Long-term plan directing Indians' offseason
GM Antonetti open-minded about ways to improve young ballclub
CLEVELAND -- There is a lot that is still unknown about the Indians' planned approach as this offseason's Winter Meetings approach. Aside from some rumors rippling to the surface, Cleveland has remained relatively quiet.
That is because the Indians are still in the midst of assessing their direction. General manager Chris Antonetti has been working his phone, feeling out free agents and inquiring about possible trades. When baseball's decision makers convene at the Gaylord Opryand Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., next week, the pace of such conversations will increase.
"It's still developing," Antonetti said. "I think we're a lot further along in understanding the market for both free agents and trades than we were a few weeks ago. We've progressed talks on both fronts. This next week, and the week of the Winter Meetings, gives us an opportunity to hopefully bring some of those to conclusion."
The Indians ushered in a new era with a major move in October with the hiring of manager Terry Francona. Cleveland is now focused on finding upgrades for multiple spots, including the rotation, first base, left field and designated hitter. In the process, the organization is also weighing the potential benefit of parting with a few talented players.
In the aftermath of a 94-loss season -- a disappointing campaign that left the Tribe searching for explanation -- the club is willing to listen to trade proposals for players such as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, among others. It is less about shopping their stars and more about keeping an eye on the long-term plan.
The bulk of Cleveland's top prospects reside at the Class A levels, leaving the Major League club in a vulnerable position. Trying to add more talent to a young, promising core of players is undoubtedly under consideration.
"If there are opportunities to improve the team," Antonetti said, "to improve our position moving forward, we'll be open-minded to it. But, as we've talked before, a lot of those guys who have been speculated about being traded, whether it was the Trade Deadline, or last offseason, they haven't been moved.
"Now, will we listen? On almost any player on our roster? Absolutely. If there's the right deal to be made for those guys and it makes sense for us, if we feel like it'll improve our position, then we'll do it."
The Indians already swung one trade this winter, acquiring shortstop Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes from the Blue Jays in a Nov. 3 deal that sent reliever Esmil Rogers to Toronto. Bringing Aviles into the fold has fueled speculation that Cleveland is willing to trade Cabrera, who will be eligible for free agency following the 2014 season.
Cleveland's list of free agents this winter includes designated hitter Travis Hafner (after the Indians declined his $13 million club option), right-hander Roberto Hernandez (who had a $6 million club optioned declined), outfielder Grady Sizemore, first baseman Casey Kotchman, infielder Brent Lillibridge, pitcher Kevin Slowey and outfielder Vinny Rottino.
The Indians' other moves to this point have been relatively minor.
To build some depth, the Tribe signed outfielders Matt Carson and Cedric Hunter, infielders Nate Spears and Luis Hernandez and pitchers Hector Rondon and Jose Flores to Minor League contracts. The Indians also claimed right-hander Blake Wood off waivers from Kansas City.
There is surely more to come for Cleveland, which has been trying to reel in help for the outfield and first base. The club has been linked to free agents such as Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay and Shane Victorino in various reports, and the Tribe will continue its pursuit in the coming days and weeks.
The Indians have some money to spend for the right free-agent deal.
Including potential salaries for Cleveland's arbitration-eligible players, and taking Hafner's $2.75 million buyout into account, the Indians' payroll currently projects to sit around $52 million. The Tribe operated at a budget of around $65 million in 2012 and the team can likely afford to sit in the same range for the coming season.
"We've been actively engaged in both free agent and trade conversations," Antonetti said. "Which of those will end up being completed, that's really difficult to handicap. But we're exploring both aggressively."