Offseason Outlook: Cleveland Indians

The Indians are next in our Offseason Outlook series.  Their likely commitments for 2009:

C – Victor Martinez – $5.7MM
C – Kelly Shoppach – $404K+
1B – Ryan Garko – $420K
2B – Asdrubal Cabrera – $400K
SS – Jhonny Peralta – $3.4MM
3B – Andy Marte – $400K
IF – Jamey Carroll – $2.5MM club option or $150K buyout
LF – Shin-Soo Choo – $400K
CF – Grady Sizemore – $4.6MM
RF – Franklin Gutierrez – $405K
OF – David Dellucci – $4MM
OF – Ben Francisco – $400K
DH – Travis Hafner – $11.5MM

SP – Cliff Lee – $5.75MM
SP – Fausto Carmona – $2.75MM
SP – Anthony Reyes – $400K
SP – Jeremy Sowers – $400K
SP – Scott Lewis – $400K

RP – Masahide Kobayashi – $3MM
RP – Rafael Betancourt – $3.35MM
RP – Rafael Perez – $407K
RP – Jensen Lewis – $400K
RP – Edward Mujica – $400K
RP – Tom Mastny – $400K
RP – John Meloan – $400K

Other rotation candidates: Jake Westbrook – $10MM (due back from Tommy John around All-Star break), Aaron Laffey – $400K, Zach Jackson – $400K, David Huff – $400K

The Indians are all about cost certainty – I don’t see any major arbitration cases coming up aside from Shoppach.  If they retain Carroll, they’ll have about $64MM committed.  The Indians entered this season with a $79MM payroll, so they could have $15MM to spend this winter.

The Indians were right in the middle of the AL with a .339 OBP and .424 SLG.  In the second half, though, the Tribe had one of the AL’s best offenses.  Overall the Indians had below-average offensive performances at first base, second base, third base, left field, right field, and designated hitter.

Choo’s encouraging performance indicates he might be able to hold down an outfield corner.  Matt LaPorta could take the other.  The Indians have to hope Hafner can become a useful hitter again, if not the offensive force of 2004-06.  The team seems likely to seek upgrades in the infield.  All four positions are fair game, as Peralta could be moved to third due to questionable defense at short.  Cabrera could move to short.

Possible free agent fits: Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal.  Many infielders may be on the trade market: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Dan Uggla, Adam LaRoche, Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora, Mike Jacobs, Edwin Encarnacion, Garrett Atkins, Robinson Cano, Freddy Sanchez, and Rickie Weeks.  The Indians could use Shoppach as a trade chip, but only if they’re confident with Martinez behind the dish long-term.

The rotation is shaky after Lee, as Carmona had a terrible year and Westbrook will be out until midyear.  Carmona dealt with a strained hip for much of ’08; the Indians need him to regain his control next year.  Reyes and Lewis showed promise in small samples, but a shrewd veteran addition a la Kevin Millwood in ’05 would stabilize the rotation.  Freddy GarciaBartolo ColonRandy Johnson, maybe?

The Indians are focused on importing a closer, though they may stick with Lewis if nothing works out.  Brian Fuentes could make sense, and the trade market might offer B.J. Ryan, Huston Street, and Kevin Gregg.

It will be a challenging offseason for Mark Shapiro, as the Indians have many needs.  A payroll increase could go a long way, though attendance doesn’t seem to support one.



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