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12/11/08 6:23 PM EST
Indians leap into action at Meetings
Gathering of teams one of busiest for Tribe in quite some time
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- The Indians haven't been prone to many Winter Meetings deals in recent years, but they certainly made a splash on the Strip. Not only did the Indians all but cement a two-year contract with closer Kerry Wood, addressing what they believed to be their highest offseason priority, they also became entangled in a three-team, 12-player swap that netted them a bullpen addition and an intriguing middle-infield prospect.
Not a bad weeks' work.
"It's been a productive Meetings for us," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Obviously, we have more work that we haven't completed yet. But we hope we have more on the heels of this, and a big portion of our offseason work will be done."
The Wood deal is not done. Wood is in Cleveland taking the Indians' physical. If he passes, he will sign a two-year contract worth nearly $20 million, possibly with an option of some variety for a third year.
Though the Indians were pleased with Jensen Lewis saving 13 of 14 opportunities in 2008, they made their search for a closer their top priority because they wanted a more proven option in the ninth inning and the free-agent and trade markets offered plenty of them.
What's interesting is the way the Indians' exploration of that market led to an unexpected deal. The Indians had been talking to the Mariners about a deal for J.J. Putz, and those talks became part of the foundation for the three-team deal completed Wednesday. Putz went to the Mets as a setup man for Francisco Rodriguez, and the Indians facilitated the deal by giving the Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. In exchange, the Tribe received right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Mets and infielder Luis Valbuena from Seattle.
Smith will join a 'pen that already includes Lewis, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi, with Wood expected to join the mix and John Meloan, Adam Miller and Jeff Stevens among the prospects who can compete for a job.
With his track record as a right-handed specialist over the last two seasons with the Mets, Smith could be a helpful addition.
"We think he can be an important part of the back end of a 'pen," Shapiro said.
Valbuena isn't being sold as the answer to the Indians' ongoing search for an infielder. The Indians would like him to get more Triple-A seasoning after his quick rise from Double-A to the Majors last season. But Valbuena could become a left-handed-hitting complement in the infield mix, which currently includes Jhonny Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jamey Carroll and Josh Barfield.
"Valbuena fills an extreme need for us as a middle infielder at the upper levels," Shapiro said. "He could be a guy who factors into our big league picture, depending on how our offseason concludes. But he's not our infield piece right now."
No, the Indians will continue to look for that piece, knowing full well the deal they have on the table for Wood will eat up the vast majority of their offseason expenditures. It's a thin free-agent crop in the infield, so the Indians will have to get creative in their search for that final piece.
The Indians also have hopes of landing a starter, though their limited resources will make that difficult, as well. They will probably kick the tires on reclamation projects such as Kris Benson.
"The starting pitching market, we haven't been very active in yet," Shapiro said. "We've put some feelers out and had some conversations. We have a good enough feel to understand the realities of that are going to be a challenge."
Deals done: Sealed a deal with closer Kerry Wood, with only a passed physical standing in the way; traded OF Franklin Gutierrez for RHP Joe Smith and INF Luis Valbuena as part of a three-team, 12-player swap with the Mariners and Mets; sold the contract of RHP Tom Mastny to the Yokohama BayStars of the Japan Central League.
Rule 5 activity: The Indians neither lost nor took any players in the Major League portion. In the Minor League portion, they lost Class A right-handers Rafael Quintero to the Pirates and Carlos Arias to the Royals.
Goals accomplished: Stocking up on Wood will address the Indians' chief offseason priority, while the Smith acquisition further enhances the 'pen.
Unfinished business: The Indians are still looking for the final piece in their infield. It could be a starter at second base, third base or shortstop (Jhonny Peralta's purported ability to move to third allows for flexibility), or it could be a complement to utility infielder Jamey Carroll. Valbuena and Josh Barfield could compete to be that piece if and only if the Indians don't land anybody else. The Tribe also would like to add a starter, but its limited budget will make it difficult, if not impossible.
GM's bottom line: "We've got a lot of time left to utilize, and we're going to continue to address what we think are some holes in the team. I would expect us to get more done before we get to Spring Training." -- Shapiro
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.