CLEVELAND — When Indians general manager Mark Shapiro looks back on the 2007 season, he won’t focus on its negative ending — not when there are so many positives to choose from.
“You’re disappointed and you feel some sense of bitterness,” said Shapiro, whose team owned a 3-1 ALCS advantage over Boston with a chance to eliminate the Red Sox at home, but lost the final three games of the series and its opportunity to return to the World Series for the first time since 1997. “The backdrop to that is 96 wins — the most in major league baseball — we experienced the postseason for the first time in a while, we beat the Yankees and took the Red Sox to seven games.
“My hope will be that we’ll benefit from the final failure and build off the overwhelming success of the 162-game season.”
And there was plenty of that. Overcoming loads of adversity, which included injuries to two members of their rotation, a snowed-out, home-opening series and the relocation of games to Milwaukee, the Indians won their first Central Division title since 2001. The followed that by winning their first playoff series since 1998, when they clinched the ALDS at Yankee Stadium.
They were on the verge of returning to the World Series with a chance to win the franchise’s first world championship since 1948, when in true Cleveland fashion, the Indians collapsed over the final three games of the ALCS, getting outscored 30-5 and playing as poorly as they have all year.
“My take on that is that the best two teams in the American League played,” Shapiro said. “It went seven games. We one three in a row, they won three in a row and the best team won.
“The experience will mean different things to each guy moving forward, but certainly, we will benefit from being in that situation. I know how hard it is to get back (to the postseason). I’ll just keep playing the odds that this team is for real and we will get back because of that.”
The future does look bright in Cleveland, where nearly the entire 25-man roster is under contract for next season, with a year of postseason experience — good or bad.
“We don’t have that many decisions to make,” Shapiro said. “My basic desire is to not make any changes.”
Shapiro said that, without any big needs, the team would look to make minor improvements this offseason, but will most likely not make a major move on the free-agent market or via trade.
Third baseman Casey Blake is eligible for arbitration and the Indians will also have to decide whether to exercise options on three players — closer Joe Borowski ($4 million), starting pitcher Paul Byrd ($8 million) and reliever Aaron Fultz ($1.5 million). Kenny Lofton, Chris Gomez and Trot Nixon will all be free agents and are not expected to return.
Picking up the option on Byrd, who won 15 games during one of his best seasons ever, would have been close to guaranteed before the pitcher admitted to taking human growth hormone for a medical condition on the day of Game 7 of the ALCS.
Major League Baseball said it would investigate Byrd, who could be facing a suspension, but Shapiro said the news would not affect the decision on the veteran right-hander’s option.
“Not right now,” said Shapiro, who has until 10 days after the completion of the World Series to decide the fate of all three options. “We’ll wait to hear if there’s any action. We’ll make a decision based on the information we have.”
Though ace C.C. Sabathia is under contract through next season, the Indians will make a bid to sign the Cy Young candidate to a long-term extension this winter.
The 27-year-old left-hander was named The Sporting News pitcher of the year, receiving the same honor from MLBPA on Wednesday in a vote by big league players, and is expected to command as high as $20 million per season should he become a free agent at the end of the 2008 season.
The Indians hope to work out a deal with their ace long before that.
“We hope it’s not an issue when we get to spring training,” Shapiro said. “It’s going to be a challenge to do because of how well he’s pitched and what those people get paid. I think it’s realistic. I know it’s possible.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.