Cleveland Indians Offseason Preview

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer INovember 14, 2008

Friday marks the frenzy of Free Agency for all the big spenders around Major League Baseball. Big names like CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez will probably fall first, then the more reasonably priced players come into focus.

That's where the Indians come in. Don't expect a splash and certainly don't expect much movement from Mark Shapiro in the first few days.

Oh sure, Shapiro has probably already prepared and sent in contract offers to certain free agents. But because they stand to be "Option B" for some teams, those agents are going to sit on the offers.

We've already seen trade deals get done, two involving teams in the Tribe's division, the AL Central.

Indian killer Nick Swisher made his stay in Chicago a short one as the White Sox sent him to New York. Swisher always hit well against Cleveland, so not having to face him as much is a plus.

The Royals made a move for an impact bat, or at least they hope, in getting Mike Jacobs from Florida.

Matt Holliday wasn't an option for the Tribe, but because the Rockies planned on keeping one of Holliday and Garrett Atkins, one trade possibility for the Tribe is probably out of the question.

In that Holliday deal, a potential closer for the Tribe, Huston Street, was dealt to Colorado. It was assumed that Manny Corpas was going to take over the closing duties of Brian Fuentes, a target for the Indians, but with Street in the mix, that is now a interesting question.

There were rumblings that the Rockies could flip Street to a team in need of a closer, presumably for a young outfielder, if they trade Carlos Gonzalez, or a starting pitcher.

Starting pitcher, the Indians have those.

They also need them.

With that, let us get to the Indians' needs.

Cleveland's Primary Need: Impact Infielder

Mark Shapiro isn't limiting himself to third base. He would prefer to get someone who can play the hot corner, but the pool of third baseman is so shallow, he's willing to be flexible.

If the Indians can't get someone to play third, they'll presumably make a play to get a second baseman. That would involve shifting Jhonny Peralta to third base and Asdrubal Cabrera to his natural position of shortstop.

It would be believed that Peralta's future is at third base to begin with. His defense isn't the sharpest and his numbers aren't one that a shortstop puts up.

Wes Hodges is someone the Indians feel strongly about for the future, but he is probably slated to start the year in Triple-A and if he is ready at some point next year, it wouldn't be for a few months, and that's a best case scenario.

Andy Marte ended the year as the man at third. He had an extended try-out period after the Indians traded away Casey Blake to the Dodgers. It's quite obvious that the Indians weren't impressed with the results.

The Solution?

As mentioned, Garrett Atkins has been a possibility even before this offseason. He was said to be on the market by the Rockies during last season and the Indians probably would have had interest if they were in the race.

Atkins' power numbers aren't that different between home and road, but his average away from Coors' Field is one to worry about.

The top free agent possibility is probably the return of Casey Blake, but he could be searching for a longer deal than the Indians would want to give him.

Joe Crede could be a nice one-year plug in that would help him establish himself for a big contract next year and also bridge the gap for the Indians to Hodges. Crede is also a Scott Boras client and he could be demanding a steep price, especially for someone injured as much as he is.

Trade options would include any third baseman that is on the market, Shapiro will leave no stone unturned.

It gets to a point where there may not be a third baseman to be had at the right price and the right fit for the Indians. They would have to go into an equally depleted second base pool.

In the end, I think the Indians might sign a cheap filler, or bring in a few guys on minor league deals to compete with Marte. They could go with someone like Marte or a cheap alternative and if they are in the race later in the season, make their move then.

Cleveland's Secondary Need: A Capable Late Inning Reliever

Mark Shapiro isn't closing the door on Jensen Lewis or even Rafael Perez being inserted into the closers role. But you know he would prefer to find someone who has established themselves as a closer just in case.

Shapiro will search every solution and explore just about every free agent closer other than Francisco Rodriguez. If he cannot find one at the right price, he'll probably settle for an impact setup man and keep Jensen Lewis as his ninth inning guy.

If he picks up a left-handed relief pitcher, that would give Eric Wedge late inning flexibility and use Perez strictly as a setup guy, something he's excelled at.

The Solution?

It will probably be a free agent signing. There are too many good options out there and Shapiro would probably rather not trade for a closer.

Huston Street could be off the market and Kevin Gregg has recently been traded to the Cubs to remove him as well. Both were possibilities, but the acquisition of Kevin Gregg opens up a free agent possibility for the Tribe.

Kerry Wood would be an ideal fit for the Indians at the right price. Something along the lines of a two year deal would be beneficial for the Tribe to not invest long term in a relief pitcher and give Wood a nice small payday that could maybe establish himself as a healthy closer over the long term.

Trevor Hoffman is another closer that will likely move on from his old team and he's a guy the Indians almost signed a few years ago. Hoffman actually turned down a bigger contract to return to San Diego.

There is also the cheap and quick route along the lines of Jason Isringhausen or Chad Codero. Both are proven closers coming off injuries just looking for a one year shot to prove themselves.

It's a typical Mark Shapiro move and one I'd expect him to make when all is said and done.

Cleveland Might Sign a Starting Pitcher

The possibility of signing a Starting Pitcher will increase if the market for mid-range rotation guys is one favorable to the Indians.

They've got plenty of options to plug into their rotation behind Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona. Anthony Reyes is expected to occupy one of those spots and the Indians would prefer to leave their fifth spot up to competition.

This would mean they need a third or fourth man in the rotation. That would also open up the possibility of using one of their pitchers, Aaron Laffey or Jeremy Sowers, in a trade, be it this offseason or at the trade deadline if need-be.

I don't anticipate Shaprio trading for someone to fill that spot that is obviously a need, but not a priority. That leaves him with free agent options alone.

The Solution?

We've seen Mark Shapiro make those cheap moves and I alluded to it earlier with both the third base and closer spots. I could see Shapiro plugging two holes with cheap alternatives and plugging the other one with a real investment.

This position is the one most likely to get a cheap fix and here is why.

Jake Westbrook is this team's number three; however he is going to miss at least half, if not more of the season.

The depth is great, but Shaprio wants to keep that depth where it is at. He doesn't want to have to depend on a Jeremy Sowers, he would like him to step up when you least expect it.

Westbrook could come in at some point in the season, which would only be a plus if the Indians have a reliable third option that is pitching well. That is why a one year-Kevin Millwood type signing makes a whole lot of sense here.

The ideal fit would be Freddy Garcia or someone who has been a proven reliable pitcher, just coming off an injury. Carl Pavano could be in that mold, but he isn't coming off an injury, he's coming off many injuries.

Cleveland's Trade Chips

The biggest card the Indians could put into play is their backup catcher, Kelly Shoppach.

His emergence in the absence of Victor Martinez has given the Indians a legit commodity that other teams might actually covet. The big thing here is that the Indians might be adding two more catchers to their 40 man roster, which would bring their total to five. All five would be in Double-A or higher.

The acquisition of Carlos Santana means the Indians have someone they like for the future and along those lines, the acquisition of both Matt LaPorta and Mike Bradley make players like Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez and prospect Trevor Crowe expendable.

The Indians also have a surplus of young pitchers and they could use an Aaron Laffey in a package if need be.

A favorite for fans to get traded is Ryan Garko, but I can't see the Indians getting rid of him with Travis Hafner's health in question.

The Overall Perspective

Three needs, all that if you ask me need addressed if the Indians are going to be contenders. You don't have to make the big free agent signing or anything like that, but you need to make some moves.

Mark Shapiro will make them, but he isn't going to make a move that could hurt his team in the long run. He knows he has holes to fill and he's going to fill them with the best possible solution.

My overall idea would look something like this:

  • Re-Sign both Sal Fasano and Brendan Donnelly to minor league deals after they explore their own options. Neither should get 40 man roster spots anywhere else.
  • Sign Jason Isringhausen and Freddy Garcia to one year deals. With other options, this makes the most sense.
  • Trade for sign a reliable third baseman. With no other options, this is a move that probably needs to be done.
  • Protect Carlos Santana, Chris Gimenez, Jordan Brown, Trevor Crowe, and Hector Rondon with 40 man roster protection for the Rule V Draft.

I personally wouldn't mind any of the options I laid out, like Freddy Garcia, Jason Isringhausen, even Kerry Wood or Joe Crede at a reasonable price. I just don't want Shapiro to deviate from his stance of signing a free agent just because he can. He will make additions, but he can't make the wrong ones or there will be a lot of disappointed fans.


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