In trading superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and frontline starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the Mets on Thursday, another championship core has come and gone in Cleveland without ending what is now the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball.
This isn't to say that the ballclub won't find its way into contention in the near future or even win the World Series soon, but if it does, it'll be with a different core that came so close this last half-decade. This core joins an impressive list of Cleveland baseball nucleuses that couldn't get over that one final hump since the 1994 strike.
This latest group provided enough success without actually winning the World Series to mean it was a total gut punch. Again.
Things started with future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona taking over for the 2013 season. The Indians went to the wild card game that year with a bit of a different nucleus from the championship core, but we either saw regular time from or caught glimpses of the likes of Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
Come 2016, Kluber was a Cy Young-winning ace, Francisco Lindor was one of the brightest young stars in baseball, Jose Ramirez was emerging as a future star, Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer were rotation fixtures, Allen was closing, Shaw was setting up and Kipnis and Santana were established regulars. Mix in the midseason trade for lefty reliever extraordinaire Andrew Miller and this was a championship core.
Despite losing Carrasco and Salazar from the rotation before the playoffs, Cleveland won the AL pennant and had a 3-1 lead in the World Series before the more-talented Cubs stormed back to take the title.
The 2017 Cleveland ballclub was even better. Ramirez became a star, Lindor developed his home run power and the rotation was in much better shape heading to the postseason. That team won 22 games in a row late in the season and finished with an AL-best 102 wins. After a dramatic, 13-inning win in Game 2, a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five ALDS against the Yankees seemed insurmountable, but the Yankees came back to win it.
The 2018 division title just led to a three-game sweep in the ALDS. The 93-win 2019 season wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. The Yankees swept Cleveland, 2-0, in the Wild Card Series last season.
The only holdovers from a legitimate championship nucleus are Ramirez and catcher Roberto Perez. Sure, some others are around, but it's only Ramirez and Perez among 2016-17 key contributors.
They'll now try to move forward and build another championship-level contender around Ramirez, Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and the rest of what should still be a formidable rotation, along with help from the likes of Josh Naylor, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez and more.
This is not, however, the same window of contention that they had in 2016-17. That window is closed and has to be such a bummer for the long-suffering Cleveland fans.
On the flip-side, Major League Baseball in Cleveland since the aforementioned strike has been exponentially better than it was before for decades.
Before the 1994 strike, there had only been three postseason appearances: A World Series title in 1920, a World Series title in 1948 and a World Series loss in 1954.
After that 1954 pennant, there were decades of Cleveland either being mediocre or just plain bad. In the era of four divisions (1969-93), the Indians finished in last place seven times and never higher than fourth (only five times did they finish in fourth place of either six or seven teams). There were four winning records of 25 seasons with the best record being 84-78.
And then, they were one of the best teams in baseball for over a half-decade. From 1995-2001, there were six playoff berths in seven seasons with two AL pennants. And the star-power. Hoo boy, the star-power. Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Omar Vizquel, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy, Jose Mesa, Sandy Alomar, David Justice, Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman, Juan Gonzalez, Chuck Finley and a host of other big names were part of the nucleus at different times throughout this run.
And yet, zero World Series titles.
The latest window is closed, even if Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber are around to help bridge the gap.
One of the most rewarding things about being a die-hard sports fan is getting to see your favorite team win the championship. For the rest of your life as a fan, you get to look back fondly and remember the players who got the job done. That group is special to you for the rest of your life. In Cleveland, this past group was just another special one that will, unfortunately, not evoke the same memories. It's too bad. It was a true championship core.