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Asdrubal determined to lift Indians to greater heights

Shortstop hopes to get club back to postseason in contract year

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona was struggling to fall asleep. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was having the same problem. The weight of the loss to Tampa Bay in the American League Wild Card Game was too heavy to push away.

At around 2 a.m. on Oct. 3, Francona's cell phone buzzed.

It was a text message from Cabrera.

I know I can do more.

Francona replied.

Players like you, that's why I'm here. It's because of players like you, Cabby.

This is Cabrera's chance to do more. It is also possibly his final season in an Indians uniform, considering his contract expires at season's end and highly touted shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor is waiting in the wings. Early on this spring, Cabrera and Lindor have been spotted chatting during team stretch and interacting during workouts.

It has been a glimpse of the Tribe's present and future at shortstop.

Cabrera is not concerning himself with his future at the moment. What is foremost on his mind is doing all he can to distance himself from last season's personal struggles and the Wild Card loss, and giving everything he has to the Indians this year.

"Everything that happened last year stays in the past," Cabrera said. "I'm focusing on this new year for us, for the team, and trying to get better. It was tough for me. Not just for me, but for the team."

Mention the trade rumors that have seemingly followed Cabrera in each of the past three winters and the shortstop smirks. Such whispers bubbled to the surface again this past offseason, because the two-time All-Star is earning $10 million in a contract year.

"Every time I saw that I started laughing and said, 'Again?'" Cabrera said.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has never been shy about saying he will always be open to listening to trade offers for any of his players. Cleveland surely fielded questions about Cabrera this past winter, too. Antonetti was also quick to note that -- after all the reports, rumors and rumblings -- the shortstop was still with the Tribe.

Francona said he always saw Cabrera as a part of the 2014 formula.

"Wanting him back was everybody's preference," Francona said. "That's an easy one. He's a good player."

Cabrera has been a great player for the Indians in the past. Across the 2011-12 seasons, he posted a .272/.335/.443 slash line with 41 home runs, 67 doubles and 160 RBIs in 294 games. What Cabrera might lack in comprehensive defensive analysis, he has certainly made up for with jaw-dropping, highlight-reel plays. For his work at the plate in 2011, he earned a Silver Slugger Award. Last season went awry for the switch-hitting shortstop, though.

Cabrera hit at a .226 clip through April, but rebounded with a .273 average across May and through June 3, when he sustained a strained right quad while running out a grounder at Yankee Stadium. After coming off the disabled list, Cabrera posted a .222 average through the final 78 games of the season. When the smoke cleared, his .242 average and .299 on-base percentage for the year were the worst marks of his career.

"I think I had some bad luck," Cabrera offers with a shrug. "I felt like I swung the bat good, but everything I hit was straight to people. That happens in this game. It's a tough game. It's not every year that you have good numbers."

Cabrera's comments are supported by the .283 batting average on balls in play, which fell well below the .319 mark he put up in the previous six seasons combined. Another positive came in his final 20 games in September, when he hit .300 with an .898 OPS. During that stretch, Cleveland went 16-4, clinching a spot in the playoffs in the process.

"That was really fun," said Cabrera, who is the last remaining member of Cleveland's 2007 playoff team. "I enjoyed that year like in '07. I think a little bit more than '07, because I started the season with the team."

That is what made the Wild Card Game hurt so much.

The city was energized and Progressive Field was packed. A sea of red greeted the Rays and created a raucous environment that stirred memories of the Tribe's glory days. Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb quieted the noise with a strong performance, slicing his way through the heart of the local nine.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Indians loaded the bases for Cabrera with one out. Facing a three-run deficit, it was a chance for the shortstop to play hero, erasing his season-long woes and keeping Cleveland's magical run alive.

Cabrera chopped into a rally-killing double play.

"That was a tough game," Cabrera said. "I felt bad that we lost that game. I had one situation with men in scoring position and I hit a ball for a double play. That happens in the game."

Cabrera -- banged up more than people realized, according to Francona -- spent the first month of the offseason resting. He then flew Nelson Perez, Cleveland's assistant strength and conditioning coach, to Miami and trained hard in the months leading up to Spring Training. Francona said the shortstop gained speed and agility, according to various tests over the winter.

Cabrera reported to camp thinner and motivated to help the Tribe pick up where it left off.

"We have a really good team," Cabrera said. "If we keep doing what we were doing last year, we'll be all right."

Francona thinks Cabrera will play a big part in making that happen.

"I don't think he was pleased with the way the year went," Francona said. "And I kind of think he felt like he was going to come in, and we all felt he'd come in, with something to prove. Even though he's been in the league [several] years, this is a big year for him, personally and for our team."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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