Indians ready to take calculated risks

Indians ready to take risks

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The rumors and innuendo that pervade the Winter Meetings don't allow for much clarity.

But this much is certain, with regard to the Indians' situation: If general manager Mark Shapiro is going to find a closer in this market, he's going to have to take some big risks.

"We're taking risks," Shapiro said Monday, in the midst of the first day of activity at Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort. "Whether it be medical risks, whether it be contractual risks, this is a year, because of the limited supply of talent, that we're taking a risk greater than we would normally take. We're taking risks that are in accordance with the market and our revenues."

One of those risks appears to be with reliever Joe Borowski, who has a one-year deal with the club sitting on the table, if the club is content with the results of the physical he will take in Cleveland on Tuesday.

Borowski missed most of 2004 with a torn rotator cuff and two months of the '05 season with a fractured right forearm. He didn't miss any time in '06, saving 36 of 43 opportunities for the Marlins, but he reportedly pitched through shoulder pain in the second half. Last week, he couldn't pass a physical that would have sealed a two-year contract with the Phillies.

If signed by the Indians, the 35-year-old Borowski would be the early favorite to take over the Tribe's vacant closing duties, but he might not be the only candidate for the job.

Shapiro has met with agent Danny Horwits, who represents two free-agent relievers -- right-handers Keith Foulke and Octavio Dotel -- with significant closing experience. Alas, both have pasts riddled with injuries.

Foulke, 34, was the closer and a World Series hero for the Red Sox in 2004, but he lost his ninth-inning role when knee injuries besieged him. He pitched mainly in middle relief for Boston in '06, going 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 44 appearances, and he missed two months with elbow tendinitis.

Dotel, 33, has experience closing for the Astros and A's, but he missed most of 2005 and '06 because of Tommy John ligament transplant surgery on his right elbow. He made just 14 appearances for the Yankees last season, putting up a 10.80 ERA along the way.

The market for Foulke appears to be more competitive than the one for Dotel, and the Indians are hindered by the fact that Foulke would prefer to pitch closer to his family in Texas and Arizona.

Another risky venture the Indians are exploring is the possibility of signing 30-year-old Eric Gagne. Once the most dominant closer in the game, Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner, is now a major question mark. Because of elbow and back problems, he has made just 16 appearances over the last two seasons.

Shapiro has long been resigned to the fact that he won't be able to fix his bullpen with sure things.

"As I've said all along, in light of the market that's out there, we're looking to add depth, experience and stability to our bullpen," he said. "We feel this year the best way to do that is through bulk, through numbers. Along the way, each guy we add, we'll look at the guy who has the best success and best track record possible."

Thus far, Shapiro has addressed his 'pen by signing 42-year-old right-hander Roberto Hernandez to a one-year deal worth $3.3 million and left-hander Aaron Fultz to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.

"Any time you sign a guy, you're looking at what the risk of that contract is and how that fits into your payroll numbers," Shapiro said. "Some teams that have larger payrolls can be a little more flexible."

In this bleak market, the Indians' need to be more flexible in their willingness to take risks this winter has extended beyond the bullpen. The club has reached agreement with outfielder David Dellucci on a three-year, $11.5 million deal that will be completed if Dellucci passes his physical in Cleveland on Tuesday.

"Even on our scale, we're doing contracts that in the past we would not have done," Shapiro said. "We may give three years [to a player] where we feel we shouldn't give more than two."

The free-agent market likely won't patch another hole Shapiro is hoping to address this offseason. The club is looking to acquire a utility infielder who, specifically, can back up shortstop Jhonny Peralta, coming off a disappointing '06.

With free-agent options such as Craig Counsell and Rich Aurilia signed elsewhere, Shapiro has reassessed that area. The Indians might make the job available to internal candidates Hector Luna and Joe Inglett.

"If we fill that hole externally now, it would be through a trade," he said. "I wouldn't say we're any closer. We're trying to identify who those [available] guys are and then, obviously, measure those guys against our internal alternatives."

But none of the internal relief alternatives, which include Rafael Betancourt, Matt Miller, Jason Davis, Fernando Cabrera, Tom Mastny and the newly acquired Hernandez and Fultz, will fill the closer's job.

"We've been clear on that," Shapiro said. "It's not something we're looking to do. As time goes on during the season, it's possible. But we've made it clear from the outset that, before [the offseason is] done, we will provide some external alternatives."

New face in Far East: The Indians' ongoing efforts to beef up their scouting efforts in the Pacific Rim have brought about a new working relationship with former Major League and Japanese professional pitcher Nate Minchey.

As announced Monday, Minchey will oversee the club's endeavors in Japan, where he will assist with the scouting of talent playing professional ball in the country. He will join Jason Lee, the Tribe's Pacific Rim scout, in deciphering which players' talent might be applicable to the big leagues someday.

The 37-year-old Minchey played parts of four seasons for the Red Sox (1993-94,'96) and Rockies ('97) before playing seven seasons in Japan from 1998-2004. He won his big-league debut against the Indians with a complete-game win on Sept. 12, 1993, at Municipal Stadium.

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