Indians leave Meetings closer to upgrading pitching
Club continues pursuit of bullpen depth or rotation addition
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Absence from the Winter Meetings podium does not necessarily indicate an absence of progress. The Indians spent more time continuing negotiations than preparing press releases this week at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.
The Tribe traveled to Florida in search of pitching, and that remains a need as the club's decision makers return to Cleveland. The Indians do not have a closer, have questions surrounding the setup roles and could also use another arm or two in the starting rotation.
While nothing came to fruition in general manager Chris Antonetti's suite, Cleveland might be nearing some resolution on the pitching front.
"We feel we moved a number of steps forward while we were at the Meetings," Antonetti said, "both on the trade and free-agent front. We're hopeful that will lead to some deals here in the next few days and the next few weeks."
First and foremost on Cleveland's wish list appears to be relief pitching, considering the team stands to lose more than 200 innings of relief work via free agency this offseason. Antonetti has talked up Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw as internal candidates to replace free-agent Chris Perez as closer, but manager Terry Francona seems to prefer them in their current setup roles.
If there is an available arm with late-inning experience, it is a safe bet that the Indians have checked in. The club has talked to arms such as John Axford, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour, among others. Mitchell Boggs is also reportedly on the Tribe's radar. Last week, Cleveland had an offer out to Edward Mujica, who ultimately signed with the Red Sox.
The rotation is also an area in need of addressing, considering Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir -- key arms within Cleveland's run to the postseason last season -- hit the open market this winter. Kazmir already signed with the A's, and it is unlikely that Jimenez will be back with the Tribe, so the Indians continue to kick the tires on a number of starters.
The Indians have a young trio of starters (Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister) behind staff leader Justin Masterson, and the club plans on giving Carlos Carrasco (out of options) every opportunity to earn a starting job. Cleveland might take a chance on a back-end starter, or add depth with non-roster pitchers, but it seems increasingly unlikely that the team will be a player for a high-priced free-agent starter.
"We feel pretty good about things," Francona said on Wednesday. "We know we need to get better, but we have the guys that can do it."
Francona also said the Indians might not necessarily need to add to both the bullpen and rotation. Antonetti is not ready to close the door on anything, though.
"A lot of it depends upon what options are available and what the values are," Antonetti said. "But I think we'll do what we can to try to improve our pitching. There are multiple ways of doing that. The good thing is we feel that pitching was a position of strength going into the offseason. We already feel we have some quality alternatives. We'll just try to build upon that."
Here is a glance at the Indians' activity at the Winter Meetings:
Deals done: The Indians added some depth by signing first baseman David Cooper to a Major League contract. The 26-year-old Cooper is making a comeback from a rare upper-back operation and will likely be ticketed for Triple-A Columbus. He could compete for a spot on Cleveland's bench this spring, but the first baseman seems like a long shot in that regard.
Rule 5 Draft activity: The Indians did not select or lose any players in either the Major League or Minor League phases of the Rule 5 Draft. Overall, only nine players were taken in the Major League portion. In the last 10 years, the Tribe has only taken two players in the MLB phase: first baseman Chris McGuiness in 2012, and pitcher Hector Ambriz in 2009.
Goals accomplished: Beyond adding Cooper, it was a relatively quiet week for the Indians. Cleveland continued its search for pitching, continuing talks with multiple relievers and starters. The Tribe also listened to trade offers for Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, gauging their value on the market. Both players are in Cleveland's Opening Day plans, but are in the final year of their respective contracts.
Unfinished business: Cleveland headed to the Winter Meetings with unresolved rotation and bullpen issues, which remain unsettled as the club heads home. Building depth in the bullpen, and potentially acquiring a new closer, appears to be the top priority for the Indians. The Tribe could still benefit from adding a starter, but the team has expressed confidence in the rotation in place.
Team's bottom line: "I think we probably need to supplement our staff somewhere. Whether it's in the bullpen or in the starting rotation, we probably need to get some help there. But it could be one or the other, because we do have some flexibility with some of those guys who could do both. We're definitely trying to get somebody." -- Francona