P. Dolan: Indians enjoying high expectations

Tribe chairman/CEO ready for team to take next step after close call in 2016 Fall Classic

P. Dolan: Indians enjoying high expectations

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Sleepless nights were a part of the aftermath of the World Series for many of the Indians' players. It was no different for team chairman/CEO Paul Dolan, who found his thoughts drifting to various turns in the Fall Classic during those early weeks in November.

"It took me a while to not have flashbacks," Dolan said.

No matter how incredible Game 7 was against the Cubs -- and it will go down as one of the great World Series games of all-time -- there was a sting that even the heaviest dose of spring optimism can't cure. Sitting in a conference room at Cleveland's Arizona complex on a recent morning in a conversation with MLB.com, Dolan did allow himself to smile, though, while discussing the Tribe's near triumph.

The loss to the Cubs hurt, but Dolan said it did not feel as devastating as the defeat to the Red Sox in the 2007 American League Championship Series. That one felt like a punch to the gut. Given all that Cleveland overcame to reach the World Series last fall, and how the short-handed roster pushed Chicago to its limits, there was still a layer of satisfaction in the end.

Davis' clutch game-tying homer

There are also, of course, sky-high expectations for the reigning AL champs.

"Well, we know what they are now," Dolan said of the expectations for his team. "I've felt like for the last three or four years, we had a legitimate shot of [contending for a World Series]. But, I would've acknowledged that we wouldn't have been on the tip of everybody's tongue as one of the top two or three candidates. We are now.

"That's great. Yes, it adds a little anxiety to the process, because the higher you are, the more you fall. But, we want those expectations. You want to be the kind of team that is universally considered good enough to win."

There is a lot to be said for how Dolan's front-office generals -- president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff -- have constructed a talented roster mostly through trades, under-the-radar international signings and the MLB Draft. That will always be the blueprint for success for Cleveland, given its market size.

That said, the Indians' current roster has also benefited from ownership doing its part in trying to capitalize on a window that is as open as it has ever been.

Last July, the front-office got the go-ahead to ship four prospects to the Yankees to reel in relief ace Andrew Miller and his $9 million salary. This past winter, Dolan approved the signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the largest free-agent contract in franchise history ($60 million guaranteed over three years). When the offseason began, no one expected Encarnacion to wind up with the Indians.

Encarnacion on Indians' talent

That included Dolan.

"I'm sure you could drag up friends of mine who I told, 'It's not going to happen,'" Dolan said with a laugh. "They were hearing rumors and I'd tell them, 'It's not going to happen.' We'd been down that path before. But, it just kept going down the path and it ended up working. It was a nice moment.

"I frankly didn't think that was in the cards for us ever -- the idea of us playing on the high-profile sluggers. It just doesn't really work for markets our size. Our success, a little shift in the marketplace, maybe even the new [Collective Bargaining Agreement], all sort of presented us with that opportunity."

Cleveland's payroll has climbed north of $120 million -- a franchise record -- for the season ahead. Antonetti has repeatedly referred to Dolan's approach to the winter as a "leap of faith," especially considering so much of the franchise's payroll is impacted by attendance and revenue.

The early returns have been promising. At the ticket office, the Indians have secured more than 12,300 full-season equivalents, representing a 42-percent increase over this time last year. They have sold more than 1.2 million tickets (56-percent increase over this time in 2016), which is a level the team did not reach until July 4 last summer. Group tickets are up by 43 percent over a year ago, and suite rentals have seen a 38-percent jump.

"All those measurements have been positive," Dolan said. "And the anecdotal evidence, everywhere you go, people are talking about the team. The city seems to be alive with it."

Maybe some sleepless nights this year will be due to the level of excitement.

That's the hope.

"The bad that happened in the 10th inning of the seventh game of the World Series," Dolan said, "that's going to lead to something good 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.