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12/07/10 9:30 PM EST
Tribe outfield getting a look at Meetings
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians are saying all the right things about Grady Sizemore, as they should. The club's star center fielder continues to make progress in his recovery from left knee surgery, giving the Tribe has no reason to exclude him from its plans for Opening Day. Rare is the occasion that everything goes according to plan, though. The reality is that Sizemore will be closely monitored during Spring Training and Cleveland would be doing itself a disservice by not having a contingency plan in place. Michael Brantley is the top internal option to move into center should Sizemore's recovery hit a snag. The Indians' main priority for the outfield is to find a right-handed hitter who can help offset the all-lefty combination of Brantley, Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. Beyond that, it is a safe bet that the Tribe is also exploring possible fallback plans for an Opening Day lineup sans Sizemore. "We're mindful of that," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. "Michael Brantley has the ability to be a center fielder, so we could fill left field with some of our other outfield options." The Indians, along with over a dozen other teams, have inquired about free-agent outfielder Fred Lewis. He has the ability to play all three spots and has experience as a leadoff man, but Lewis hits from the left side and has performed better in an everyday role than as a reserve player in the past. Unless there is evidence that Sizemore will not be ready for Opening Day, a player such as Lewis does not seem like a fit for the Tribe, especially with Brantley and the versatile Trevor Crowe already in the fold. Sizemore, who had microfracture surgery on his knee in June, passed a checkup with Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., on Sunday. "It was a successful trip," Antonetti said. "The examination went well and he's progressing well. He's still on track for his initial progression. He hasn't had any setbacks." Cleveland's immediate need is an outfielder who can help provide rest for the regulars -- Sizemore included -- ideally when a lefty is on the mound. "We think all three of those guys are everyday guys," said Antonetti, referring to Brantley, Sizemore and Choo. "It'd be more a complementary outfielder, because inevitably those guys aren't going to run out for 162 days." The Indians have been linked to right-handed-hitting outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who hits lefties well, but he is drawing solid interest and his price will likely exceed what the Indians can afford. Other possibilities on the free-agent market could include Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge or Marcus Thames, among others. On Day 2 of these Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin resort, Antonetti acknowledged that he had more meetings involving free agents than potential trades. Among the handful of meetings that took place, the Indians met with the representative for free-agent infielder Nick Punto. All Antonetti would say is that the Tribe could benefit from adding an extra infielder. "We could add an infielder," Antonetti said. "We have a number of guys, both at the Major League level and at the upper levels of the Minors, that they're primary position is second base. We have fewer guys whose primary position is third base and shortstop." Punto, 33, has acquired plenty of experience at third and short, as well as second base, over his 10 year career in the big leagues with the Phillies and Twins. He is a career .247 hitter, but his glove is what would appeal more to the Indians. Right now, Cleveland does not have clear-cut answers for second, third or the backup role to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. In their search for help at third base, defense is taking a priority. That being the case, the Tribe's interest in free agent Edwin Encarnacion has soured. Encarnacion's power at the plate is appealing, but his struggles at the hot corner would do little to help the development of Cleveland's young pitching staff. Antonetti noted that Jason Donald -- currently in the mix for the starting role at second base -- would see action at multiple infield spots during Spring Training. Luis Valbuena is still in the discussion at second, and as a backup at short. On Tuesday, however, one report indicated that the Mariners had interest in trading for Valbuena. Antonetti could not say whether any free-agent signings or trades would come to fruition before the Indians departed the Meetings. "Nothing is imminent," he said with a shrug.