Jason Kipnis (left) and Mike Clevinger (right) have a conversation in the dugout during the Indians' season-ending loss to the Astros on Monday. (Phil Long/Associated Press)

CLEVELAND — Michael Brantley stood in front of his locker in the Cleveland Indians' clubhouse for maybe the final time and looked over a crowd of reporters with a blank stare.

“You look around this room, they got phenomenal leaders still, great players,” the Indians outfielder said Monday evening as he observed those players exchanging quiet goodbyes. What he heard was the sound of bats being packed up for the winter, what he felt was that he may not see these guys so often, at least not for the next few months, and maybe much longer than that.

“They’re going to be good for a long time,” he said. “I hope to be a part of it.”

The Indians could not be sure of much as Monday wound down, but their 2018 season was certainly over, on the eighth day of October, after just three playoff games that did not go their way. They were swept by the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series. They scored six runs across three games and were blown out, 11-3, in the Astros' clincher. The Astros looked every bit like a defending World Series champion that is fighting to repeat. The Indians looked like a small speed bump in their way, a team that won a noncompetitive division and never revved up to the moment. Now the Indians face an offseason primed to alter a roster that won 91 regular season games and then didn’t win again.

Brantley, who led the Indians with a .309 batting average this year, will be a free agent for the first time in his career. Closer Cody Allen and reliever Andrew Miller are also set to hit the open market. Josh Donaldson, the power-hitting third baseman who came to Cleveland in a late-season trade, is not under contract beyond 2018. Neither is Melky Cabrera, who started in right field in the postseason. Nor Oliver Perez, a 37-year-old lefty who was a key arm out of the Indians' bullpen.

On the nameplates above the Progressive Field lockers was a reminder of the Indians' unfulfilled goals. The words “Back To Back To Back AL Central Division Champions 2018” were stripped across each one. This group of veterans lost in the World Series in 2016 before falling in the ALDS in the past two years. Their shared legacy in Cleveland, if this winter does include some shake-up, will have to rest on that.

“I just told the guys, we’ve got a number of guys that are free agents,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said. “You know there’s going to be some turnover, and it’s a real special group to all of us. So that’s a hard one, when you’re saying goodbye before you’re ready to.”

Before looking ahead, the Indians will look back in an attempt to figure out why their run ended with such a thud and how the Astros dismantled them across three games.

Optimism for their future starts with two young stars in shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez. Lindor showed up against the Astros, homering in Games 2 and 3. Ramirez did not, going without a hit in 11 at-bats after finishing the regular season with 38 home runs and 106 RBI. Cleveland’s offense often went as he did, and so it wilted when his bat went cold against the Astros, continuing a slump that started with a .185 batting average in September.

There is no one reason the Indians lost to the Astros, who got stellar starting pitching from Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, are riding red-hot hitters in George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez and knocked around the Indians' starters and relievers. But Ramirez’s loud lack of production was still one of them.

“You want to be successful, but I fell off. That’s all I can say,” Ramirez said through a team translator after Monday’s loss. “I have not performed how I wanted to, but these are things that happen in baseball, and the only thing I can do is look forward to the offseason and working in the offseason to get better.”

Ramirez is signed until at least 2021 and is a fixture of the Indians' plans, forgettable playoff performance or not. So is Lindor, the electric 24-year-old, the slugging Edwin Encarnacion, and a strong core of starting pitchers in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger. The uncertainty lies with Brantley, a franchise cornerstone, and in the bullpen, a strength of this team throughout its recent run of success.

Brantley shared limited thoughts on his pending free agency Monday, saying he had a lot to talk about with his family before thinking about what’s next. Miller, the versatile left-hander and one of baseball’s most valuable relievers despite a year riddled by injuries, offered the same. They both will demand large contracts. Allen, after converting 27 saves this year and 89 in the past three seasons, should do well for himself, too. Cleveland will need to assess all of those players' values while also considering other needs.

“I haven’t even thought about that yet,” Miller said of his future with the Indians. “There’s a little bit of a process that I have to go through. You really don’t have anything happen until after the postseason’s over, now a postseason we won’t be a part of."

That was the only reality that had set in as the clubhouse was cleaned up around him. More is likely to come.

Read more:

Red Sox come out hitting, and Aaron Boone waits too long to press wrong buttons

Marwin Gonzalez sharpened his plate approach from the right side. The Astros are reaping the benefits.

Manny Machado, far away from Baltimore, is an enigmatic key for the Dodgers

Alex Bregman nears MLB greatness set in motion generations ago in D.C. sandlots and boardrooms