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Tribe seeks 'pen upgrade at Meetings

Shapiro looks to upgrade 'pen at Meetings

CLEVELAND -- If the Winter Meetings afford a general manager like Mark Shapiro one luxury, it's the ability to finally put the cell phone down -- temporarily, at least.

The annual hotel lobby spectacle gives GMs an opportunity to talk face-to-face with agents and representatives from other clubs, which leads to another opportunity altogether.

"It's a great opportunity to improve the team," Shapiro said. "Any time all the teams and all the agents are in one location, it's a great opportunity to get business done."

While the broad term "improving the team" might be Shapiro's stated goal, it's clear what his greatest priority will be when the meetings kick off Monday at Disney World in Orlando. The Indians are desperate to polish a youthful bullpen that saved an MLB-low 24 games in 2006.

The thin -- not to mention expensive -- free-agent market hasn't made that priority all that easy to act upon. The Indians have already lost out on several relievers -- namely, left-handers Jamie Walker and Justin Speier and right-hander Danys Baez -- they had targeted.

But Shapiro isn't one to dabble in disappointment. He accurately predicted this market would be tough, and he said he isn't surprised by anything he's seen, to this point.

"You don't set yourself up to be disappointed in the free-agent market," he said. "It just makes it harder to accomplish what we want to accomplish."

To accomplish what the Indians need to accomplish, a trade might be in order.

"The limited supply of talent and the high cost is going to force people to be creative," Shapiro said. "When you're creative, it usually results in more trades of high impact than in past years."

The Indians already made one to fill up their hole at second base, shipping third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and right-hander Andrew Brown off to San Diego for Josh Barfield.

Before the Barfield trade, the Indians had been rather reluctant to part with much from their pool of prospects. Shapiro was asked if the trade could be the sign of a new organizational trend.

"I've always looked at those deals as risk-reward and [asked], 'Is the price right?'" he said. "The deal has to fit perfectly for both teams for that to happen."

The Tribe's greatest area of depth on the farm and at the Major League level is in starting pitching. Former No. 1 pick Jeremy Guthrie, who is out of options, and right-handers Fausto Carmona and Brian Slocum are all in the mix, and prized prospect Adam Miller is not far behind.

With that depth in mind, and with five starters -- C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd -- all under contract for 2007, it has been speculated that the Indians might be open to the possibility of trading one of the members of their big-league rotation.

Not so fast, Shapiro said. He knows a single injury can wreak havoc on an otherwise sturdy starting setup.

"The day you start thinking you've got depth at starting, you're moments away from needing a starter and having to trade for a guy," Shapiro said. "I'm always open to creativity [on the trade front], but [trading a starter] is not something we're looking to do."

The only way the Indians would be open to trading a starter is if the return filled two major holes at the big-league level.

Shapiro isn't certain all the Indians' needs will be addressed in the coming week, but he is confident he will make headway on that stated goal of improving the team.

"We'll be busy," he said. "Whether we get stuff done depends on how you judge -- internally or from an external standpoint. We'll have quite a bit to do."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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