CLEVELAND — Following the 11-3 loss to the Houston Astros on Monday, Josh Tomlin walked over to Michael Brantley’s locker and sat down to quietly chat in a clubhouse meeting of two of the longest-tenured players with the Indians who, once the postseason ends, will both be free agents with uncertain futures.
Because, after all, this could be it.
Tomlin has been walking around that Progressive Field home clubhouse since 2010, when he broke in as a rookie. Brantley has been roaming that room, in parts, since 2009. Nobody knows if they’ll be back. Nobody knows if it’s the last time they’ll wear that Indians uniform. Nobody knows if it’s the final time they’ll pack up their stuff after a home game in Cleveland. After nearly a decade, their Cleveland tenure might have just ended at the hands of the Astros and a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.
Yonder Alonso slowly joined them, slumping down in the corner and sitting on the floor. A few moments later, Yan Gomes pulled up a chair, forming a mini-circle. The four veterans talked amongst themselves, having already fulfilled their media responsibilities. They were free of the rush of media members criss-crossing the room and out of the way of the clubhouse attendants zipping around and helping others pack up their clothes and belongings.
It was just them at the end of a long season and a short, sudden postseason. But they didn’t want to leave the clubhouse, the season and potentially their teammates behind. Not yet. It was too soon.
Brantley took several moments to look out over the clubhouse, viewing all the activity. His locker is the last one leading to the hallway that snakes back to the showers and dining area, one that in a way overlooks the entire room. He might not be returning to it. Someone else might occupy this sought-after locker next spring, and Brantley could find a new home elsewhere.
"This has been an honor," Brantley said when asked for his takeaway if this was his final Indians game. "It's been an honor to wear that uniform, it's been an honor, every player I've played with in this organization, for all the help everybody gave me, it was always appreciated. It will never be forgotten."
Tomlin’s future is entirely up in the air. There’s no doubt manager Terry Francona would love to retain Tomlin, but it would have to be a very team-friendly deal. Tomlin is the longest-tenured player in the organization (including his time in the minor leagues), one who has gritted his way through nine major-league seasons and who played a role in the Indians clawing and scratching their way to the 2016 World Series with a depleted pitching staff. For Tomlin, it was all about the personal relationships that were built. The pitchers he helped as a veteran. The guys he saw every day in the summer for so many years. The daily Cribbage matches with Francona. On and on. It’s part of the reason he sat down near Brantley’s locker. He wasn’t ready to walk out of that room.
“The family aspect of it,” Tomlin said when asked what has stood out during his time in Cleveland, if this is indeed the end. “I played with a bunch of these guys for seven to eight years now. Knowing all of our time might be coming to an end here regardless of what happens next year, there’s a pretty good chance not all of us are coming back. So, you take a minute and enjoy the time you have with them, think back on the times you had with them and relish them as much as you can. But the family aspect of it, the way everybody has treated me, the fans, the people, the city. It’s meant everything to me. Absolutely everything.”
Brantley and Tomlin aren’t alone. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the backbone of that 2016 bullpen that blazed its way through October, are both eligible for free agency. Allen broke the Indians' all-time record for saves this season. Miller will always be remembered in Cleveland for his electric performance in that 2016 postseason, when he briefly became baseball’s biggest, military-grade weapon. The reliever market spiked this past offseason. Both could find new homes this winter with lucrative deals, part of the reason why the Indians gave up their No. 1 prospect for Brad Hand, a move that bolstered the bullpen this year but also gave the club some insurance in 2019 and beyond.
“It’ll take a few days probably,” Cody Allen said, regarding his time in Cleveland possibly coming to a close. “Right now, I’m just kind of numb to it all. This city means a lot to my family and I. But it’s part of [the business of baseball]. Guys move on. Carlos Santana was here forever. You saw him move on. But, I mean, these places, they become home. My son was born here. So, we’ll see.”
Miller was still reeling from the sweep at the hands of the Astros. There’s a lot to sort out before he makes one of the biggest decisions of his career.
“I haven’t thought about it from that angle,” Miller said. “I know that this sucks right now. This isn’t the way we drew it up. This is 25, 40 guys that have plans of winning the World Series. It obviously didn’t go our way. That’s kind of where my mind is right now. It’s unfortunate. As far as that, every year you have new guys. This organization is set for a long time. There’s guys that are going to make this team a contender certainly in the near future. Not worried about that right now. Worried about trying to process this and move on from it. It’s just not the ending we wanted.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.