Expectations could not have been higher for the Cleveland Indians in 2017. They came a game short of their first title in over 60 years, and made the biggest splash in free agency in club history prior to the start of the new year.
The Indians failed to meet those expectations, by a relatively large margin, all things considered. It was a reminder that in baseball, nothing is ever as it appears before it happens.
2017 was a year of attrition for the Indians compared to where it began, and has only gotten worse in December. While they took a step forward in talent, the end result took a step backwards. The Indians led the AL with 102 wins, second-most in team history, but could not replicate a trip to the Fall Classic.
What seemed like a wide open window before 2017 seems much more in the middle than it did a year ago come January 1st. With an aging core outside of a few names, and the departure of Indians lifer Carlos Santana, things do not seem as certain as they did before, especially with the Yankees returning to their old ways.
Thus is baseball.
The Indians were World Series favorites in April, secondary to the Astros for the majority of the regular season, back on top in September, and out by the second week of October.
Expectations are almost never a predictor of what will happen, and results are temporary. The process is all that matters, and despite a departure from their cost-conscious ways over the past two years, that process is back headed into January.
Now the unquestionable favorites headed into 2017 have plenty of questions headed into 2018. Will Alonso hold to form? Will they miss Santana? Was the Michael Brantley option worth it? Will Jason Kipnis be traded? Is Corey Kluber’s health intact? Who will take Bryan Shaw’s innings? Who will regress? Who will break through?
There is still plenty of reason to think the Indians could make another World Series run despite some of that attrition, mostly because they are still a sure thing to be among the AL’s final five. The AL Central is largely rebuilding, and the Minnesota Twins still may be a piece or so away from being a real contender.
As long as you get to the playoffs, anything can happen.
The starting pitching is still expected to be elite, and so long as it holds up in October should they get there, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen can handle the high leverage moments.
So long as Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are healthy, they can continue to take steps forward. The supporting cast has shown they should be able to hold things together.
The Indians took a step back in 2017, but that may only temper expectations. With the same process and a wide open division, maybe some questions will be a good thing.
That window of contention will be open for at least 2018, but don’t expect it to stay open. With Miller and Allen, among others, expiring after next year, that attrition could continue.