CLEVELAND — In matching the franchise record for improvement from season to season and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Indians made baseball relevant in Cleveland once again.
They’re hoping it doesn’t end there.
“For our group as a whole, I felt like we had a good year,” center fielder Michael Bourn said after the Indians lost 4-0 to Tampa Bay in the American League wild-card game Wednesday night at Progressive Field. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do, but we’ll be back.
“It’s a long time till spring training starts, but for the most part most of us will be here again next year. We just have to let that loss burn. It’s going to burn for awhile, but there’s nothing you can do about it now. It’s over with.”
The Indians carry a positive vibe into an offseason in which there are decisions to be made, though not many.
The majority of Cleveland’s core players are signed through next year — a list that includes Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Justin Masterson, Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley.
But there are uncertainties in the rotation, where two of Cleveland’s top starters — Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir — are without contracts for 2014.
Jimenez and the Indians have a mutual option for next season worth $8 million, while Kazmir is set to become a free agent.
Jimenez, who was one of baseball’s best pitchers during the second half, is likely to look for a long-term contract.
Both have expressed interest in returning.
Relievers Chris Perez ($7.3 million) and Joe Smith ($3.15 million) were both under one-year deals and are eligible for arbitration, with Perez losing his closer job late in the year and not expected to return.
It is also likely the Indians will entertain trade offers for Cabrera, who is set to earn $14 million next season in the final year of a two-year, $16.5 million contract extension.
Still much of the same team that took the field this season and finished just a game behind Central Division champ Detroit is expected to return. Promising young players such as Yan Gomes, Danny Salazar and Cody Allen are part of that crop.
“This organization looks like we’re on the up,” Swisher said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have proven a lot of things. Just to be one of those veteran guys over here, it’s going to be great to see all these young pups just grow up right in front of my eyes.”
Though they didn’t reach their ultimate goal, the Indians will look back fondly at 2013 — manager Terry Francona’s debut season.
“Why not enjoy it?” Masterson said. “Although it’s a kind of a distaste in the mouth, losing (the wild-card game), I think every single one of us enjoyed the fact that we made it to the playoffs. From what we’ve had (here in the past), there’s no reason to sit back and say, ‘what would have, could have,’ it’s, ‘hey, we did it.’ We made it. Everyone wants to go further, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
And the Indians think they have laid the groundwork for better things to come.
“Just in general we tried to make this place cool again, and I think we’re on our way to doing that,” Swisher said. “In the big picture, you’ve got to look to see what we’ve actually accomplished this year. We proved a lot of people wrong this year and we’ve really put ourselves at the top of the food chain in a sense. We just gotta go back home, put the work in and get ready for next year.”
“I think this will be great for next year,” Masterson said. “To come back — there’s no guarantees in this game, but just everyone having an understanding of what it feels like, what it’s like to be a part of it, and to come back with even more of a hunger, ’cause once you get it, you want it again and again and again.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.