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Should be an interesting time in Vegas. Several players weren't offered arbitration around the league and that *could* help mid-market teams who don't want to forfeit draft picks while spending some money. Here's Castro's take:


Closer Tribe's main target in Vegas

Shapiro looking for veteran arm during upcoming Winter Meetings

By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com


CLEVELAND -- A quiet offseason figures to get a little more interesting when the Indians' decision makers head to the Bellagio on the Las Vegas strip from Dec. 8-11 for baseball's annual Winter Meetings.


General manager Mark Shapiro and company will meet face-to-face with the higher-ups from other clubs and the representatives for free agents to presumably put an end to the speculation and get down to the reality of what opportunities are out there for the Tribe.


The chief goals, as they have been all offseason, will be to find a closer and an infielder who can play second or third base. While the Hot Stove market has been open for weeks, the Indians have not been on the threshold of any substantive deals.


That could change in Vegas.


"The Winter Meetings will be a time things get going," Shapiro said.


The going has been slow on the waiver wire throughout baseball this offseason, and that's had an impact on the Indians' ability to make significant headway on their winter motives. Mid- and small-market teams are already held up by their limited payrolls. And when the action is slow on the premier talent available in free agency, it has a trickle-down effect elsewhere.


The Indians, for example, are not expected to be significant players for the two premier closers available on the open market -- Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes -- because of the lucrative contracts those two will likely command. But what happens with K-Rod and Fuentes will probably dictate the market for those lower on the free-agent totem pole -- a group that includes Trevor Hoffman, Kerry Wood, Jason Isringhausen and Brandon Lyon.


What we have here, then, is an impasse that could begin to clear up in the coming days.


Finding a veteran closer appears to have become the Tribe's top priority. While the Indians do appreciate what Jensen Lewis did in the role in the season's final two months, when he converted 13 straight save opportunities and brought some much-needed stability to a wayward bullpen, they would prefer to have a more veteran, proven presence in the ninth inning.


This year's relief market should be able to provide the Indians with such help. Because in addition to the free-agent options listed above, several closers -- including the Astros' Jose Valverde, the Mariners' J.J. Putz, the Rockies' newly acquired Huston Street, the Pirates' Matt Capps and the Orioles' George Sherrill -- have been the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks.


Three years ago at the Winter Meetings in Dallas, the Indians came close to signing Hoffman to a three-year, $21 million deal, only to have him decide to stay with the Padres. Still, a solid relationship was built with Hoffman at that time, complete with Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge visiting Hoffman at his California home. With the 41-year-old Hoffman having severed his ties with San Diego, the Indians could potentially use that relationship to their advantage.


Another strong relationship exists with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, a former Shapiro assistant who knows the Tribe's farm system quite well. That could conceivably assist a deal for Capps, though the Indians and Bucs didn't really get anywhere in talks involving outfielder Jason Bay last offseason.


The search for a closer has plenty of possibilities, but the search for an infielder is a little less promising.


While the Indians have expanded their options by considering the possibility of moving Jhonny Peralta from shortstop to third base and Asdrubal Cabrera from second base to short, they'll have to either get creative or be willing to take some financial risks to fill the remaining spot in the infield.


Concerns over the health of Orlando Hudson, the premier second baseman available in free agency, have made it highly unlikely the Indians will aggressively pursue him. Hudson has a history of injury woes, and his '08 season ended prematurely because of a broken bone in his left wrist. Nonetheless, he is seeking, and might command, a contract in the four- or five-year range, and his annual salary could reach the eight-figure mark.


Scratch Hudson from the list, then. And it's probably safe to do the same with the Rockies' Garrett Atkins, who has been rumored in trade talks. Atkins' limited range and mediocre road numbers do not appear to be of interest to the Indians.


The Indians do, however, have an interest in bringing back Casey Blake, who they traded to the Dodgers shortly before the July deadline. Blake, though, is drawing interest from several teams, including the division-rival Twins, and he might get a two- or three-year deal. It remains to be seen if the Indians, who have third-base prospect Wes Hodges to consider for 2010 and beyond, are willing to go that long a route with the versatile Blake.


Joe Crede, late of the White Sox, is another available free agent, but he comes with inherent injury risks after having two back surgeries in the last two years. As far as trades are concerned, the Astros might dangle third baseman Ty Wigginton, and the Indians have been rumored to have interest.


Rumors, though, are about as far as the Hot Stove season has gotten, where the Indians are concerned. Perhaps in Vegas, the scene will shift from rumor to reality.





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Castro's final mailbag before jetting of to Vegas. Love the Lincecum question and answer. That's one that hasn't made the rounds much in the rags that I've read. Good on Castrovince for putting it to bed. Looking around at the other MLB.com guys who cover teams, we're damn lucky to have this guy covering the Tribe:


It sounds like the Indians have given up on Josh Barfield. Why? He had a bad sophomore season after a very promising rookie season, and last year was hindered by injuries. I'm not sure that his performance after being demoted to Buffalo should be held against him either (remember Brandon Phillips?).

-- Tom K., Greensboro, N.C.


I sense a slight discord between Barfield and the Indians that began when Eric Wedge would routinely pinch-hit for Barfield in clutch situations in '07. At the end of this past season, the Indians asked Barfield to play winter ball, and he opted not to, which I found strange. That's not to suggest he has a bad attitude, because he doesn't. It's just that this is a relationship that has yet to pan out as planned.


That being said, I wouldn't say the Indians have given up on Barfield. They are, I believe, doing the wise thing by going into 2009 with no expectations of him being their starting second baseman. His '08 season, marred by that finger injury that required surgery and kept him out of action for two months, was an offensive disappointment at Triple-A Buffalo.


Barfield is basically in the same spot he was a year ago. He still has a lot to prove at the plate, where his discipline is very much in question. And I expect him to try to prove it in Triple-A Columbus next season, because he still has another Minor League option remaining. For now, he's working out regularly at the Tribe's new complex in Goodyear, Ariz.


Of course, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Barfield could be dealt before all is said and done. But the Indians would be trading damaged goods, not the up-and-comer they received in '06. So they couldn't exactly expect much in return.


In 2005, the Indians drafted Tim Lincecum 1,261st overall. Why was Mark Shapiro unwilling to sign him based upon his mechanics, as we see now his mechanics are not a problem?

-- Cameron T., Streetsboro, Ohio


If the Indians had major concerns with Lincecum's delivery, they wouldn't have drafted him in the first place. On the contrary, the Indians -- and, in particular, West Coast crosschecker Paul Cogan -- were enamored with Lincecum, who was a sophomore-eligible at the University of Washington because he was within 45 days of his 21st birthday.


The Indians made what they believe to be an aggressive offer, but Lincecum rightly decided to stay in college another year. That move paid off when he was drafted 10th overall by the Giants the following year and signed for a $2.025 million bonus.


How much was Cliff Lee's Cy Young bonus, and what did his season earnings total?

-- Zach N., Kent, Ohio


Lee's base salary for 2008 was $3.75 million. He received a $100,000 bonus for making the All-Star team and a $250,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young. Additionally, as a result of winning the Cy Young, his 2010 club option, previously valued at $8 million, is now worth $9 million.


In regard to the Indians' inability to draft/develop their own talent, if you expand your area of reference to the top 10 rounds of every Draft since CC Sabathia was drafted, these are the only productive players the Tribe has developed: Jensen Lewis ('05, third round), In the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff ('03, sixth) and the Orioles' Luke Scott ('01, ninth).

-- Kevin C., Cleveland


Indeed, the Indians' recent drafting history has been spotty to this point. Sabathia, Ben Francisco, Ryan Garko, Lewis and Aaron Laffey were the only Tribe draftees to leave their mark on the '08 club.


Wouldn't Joe Crede be a good fit for the money? If he can get healthy, he is a solid defensive player and a clutch hitter.

-- Ben C., Shelby, Ohio


Let's place an emphasis on the "if" surrounding Crede's health, because it's a big one. Crede was limited to 97 games last season and 47 games in 2007 because of his bum back. He's had surgery performed on the back twice in the last two years, including a procedure this offseason that his agent, Scott Boras, called "minor." Crede's expected to be back up to speed in January, but he's certainly a question mark going forward.


Crede is a former All-Star, but he was shaky in the field this past season, making a career-high 20 errors. While he does possess power, his career .306 on-base percentage doesn't inspire much confidence.


So what we have here is a banged-up Boras guy coming off his worst defensive season and coming off two seasons in which he played a grand total of 144 games. Nevertheless, it's a thin crop at third base in the free-agent market, and the Indians have a history of taking a chance on discounted guys coming off injuries. So Crede is a distinct possibility.


Trevor Hoffman for a couple million dollars -- no more -- makes sense. Jensen Lewis for a month or two, followed by Adam Miller for the following four months as closer makes a lot of sense. Granted, Miller is a durability issue, but Lewis is a nice insurance policy, and I think Rafael Betancourt will be fine this year, too. Am I off-base here?

-- Mike L., Dayton, Ohio


Penciling Miller in for any role, especially closer, is premature, until he proves he is fully healthy and fully effective at the big league level. Miller certainly has the raw stuff that would seem to translate well into the closer's role, but, as we've seen with many relievers, including Betancourt, until a guy actually tries that role, there's no telling how he'll perform in it.


As for Lewis, I understand the Indians' trepidation over handing him the closer's job after such a small sample at the end of the '08 season, especially given his velocity issues earlier in the year. One would hope, however, that the Tribe would not invest too many years or dollars (or prospects, if it's a trade) into a veteran closer, given that Lewis (and, potentially, Miller) could be a viable closing option in the not-too-distant future.


And finally ...


Which of the three Cleveland teams do you think is going to be the first to bring home a title?

-- Patch R., Columbus, Ohio


When it comes to this longstanding debate, it's hard not to side with any team that includes LeBron James. So I'll give the Cavaliers the edge for the next couple years, before LeBron's inevitable departure and banishment into the Art Modell annals of Cleveland traitor lore.


But whether it's a result of my disdain for the NBA or the relative youth of the Cavaliers franchise, I feel the Indians or Browns are somehow more deserving of becoming the city's first champion in more than 40 years. And when it comes to those efforts, I'll have to side with the Indians' chances over those of the bumbling Browns, whose weekly escapades are great theater, not football.





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Shoppach is going to be closely following the meetings. Hope he's not dealt...or hope he's dealt for a ton of talent!


"It's going to be an interesting week coming up," said Shoppach, checking in from the Indians' new training facility in Goodyear, Ariz. "You never know what can happen."


The Marlins, Reds and Astros are among the clubs believed to be looking for affordable catching help, and it's a position that is often difficult to fill with somebody capable of making a true impact in the lineup.


But the Indians are hesitant to deal Shoppach, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, because of several concerns. For one, Martinez will be coming off an injury-plagued '08 that sapped him of his power. And designated hitter Travis Hafner's subpar performance the past two seasons and shoulder weakness in '08 make him a major question mark. Toss in the inconsistency displayed by first baseman Ryan Garko, which might lead to the versatile Martinez getting more time at first, and Shoppach's power bat looks mighty valuable.


Should Shoppach stay -- and he's made it clear he'd love to -- he said he's not overly concerned with the distribution of playing time, however convoluted it might become.


"Like I've always said, I'll do what they tell me to do," he said. "One day in the big leagues is better than 100 days in the Minor Leagues. You keep your mouth shut, and you do the best you can."


But Shoppach won't keep his eyes shut when it comes to watching the winter rumor mill twirl. He has not just himself to think about, but also his growing family. His wife, Jennifer, is due to give birth to a third daughter in February.


"I don't think I care so much about myself," Shoppach said. "The stress is more on my family. We're trying to make arrangements for where we're going to live in Cleveland, because you have to start thinking about those things. It's tougher on my family than me, because I understand the business and how things can change at a moment's notice."





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Here's Ingraham's look at the meetings:


Indians' offseason anything but relentless

Saturday, December 6, 2008 1:18 AM EST




"We need to go out and be relentless: to execute an off-season plan that acknowledges that we clearly have areas to improve. We cannot and will not be complacent. We're aware that we have spots where we need to get better, and we're going to work hard to do that.''


— Mark Shapiro, October, 2008.


It's now December, 2008. We're two months into the Indians' relentless off-season. How do you like it so far?


Yesterday, the Indians filled that gaping void on their roster for a journeyman Japanese non-roster, non-descript pitcher by signing Tomo Ohka to a minor-league contract.


Tomo-mania, anyone?


So at least they've got that going for them. Team Relentless will now transfer operations to Las Vegas on Monday, for the start of baseball's winter meetings.


With officials from all major league teams convening in the desert — symbolism, anyone? — the relentless quotient will be ratcheted up even more as general managers, working around the dinner show at Cirque De Soleil, begin their annual dance of the decrepit and deprived, hoping to identify, interface, and perhaps even have meaningful conversations/impersonal e-mails/and/or/anonymous text messages with potential trade partners.


Baseball's Rat Pack plays Vegas.


That's in lieu of actual free agent signings, which are currently being held hostage by Carsten Charles — or is it "Cash and Carry''? — Sabathia, whose mammoth, potentially historic free agent contract, once signed, will set the market for the mere mortals beneath him on the free agent food chain.


Given these troubled economic times, given that the Indians aren't big spenders even in soaring economic times, and given that in any given winter meetings only three or four teams — and the Indians aren't one of them — are financially capable of reeling in a given year's free agent Moby Dick, don't call Tribe general Manager Mark Shapiro Ishmael.


Or Captain Ahab.


Shapiro and his lieutenants will go to Vegas seeking not the White Whale. Their goal merely will be to avoid the White Elephant.


Whether it's one or more free agents, or one or more trades, the Indians in all likelihood won't be acquiring any marquee names. Shapiro will bob and weave his way through the meetings, cautiously testing the waters here and there as just another loyal, card-carrying member of the National Association of Bottom Feeders.




They have a few. But then again, too many to address in one all-expenses paid trip to the Land of Odds.


"When you get into the off-season,'' Shapiro said at the start of this off-season, "you ask yourself: Where is the talent of greatest impact? Are you looking to add to the runs scored column or the runs prevented column? How do you do that in the most impactful way?''


The Indians seem to be leaning towards trying to improve the runs prevented column. A closer still seems to be their perceived No.1 need, and with good reason. Nowhere on their current roster is a pitcher who has been a successful closer at the major league level for even two full months, much less a full season.


All-time major league saves leader Trevor Hoffman, who is a year older than Tribe manager Eric Wedge, is a free agent. But Hoffman's sub-Joe Borowski fastball has taken all the deception out what once was his money pitch, the changeup. Closers with marginal stuff tend to get fired at mid-season. Just ask Borowski.


Lefty Brian Fuentes, Huston Street, Bobby Jenks, and J.J. Putz are some of the other closers available through trade or free agency. So is Francisco Rodriguez, but only teams able to shrug off a $50 million mistake will bid for him. And the Indians aren't one of those teams.


A third baseman remains high on the Tribe's shopping list. Casey Blake is seeking three years, even though he apparently only has two teams — the Dodgers and Twins — offering him two-years. Tribe officials, meanwhile, can't seem to make up their mind how strongly they should pursue the player they used to acquire their catcher of the future (Carlos Santana).


Plan B for a failure to add a third baseman would be to move Jhonny Peralta to third after adding a middle infielder. But the options there are, for the Indians' tastes, apparently either too pricey (Rafael Furcal), too medically questionable (Orlando Hudson), or too David Eckstein (David Eckstein).


The Tribe also would like to add a starting pitcher — who wouldn't? — unless your idea of a contender's opening day rotation includes, in slots three through five, some combination of Anthony Reyes, Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, Scott Lewis, and Zach Jackson.


Because the free agent market appears too expensive or too not-good-enough, it seems more likely that the Indians will address their biggest need(s) through trade. They have, with which to bargain, a surplus of young outfielders (Ben Francisco, Shin-Soo Choo, Franklin Gutierrez, Trevor Crowe), young starting pitchers (Sowers, Laffey, Lewis), and a backup catcher (Kelly Shoppach) with attention-getting power numbers from 2008, his only year as a regular.


So despite the Indians' lack of activity so far this off-season, they say they still have the desire to acquire and some surplus from which to deal.


The wheeling and the dealing allegedly will start Monday in Las Vegas.


So stand by for even more relentlessness.





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