CLEVELAND -- The sting has not worn off for the Indians. They know how close they came to reaching baseball's mountaintop, falling just short in an incredible Game 7 that ended with the Cubs partying on Cleveland's home field as the World Series champions.
With a roster that could return virtually unchanged, and with some key reinforcements expected back, the Indians also know they have the pieces to go for it again. That process began on Friday, with Cleveland picking up first baseman Carlos Santana's $12 million team option for the 2017 season.
Santana enjoyed a career season while splitting his time between first base and designated hitter. The switch-hitter also doubled as a leadoff man when not batting in the heart of the lineup. During the World Series, Santana even played left field in two games at Wrigley Field to help manager Terry Francona piece together a better lineup.
The Indians appreciated Santana's willingness to do whatever he was asked.
"Carlos' team-first effort was there throughout this season," Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. "Carlos has contributed a tremendous amount over his time with the organization. He's a huge part of who we are, and we're happy to bring him back for next year and continue that for another year."
Over 158 games, Santana established career highs in home runs (34), RBIs (87), runs (89), hits (151), slugging percentage (.498) and OPS (.865). He finished the regular season batting .259 with a .366 on-base percentage and ended with as many walks (99) as strikeouts (99). In his seventh season with the Indians, Santana spent 92 games as the DH and 62 as the first baseman, while starting 85 games at leadoff and 59 in the No. 5 slot.
Chernoff credited Francona for thinking outside the box when it came to using Santana both atop the order and in the middle of the lineup.
"All the buttons Tito pushed seemed to be right," Chernoff said. "That sort of goes to the open-mindedness of Tito. He tapped into our analytics department to kind of research that for him, and [it's a credit] also to our players' willingness to do what was best for the team."
From a financial standpoint, the $12 million club option was a no-brainer, considering Santana's production (3.7 WAR, per Fangraphs). With a win valued at a little more than $8 million in terms of free-agent cost, Santana's 2016 season was valued at nearly $30 million. That alone shows how much sense it makes for Cleveland to pick up the option, but the move also is logical in terms of the Tribe's roster makeup.
Santana and slugger Mike Napoli, who also launched 34 homers and led the team with 101 RBIs, divided their time between first base and DH this year, but the latter is eligible for free agency. Napoli, 35, has expressed a desire to re-sign with the Indians, but he is coming off a career year and might have a handful of multiyear contract opportunities. By picking up Santana's option, Cleveland has ensured that one of the two will be back.
Indians president Chris Antonetti and Chernoff noted that the team has interest in retaining Napoli, as well as free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis. Veteran outfielder Coco Crisp will not have his option picked up, making him a free agent as well, but he is not part of the 2017 plans.
"We believe we're in a position to contend for a while," Antonetti said. "I think one of the things we're most encouraged about is the nucleus of our team will be here for the foreseeable future. We are potentially losing two guys in Raj and Mike, but beyond that we've got a lot of guys that are going to be here for a while, and that was a group of guys who found a way to win a lot of games this year."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.