the job so fast. Gomes' stellar defense, strong arm, steady bat and work behind the scenes all make him a promising talent behind the plate for the Indians.
8. Will Carlos Santana be happy and productive while bouncing between positions?
In order for Gomes to blossom in the regular starting role, Santana was required to accept more time at other positions down the stretch last season. Cleveland's former starting catcher, Santana expressed his desire to avoid becoming a full-time designated hitter. If he can get some starts at first base -- or possibly even at third -- on days he isn't catching, Santana should remain content in his role. One way or another, the Indians want his bat in the lineup game in and game out.
9. What does the future hold for Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop?
Cabrera is coming off a down year, which included a third straight slide in the second half, and he is slated to earn $10 million in 2014. With it being a contract year, Cabrera will surely do everything in his power to right the wrongs of the past couple of seasons. With talented shortstop Francisco Lindor rising steadily through the farm system and looking like a realistic possibility for the Indians by 2015, the two-time All-Star Cabrera could be entering his final tour with the Tribe.
10. Can the Indians lock up rotation leader Justin Masterson with a long-term deal?
The Indians do not want their brief moment on the postseason stage to be a one-and-done situation. Cleveland hopes to experience sustained success, and fielding a strong rotation is key in that regard. The Indians have traded away talented arms for prospects in the past, but the club is currently in a position to potentially contend for multiple playoff appearances. With that in mind, it makes sense for Cleveland to try to keep its unquestioned leader, Masterson, in the fold for as long as possible.