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12/02/09 12:00 AM EST
Meetings should offer idea of market
With limited needs, Indians likely to be bargain hunters
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Given the Indians' limited resources this winter, it's going to be a while before the team has a firm grasp on what it will be able to do in the Hot Stove market.
So when the Tribe arrives at the annual Winter Meetings next week, don't expect a lot of action on the transaction wire. The Indians' front-office decision-makers might as well get acquainted with beautiful downtown Indianapolis, because they don't figure to be extremely active at the Indiana Convention Center.
The quiet vibe around the Tribe is a product of two truths: This team has limited resources to pour into payroll after ownership took about a $16 million hit in 2009, and a young, rebuilding Indians roster geared more toward development than contention doesn't contain a great deal of needs.
Well, let's qualify that latter portion. Obviously, the Indians could use some upgrades in many areas. That's why they are not counted as a contender at present.
But given the desire to get a feel for this club's young talent at the Major League level, adding a veteran -- or, at least, the type of veterans the Indians could afford -- would, in most cases, gum up the works by blocking the development path of one of the kids.
Even trade talk involving the Tribe is quiet, because the Indians don't appear to be actively looking to move anybody on their roster.
Just call it the humdrum Hot Stove.
"We don't have a defined need," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We want to get better. But the reason you don't feel pressure for us [to make a move] is we don't have a defined hole. We want to get better and improve and offset the volatility that goes with young players, but we don't have the pressure of having to complete a trade or sign a free agent."
If money weren't an issue, the Indians would jump into the market for a starting pitcher, a right-handed-hitting utility infielder and a right-handed bat who can help out at first base and in left field (in case Matt LaPorta's not fully recovered from hip and toe surgeries) -- probably in that order.
But money is, indeed, an issue. The Indians opened 2009 with an $81 million payroll. In 2010, that figure figures to be somewhere between $50 million and $60 million. The team already has about $48.5 million tied up into six players -- Travis Hafner ($11.5 million), Jake Westbrook ($11 million), Kerry Wood ($10.5 million), Grady Sizemore ($5.8 million), Fausto Carmona ($5.1 million) and Jhonny Peralta ($4.6 million) -- so there's not much wiggle room here.
Look for the Indians to sign a veteran utility infielder at some point this winter. The Indians had interest in Omar Vizquel, but he ranked the White Sox -- with whom he signed a one-year contract -- higher on his priority list, and he didn't exactly fit the Indians' need for a right-handed bat to spell Luis Valbuena at second base anyway.
The right-handed-hitting utilitymen on the market include Mark Loretta and Juan Uribe. Or the Indians could bring back Jamey Carroll. But he made $2.5 million last year, so it's questionable whether the Indians could afford him.
As far as starting pitching is concerned, new manager Manny Acta has made it clear he'd like the Tribe to pursue a veteran arm, regardless of veteran Jake Westbrook's status in his return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Acta's thinking that you can never have enough pitching is accurate, though again, the Tribe's limited resources might make it difficult for the club to pull in anything more than a low-rung option.
However this plays out for the Indians, it's expected to play out slowly. The club will most likely let the market develop, then hope to swoop in and find some bargains late in the Hot Stove season.
Regarding trades, the Tribe isn't going to deal any of its young, controllable players. And since that eliminates the bulk of the roster, the only obvious trading chip is closer Wood. But in a winter in which the market for free-agent closers is robust, Wood and his hefty salary, particularly after his disappointing '09, aren't likely to draw much interest unless the Indians eat some of his salary.
One X factor that might emerge this winter and work in the Indians' favor is the non-tender situation. It has been speculated that teams might non-tender more players than usual by the Dec. 12 deadline, and that would deepen the free-agent pool and provide more opportunity for bargain-bin discounts.
"Obviously, teams are going to have to make decisions based on their individual economics and alternatives," Shapiro said. "The possibility is out there for a greater number of non-tenders. Any time there's a greater supply on the market, it's advantageous for anybody competing."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.