CLEVELAND – The Indians swung a wrecking ball at their roster this offseason.
With a frugal eye on their future, the three-time defending AL Central champions slashed payroll by nearly $20 million while letting core championship players like All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, franchise career saves leader Cody Allen, reliever Andrew Miller and others leave as free agents while trading slugger Edwin Encarnacion, catcher Yan Gomes and first baseman Yonder Alonso.
Josh Donaldson, last year's major trading deadline acquisition, is another of the departed.
The massive overhaul was stunning for one of baseball's most consistent organizations, rocking a frustrated fan base teased by previous deep postseason runs.
The Indians needed to close the gap on Houston, New York and Boston in the AL. Instead, they seemed to widen it.
“It almost feels like it's a semi-fresh start where we held a little bit of the nucleus together and we're going to get some fresh faces, put some youth in the lineup,” said starter Mike Clevinger, one-fifth of arguably the league's strongest rotation. “That's really exciting to see guys get full-fledged opportunities when there might not have been some in the past.”
And while the Indians made numerous moves, they didn't pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade involving All-Star pitchers Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
The Indians will be without All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor in spring training and he could miss the start of the season with a strained right calf.
Given all their talent, the Indians somewhat underachieved in going 91-71 last season – their sixth straight winning season under manager Terry Francona.
Here are some other things to watch this spring in Goodyear, Arizona, where spring training starts Monday.
Cleveland did make one major offseason acquisition, and it was a familiar one as first baseman Carlos Santana returned after one season in Philadelphia. He came back in the three-team trade that also netted the Indians first baseman Jake Bauers, a promising 23-year-old who can also play in the outfield.
Santana's presence in the lineup is vital to protect Lindor and Jose Ramirez, who combined to hit 77 home runs last season and became the first teammates with at least 80 extra-bases hits in consecutive years since Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio (1936-37).
The Indians outfield is unsettled and could remain in flux for a few months. Brantley's departure has created an enormous hole in left and inside the clubhouse as the three-time All-Star provided leadership and consummate professionalism. Leonys Martin has fully recovered after his serious health scare and could move in permanently in center. Bradley Zimmer's recovery from shoulder surgery has gone well and he could have a major impact if he can cut down on his strikeouts.
Rookie to watch
Triston McKenzie could be the next great right-hander to emerge from Cleveland's rich pitching pipeline. The 21-year-old will likely begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, but it's possible he'll be in the Indians' bullpen at some point this season.
Once strong, the Indians' bullpen has lost some major muscle. Although he struggled last season, Allen was one of the game's steadiest closers and Miller's dominance in 2016 carried the Indians within a swing of winning the series.
All-Star left-hander Brad Hand, who came over last July in a trade from San Diego, will slide into Allen's spot. Steady set-up men Dan Otero and Oliver Perez are also back.
On deck: The Indians host the 75th All-Star Game in July, and before that they'll open the regular season on March 28 in balmy Minneapolis.