LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians are somewhat stuck in the middle. The middle infield, that is. They have a young shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, who's signed to a multiyear deal but is coming off a sophomore year steeped in struggles. His defensive range was especially troubling to the Tribe. They also have two utility infielders -- Hector Luna and Joe Inglett -- on board, but neither one of them is a particularly strong defender at short.
So if Peralta's struggles continue, to whom does the Tribe turn? That's precisely what general manager Mark Shapiro intends to find out. Unfortunately for Shapiro, he might have to wait until Spring Training to do so. The Indians have already struck out in the free-agent market for infielders particularly adept at short. Their favorite option was Craig Counsell, but he turned down their three-year contract offer for a two-year deal with his hometown Brewers. Now, Shapiro is exploring the trade route for middle-infield depth. That market, however, doesn't appear to be much more encouraging. "I don't feel we've made any progress on trades to the point where anything is imminent," Shapiro said Tuesday. "We've had a lot of trade discussion while we've been down here -- some exploratory on the bigger trades and creative trades that have a lot more impact, and some on the smaller scale. But at the moment, I don't expect anything imminent." The Winter Meetings, which reached a rather sleepy second day at Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort, might be a time of bustling trade talk for an impact player such as Manny Ramirez -- and no, the Indians do not appear to be a bona fide member of that circus -- but backup infielders don't inspire much hubbub. Shapiro might be more likely to find the type of player he is looking for closer to the start of the season, when roster juggling leads to some last-minute wheeling and dealing. "You have the ability to improve your bench at any point during the year, whereas there's only distinct trade seasons where you can make trades of major impact," Shapiro said. "Trades to improve the bench, you can do sporadically. Spring Training is certainly an active time to do that." Spring Training might also be a time for Luna and Inglett to prove their value to the big-league club. Luna didn't make a dazzling impression in the two months of the season he played for the Indians after they acquired him in the July 30 Ronnie Belliard trade. The Indians want to see him drop some pounds to improve his range.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.