No urgency during Winter Meetings
Indians happy with current roster, but additions possible
CLEVELAND -- Virtually from the time his Indians were eliminated in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, general manager Mark Shapiro said he would approach this offseason as an opportunist.The vast majority of the Tribe's roster will return in 2008, so Shapiro knows he won't have to do any panic shopping in the free-agent and trade markets. "I don't feel we have any pressing needs," Shapiro said. "If the opportunity is there and the moment creates itself to be opportunistic or reinforce the club, we'd certainly do that from a position of depth." Shapiro, though, is also a realist. Only those unversed in baseball's fickle nature would assert that the Indians can bring the same basic club back and simply pencil in another 96 wins. The sport just doesn't work that way. So as Shapiro and his staff enter baseball's Winter Meetings -- set to take place Monday through Thursday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. -- the goal will be to examine any and all possibilities for improvement to the lineup or pitching depth to combat injuries and ineffectiveness. "What we'll look to do is recognize that 96 wins is an exceptional season," Shapiro said, "but, even if the same club is back, the chance of doing that again would be difficult. We'll look to offset the risk of pull-back in any one area. We'll look at the team player by player and position by position, and if there's room for incremental improvement, we'd look to do it." The Indians already did so in one area -- the bullpen. Last week's signing of Japanese free-agent reliever Masahide Kobayashi gives the Tribe more depth in the closing and setup departments. If Kobayashi, who notched 227 saves over nine seasons in his native land, can carry his past successes into the big leagues, he'll be a fallback option should closer Joe Borowski falter or last year's main setup men, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, need a helping hand. In signing the 33-year-old Kobayashi, the Indians addressed what Shapiro considered to be one of the club's most pressing offseason needs.
"This takes away some of the urgency [to improve the 'pen]," Shapiro said. "But I'm not done. If we can continue to [find relief help], we'll do it."Still, don't expect the Indians to make another splashy free-agent bullpen signing. The state-side market for relief help is thin again this year, and the Indians, who already handed a two-year contract to an unproven Japanese import, are understandably leery of multiyear deals for relievers. If the Indians do make a move during the Winter Meetings, expect it to be a trade, and expect it to be an addition to the lineup. Shapiro has made it clear he's no fan of this winter's free-agent crop, but, like many other big league GMs, he does seem intrigued by the trade possibilities that could unfold in the Music City. In fact, without revealing specifics, Shapiro said Friday that the Indians recently had two trades they nearly made, one of which he thought was just about complete. Both deals fell through, however, and neither is currently active. "That's the way the ebb and flow of deals goes," he said. "At this moment, anything we do [at the Meetings] would be initiated over the weekend or while we're there. We do have some talks planned with other clubs." Those talks would undoubtedly include mention of the Indians' depth in the starting-pitching department. C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook are locks for the top three spots of the rotation, Paul Byrd's 2008 contract option has been exercised, and left-handers Aaron Laffey, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers -- all of whom pitched in the rotation at some point in '07 -- are also on hand. Toss in top prospect Adam Miller, who could be a factor next season, and the Indians have enviable depth in this area. Teams have long been asking for the 23-year-old Miller in trade talks, but the Indians are obviously reluctant to part with such a highly regarded young arm. The club might be more motivated to move Lee, a former 18-game winner who has two years and about $9.5 million remaining on a contract extension he signed with the Tribe in '06. But Lee's value is diminished by his ugly '07, during which he spent two months at Triple-A Buffalo. As for what the Indians might seek to acquire, a run-producing bat in an outfield corner or at third base certainly wouldn't hurt an offense that sputtered at times in '07. The Indians were in on talks involving Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, but Florida's asking prices (namely, top-flight prospects such as Miller and second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera) were too much for the Indians to swallow. A more realistic possibility is Pirates left fielder Jason Bay, whom the Indians have reportedly discussed as a potential target. But Shapiro has said he's "comfortable" returning a team whose current best options for left field are a platoon of David Dellucci and Jason Michaels or a reliance on prospects Ben Francisco and/or Shin-Soo Choo. So while it's conceivable that the Indians could leave Nashville with a new look in the lineup, it's equally possible they'll walk out having used the event merely as an information-gathering session to move forward this winter, during which signing Sabathia to a contract extension remains the club's top priority. "Any time you get a bunch of people together," Shapiro said, "it's an atmosphere conducive to conducting deals." And, perhaps, to being opportunistic.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.