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Indians built for long-term success

Indians built for long-term success

CLEVELAND -- Back in the Bronx, they're sweeping up the remains of the Indians' champagne-soaked celebration in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and preparing to do likewise to what had been a great Yankee dynasty.

The Tribe's Game 4 win in the American League Division Series on Monday night might have effectively put an end to that dynasty, as we know it, given the dubitable job status of New York manager Joe Torre and the equally uncertain position of the Yankees' rash of free agents.

Only time will tell if what happened in "The House That Ruth Built" was as significant as it looks on paper.

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But for now, it appears that one of the AL's premier ruling regimes is gearing up for a facelift just as another is in its infancy. Because while the Indians might have sent a sizable shockwave through the baseball world with their advance to the American League Championship Series, they don't intend for this October glory to be their 15 minutes of fame.

"We've talked about it all along," manager Eric Wedge said. "We didn't build this thing to be here today and gone tomorrow."

And Wedge's Indians have the roster to prove it.

Take a look at the Tribe's regular starting lineup of center fielder Grady Sizemore, second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, designated hitter Travis Hafner, catcher Victor Martinez, first baseman Ryan Garko, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, left fielder Kenny Lofton, right fielder Franklin Gutierrez and third baseman Casey Blake.

Now, consider that, in that group, only Lofton will be a free agent after this season, while Hafner and Cabrera are under contractual control through 2013, Sizemore, Garko and Gutierrez through '12, Peralta through '11, Martinez through '10, and Blake through next season.

The Indians' four-man playoff rotation of C.C. Sabathia (signed through '08), Fausto Carmona (under control through '13), Jake Westbrook (signed through '10) and Paul Byrd (club option for '08) could be kept intact next year, with depth options Jeremy Sowers (under control through '12), Aaron Laffey (under control through '13) and Cliff Lee (signed through '09, club option for '10) also on board.

And in the bullpen, back-end relievers Joe Borowski (club option for '08), Rafael Betancourt (under control through '09), Rafael Perez (under control through '12) and Jensen Lewis (under control through '13) aren't necessarily going anywhere.

"We'll probably have less turnover than any [playoff] team," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "I know it will be less than anyone in our division."

That stability is what the Indians were shooting for when they began locking up their core players to long-term deals.

But beyond the contractual backbone, the Indians have the added benefit of a group of players who mesh as well as they mash.

In short, these guys really do like each other, and not just when the champagne and beer are flowing.

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"That's really the story," Shapiro said. "They have been through the pain and tough times together. They had kids together at same time. You'll see C.C.'s son playing with Victor's son. And now they're getting a chance to celebrate together, too. When I hear these guys talk about being a family and how much they care about each other, then I watch them go out and play the way they do, that provides more good feelings than I can put words to."

Sabathia has used his words to describe the familial atmosphere in the Tribe clubhouse this season and how much he wants to remain the Indians ace for years to come.

But the multi-million dollar question remains whether or not C.C. will put his ballpoint pen where his mouth is to ensure that this sturdy clubhouse retains its big left-handed anchor.

In locking up their ace, to this point, the Indians have gotten Sabathia to take two "hometown" discounts -- first in the four-year deal he signed before the '02 season and again in the extension he signed in '05.

If the Indians can get him to take a third, they'll secure what was the most formidable 1-2 rotation punch in the AL this season in Sabathia and Carmona. Further advancement in the postseason would only serve to enhance their bargaining chips.

Because he's done his bargaining within the parameters of his team's mid-market payroll, Shapiro is drawing raves around the industry for his construction of this club.

Yet the shock of it all is that the Indians, who had a relatively meager Opening Day payroll of $61.7 million, actually spent more this season than either National Leaue Championship Series participant -- the Rockies (54.4 million) and the Diamondbacks ($52.1 million).

Yes, three teams in the bottom-third of baseball's payroll list have formed three-fourths of the LCS slate.

What does that say?

"It says it can be done," Shapiro said. "We knew it. It takes a lot of things lining up right and a special effort from an entire organization, but that's how all three teams who are in it have done it."

All three clubs, inevitably, will have to brace themselves for a spending uptick if they are to maintain their young cores for the long haul. But the Indians, as the above contractual statuses illustrate, are off to a fine start in that department.

A Tribe dynasty in the making? Well, that's more than a little presumptuous.

But the Indians can take comfort in the fact that the players who carried them this far are in a position to carry them once more in '08 -- and, in many cases, beyond.

"We talked about putting something together with the entire focus on all players in the organization and putting ourselves in a position to have sustained success," Wedge said. "We still have a lot of work to do this year, but, obviously, we've come a long way."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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