CLEVELAND -- With the Cleveland Indians’ historic 2017 season coming to an end courtesy of a 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field Wednesday night, the organization will now turn their focus to the offseason, where some important decisions have to be made regarding the roster.
Plenty of players will be eligible for arbitration, and several more are due to become unrestricted free agents.
Here is a look at five players the Indians will have to make tough decisions on before the 2018 season.
Decision 1: Re-sign first baseman Carlos Santana
The Indians wasted no time in exercising Santana’s option for the 2017 season after last year’s World Series run, and that one-year extension made him the second-highest paid player on the team, trailing only designated hitter/infielder Edwin Encarnacion.
During the 2017 season, Santana hit .259 with 23 home runs, 37 doubles, 79 runs batted in, another 90 scored and 148 hits over 154 games. Additionally, Santana struck out 94 times, but worked his way to 88 walks.
In his eight years with the Indians, Santana had a .249 batting average with 995 hits in 3,994 at-bats over 1,116 regular-season games. He belted 236 doubles, 13 triples and 174 home runs, drove in 587 runs, scored another 573 and drew 726 walks against his 812 strikeouts.
Originally a catcher when promoted to the Major League club, Santana has played behind the plate, at third base, in left field and settled into a starter’s role at first base over the last three seasons.
Decision 2: Sign outfielder Jay Bruce
In 43 games with the Indians after a mid-August trade from the New York Mets, Bruce belted seven home runs, nine doubles and two triples in 149 at-bats. Eighteen of his 37 hits went for extra bases, and he drove in 26 runs with 21 scored.
During the postseason, Bruce smashed three extra-base hits, two home runs and one double, with four RBI and five runs. In his Indians postseason debut, a 4-0 win over the Yankees, Bruce smashed a double off the wall in left field and a home run and drove in three runs.
Decision 3: What to do with pitcher Danny Salazar
During the 2016 season, Salazar was an American League All-Star, but since July of last year, his career has been interrupted by consistent injury issues.
Salazar made 19 starts and pitched in 23 games during the regular season, posting a 5-6 record with a 4.28 earned run average over 103.0 innings of work. Despite striking out 145 hitters against 44 walks allowed, Salazar surrendered 94 hits and 51 runs, 49 of which were earned.
For the second straight season, Salazar was limited to bullpen work in the postseason, and committed a throwing error that led to an unearned run for the Yankees in a Game 3 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Decision 4: What to do with infielder Jason Kipnis
Kipnis suffered through hamstring injuries for much of the second half of the season, but was able to get healthy enough to play during the stretch run ahead of the playoffs despite being out of position in the outfield.
Not wanting to upset the balance of the Indians’ talented infield, manager Terry Francona moved Kipnis to center field and he came up with the defensive play of the postseason for the team.
If the Indians do not explore a trade option for Kipnis, they have to figure out whether they can switch him back to second base, keep him in the outfield or use him as a replacement player should Bruce and or Santana not be retained.
Decision 5: Do they exercise option on outfielder Michael Brantley
Brantley is due to make $12 million if the team picks up their option on the 30-year old outfielder.
Healthy for the first time in nearly three years after back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, Brantley returned to his All-Star form and smacked 69 hits in 228 at-bats (.303 batting average) with 15 doubles, five home runs, 31 runs batted in, 27 runs scored, 22 walks against 37 strikeouts and eight stolen bases over the first half of the season.
At that point, Brantley ranked in the Indians’ top 10 in nearly every offensive category. However, Brantley missed seven weeks late in the season because of a sprained ankle and 72 games due to a variety of issues in 2017.
Over the last two years, Brantley has missed 223 out of a possible 324 games.
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