SAN DIEGO -- The landscape of the American League Central is not getting any easier for the Indians. The Tigers have won four straight division titles, the Royals reached the World Series this past season and the White Sox have been making headlines at these Winter Meetings.
Cleveland expects to contend for the Central crown next year, but general manager Chris Antonetti knows the club continues to have a daunting road ahead.
"Can we just have all the good players go to the National League if they don't come to Cleveland?" Antonetti joked on Tuesday afternoon. "Either come to Cleveland, or go to the National League."
The Indians brought a player to Cleveland on Monday, kicking off the Winter Meetings in a big way by acquiring slugger Brandon Moss from the A's in exchange for Minor Leaguer Joe Wendle. While the Tribe continues to look for ways to upgrade its offense, the team's focus has now shifted to improving the depth of the starting rotation.
The rumor mill went quiet for the Indians on Day 2 of the Meetings, but Antonetti said he was busy behind the scenes, furthering talks on a number of fronts.
Led by AL Cy Young Award-winner Corey Kluber, Cleveland already boasts one of the most talented and cost-effective rotations in the Major Leagues. The Indians are only seven starters deep on the big league depth chart at the moment, though, and Antonetti wants to fortify the group in his effort to keep pace with the rest of the division.
"I expected our division to be better," Antonetti said. "We thought it was already going to be very competitive coming into the year."
At these Meetings, the White Sox acquired right-hander Jeff Samardzija from the A's in a six-player trade and reportedly reached an agreement on a contract with free-agent closer David Robertson. Chicago has also acquired lefty Zach Duke and first baseman Adam LaRoche this winter. Meanwhile, Kansas City and Detroit could lose starters James Shields and Max Scherzer, respectively, to free agency.
As a result, at least on paper, the AL Central race appears to be tightening.
"Not only the Tigers and the Royals," Antonetti said, "but obviously the White Sox continue to make a lot of moves to strengthen their team. It's not only this offseason. Obviously the moves they've made over the last couple years, they've added some impact players. And the Twins have a good, young group. We expect them to be more competitive, too."
Royals manager Ned Yost was asked during his media session on Monday whether he viewed Detroit as Kansas City's main rival for the 2015 campaign. Yost was quick to mention the Indians.
"I think Cleveland is going to be very, very tough," Yost said. "I think the division is going to be wide open again."
"We have stability," Antonetti said. "We have a roster that we believe in that we think is going to be very competitive and is largely intact, not only for next year, but for the foreseeable future. That's a great position. But, GMs are neurotic by nature and constantly worry about, 'How can we improve? Where are we not deep enough?'"
For the Indians, the rotation is one area that is thin beyond the big league level.
Behind the front five, Cleveland has a pair of options in right-handers Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister (out of Minor League options). The next two pitchers on the Indians' rotation depth chart are Triple-A arms Tyler Cloyd and Charles Brewer. The Indians plan on looking at both Major League alternatives and pitchers who could join the fold as Triple-A depth.
Antonetti said Cleveland remains more active on the trade front than in free agency at the moment.
"I still feel we're well-equipped to make trades, if there's the right trade that lines up," Antonetti said, "whether that was Major League players for Major League players, or acquiring other Major League players for some of our Minor League players. I think we're well-equipped to do either."
While the Indians do not have a ton of financial wiggle room, Antonetti said that trading for Moss (who could make roughly $7 million through arbitration in '15) will not necessitate subtracting payroll with another roster move. It is believed that the Indians had the ability to add around $10-12 million with external acquisitions this winter.
That reality could require some creativity in the Indians' efforts to improve a pitching staff that could be the key to propelling Cleveland to the top of the Central.
"With the moves that the teams in the division have made, including us," Antonetti said, "I think it's shaping up to be a very competitive division."