Regardless of it they had won or lost last night, we all could have agreed on one thing: The Cubs seem positioned to contend for championships indefinitely. But for the Indians—the team that, uh, actually lost—the question of how many more bites they may get at the apple is far less simple.
The good news is that the Indians are going to return the core of the team that was just a hit or two away from winning the World Series. The best Indians player walking into free agency this offseason is probably Mike Napoli, and though Cleveland will have to figure out a way to replace his power if they don’t re-sign him, that’s an okay problem to have. The rest of the team—from familiar faces like Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, to a young star in Francisco Lindor, to essentially the entire pitching staff—will be back barring any trades. The AL East will be really strong again, and the Central will also have some decent teams, but any discussion regarding the favorites in the American League should probably start with the Indians.
We have no reason to question the health or future ability of Kipnis, Lindor, Santana, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, or Cody Allen, and if those guys are healthy and playing like themselves, the Indians should easily compete for the playoffs. Those six players alone give the team arguably the best double play duo, starting pitcher, and bullpen back-end in the AL, and Santana is a nice little piece to have hanging around. The rest of the bullpen figures to be very strong, as well.
The upside fulfilled by this year’s Indians will be there next year, too. Terry Francona was forced to manage a brilliant playoffs, squeezing every last drop out of Kluber, Miller, and Allen in order to overcome a starting pitching staff that was so tattered that a local beat writer infamously declared the team dead in the water before the playoffs even started. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar—the latter of whom ended up pitching out of the bullpen in the World Series—will be back to start the 2017 season. It was the triple threat of Kluber, Salazar, and Carrasco that powered the Indians during their absurd winning streak in July, and a full season of those three pitching at their peaks would almost certainly have the Indians winning 90-something games again.