Tribe stays on course at Meetings
With core in place, Shapiro feeling out market for utility infielder
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Well, that was uneventful.The moving and shaking and wheeling and dealing that pervades the circus that is baseball's annual Winter Meetings did not rock the foundation of the Indians' offseason plan. That plan remains rather simple: Find incremental ways to improve the club, if the right deal falls into place. But no deals fell into place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. As expected, the Indians found other clubs interested in their depth of talent, but trade talks here just reached nothing but dead ends. "That's the process you walk through," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "You examine every single [trade scenario] very carefully. You examine the value equation. If we hit on something that makes sense, we'll finish it off. Thus far, we haven't found the right thing." The Indians did find themselves the subject of a rumor that they were close to acquiring Pirates left fielder Jason Bay. But that was a rumor that apparently had little to no merit. What is confirmed is the interest other teams have in backup catcher Kelly Shoppach, and there's a sense that left-hander Cliff Lee's name will be brought up by more and more clubs as the winter draws on. Yet the Indians, who will return the vast majority of an '07 club that won 96 games and fell one win short of a World Series berth, will only make a deal if they feel they can add an impact corner-outfield bat worthy of the asking price. "There still has to be the right guys to acquire," Shapiro said. "We are willing to give up some of our depth, but it has to be for a move that makes us significantly better." One move the Indians will probably make before Spring Training begins is a trade for a speedy utility infielder with range at second base. It is difficult, however, to discern what kind of market is available for such a player, as that's not exactly a sexy position, when it comes to winter rumblings. Shapiro was asked to characterize that market. "It's hard to say," Shapiro said. "There's such a great variety in those guys. It's all different levels of guys we're looking at."
Having checked out of the Opryland and headed back north, the Indians will continue to look from the comforts of home. As far as the Indians were concerned, the Winter Meetings were merely an information-gathering experience. The rival Tigers made the biggest news, acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins, but the Indians stayed quiet. They remain confident in their in-house depth of alternatives. "That's how I expected to walk out of here," Shapiro said. "We have seven starters, multiple bullpen and outfield alternatives, a couple second base alternatives, and a couple third base alternatives." Deals done: None during the meetings. Before arriving, the Indians exercised their 2008 club options on right-handers Paul Byrd and Joe Borowski and left-hander Aaron Fultz. They signed Japanese free-agent righty Masahide Kobayashi to a two-year contract. Rule 5 activity: The Indians lost first baseman Matt Whitney to the Nationals with the seventh overall pick of the Draft. They also lost outfielder Brian Barton to the Cardinals. The Tribe did not select any players. Goals accomplished: If the goal was to rack up cell phone minutes, consider it done. Other than that, this event proved to be an info-gathering session for the Tribe. Unfinished business: The Indians have one roster spot -- utility infield -- that needs to be filled. They could also add a corner outfield bat, but only if the price is manageable. GM's bottom line: "We can fill every spot of our lineup from capably to championship-level. And in almost every spot, if we're surprised by injury or poor performance, we can adjust with a player who has a chance to help us. That's a good place to be." -- Mark Shapiro.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.