LAS VEGAS — So many players have been such consistent factors in what the Indians have done for so long that it’s difficult for some in the organization to even imagine the home clubhouse at Progressive Field without them.
The type of roster overhaul the Indians have started to undergo this offseason isn’t only a changing of names on paper. The Indians clubhouse, which for the last couple of years was among the most stable in the major league, next season will be without many of the voices viewed as leaders around the room.
Michael Brantley is gone, barring an unexpected return in free agency. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the backbone of the bullpen, are free agents and are likely to find new landing spots. Josh Tomlin, who was the longest-tenured player, is unsigned. Yan Gomes was traded to the Washington Nationals. Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer could be dealt soon. On and on.
The lockers of many of the veterans who have guided the Indians during their climb to World Series contenders will have new owners next spring. A good deal of experience and mentorship has likely walked out the door for the last time. Mainstays around the clubhouse every day have moved on.
“It’s hard thinking about a clubhouse without those guys when they had been there for so long and were such core members of the culture,” General Manager Mike Chernoff said Monday at baseball's winter meetings in Las Vegas. “I also think they left a lasting legacy. They have thought about that legacy over time and helped to empower a lot of the younger players and groomed them into leadership roles, too, which is a huge credit to those guys.”
The Indians are cognizant of how many stabilizing presences are leaving the clubhouse all at once. Each team takes on its own identity or culture, and the 2019 Indians will surely fit that bill without so many familiar faces.
As Brantley, Tomlin and the others potentially leave Cleveland, the Indians sat down with them after the postseason, hoping to smooth that transition and learn whatever they could about what gave the team its identity from within the clubhouse, which could be undergoing its first major shift in several years.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that, have had a lot of conversations with [manager Terry Francona] and the coaching staff about what that might look like next year,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “And to that end, we actually spent time at the end of the season and over the course of the few weeks after trying to hear firsthand from those players about what they felt was the identity in the clubhouse and what makes us who we are and what would be some of the things that would be important to carry forward organizationally, [as well as] what are the things we can learn from and be better and try to apply those next year.
"So, what exactly that looks like remains to be seen, because I imagine we’re going to have some other players that would be joining the organization over the course of the next few months and go to spring training and try to form a cohesive unit.”
There have been those who have come in and supplemented the stabilizing presence of those in the clubhouse in recent years, along with Francona down the hall and his daily Cribbage matches. Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli both garnered near-constant praise for their contributions to younger teams. But it appears there will be a shift in 2019.
Members of the front office remain thankful that Francona has been the constant factor.
“I think we’ll always lean on Tito and the coaching staff,” Antonetti said. “I think each team forms its own identity over the course of the season and different guys emerge as leaders over the course of a season. We saw that with Nap or Giambi or Michael Brantley, an evolution over time, Josh Tomlin, who, at the time, wasn’t our highest-performing player but was one of the dominating voices in the clubhouse and how he led.”
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.