With strong core, Tribe unlikely to make big moves at Meetings

Reigning AL champs could complement group with trades, low-level signings

With strong core, Tribe unlikely to make big moves at Meetings

CLEVELAND -- The Indians made plenty of noise in the postseason, but they have been quiet through the early portion of the offseason. That is partly by design, as Cleveland has few holes to fill and will likely wait out the blockbuster free-agent deals before diving into that market.

As next week's Winter Meetings loom, the Indians are in a strong position to contend again in 2017, even before tweaking their roster. The bulk of the Tribe is either signed or under control for next season and beyond, putting the Indians' brass in a position where trades or low-level free-agent signings are the most probable avenues for complementing a group that just won an American League pennant.

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"We believe we're in a position to contend for a while," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "One of the things we're most encouraged about is the nucleus of our team will be here for the foreseeable future."

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.

Behind the scenes at the Meetings, Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff, manager Terry Francona and other members of the Indians' hierarchy will meet with other clubs to discuss potential moves. With first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Rajai Davis -- last offseason's key free-agent signings for the Tribe -- back on the open market, Cleveland is on the hunt for depth for its lineup, outfield and pitching staff. Specifically on the pitching front, depth behind the starting five and left-handed relief are on the Tribe's wish list.

In terms of free agency, do not expect the Indians to target any players who will command huge contracts or those tied to Draft-pick compensation. It is more likely that the Tribe will once again look for complementary help along the lines of Napoli and Davis, who both remain of interest to the Tribe.

"To both guys, we expressed interest in bringing them back," Antonetti said.

Tribe hopes to keep Napoli, Davis

Cleveland's main free-agent signings last offseason, when it had similar holes to fill, arrived on Dec. 17 (Davis), Jan. 5 (Napoli), Feb. 28 (Juan Uribe) and March 18 (Marlon Byrd). The timeline may be similar this offseason for the Tribe, which has the ability to return with the same rotation and bullpen, as well as the bulk of its lineup, as things currently stand.

"We are potentially losing key guys in Raj and Mike," Antonetti said. "But beyond that, we've got a lot of guys that are going to be here for a while. And that was a group of guys that found a way to win a lot of games this year and win the AL Central and advance deep into the postseason."

The Indians are also hopeful that star left fielder Michael Brantley, who was limited to 11 games last season due to health woes, will be ready for Spring Training and Opening Day. If Brantley can return, that would be a big addition to a lineup that ended last year ranked second in the AL in runs scored.

"We are planning for him to be an everyday player," Antonetti said. "Now, part of our responsibility is to always plan for contingencies, not only just with Michael, but with other players on our roster. If something unexpected happens, whether it's injuries or unexpected performance, we need to make sure we have quality alternatives if that's the case."

Right now, the Indians have eight players under contract for an estimated $59.75 million for the 2017 season, and another nine (Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brandon Guyer, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Danny Salazar and Bryan Shaw) who will be eligible for arbitration. Those 17 players alone will bring the payroll up to around $90 million before any external acquisitions.

When pre-arbitration salaries and other financial obligations are taken into account, Cleveland's payroll projects to be over $100 million before any additions. That will make any big free-agent splashes problematic, barring trades that help create some more wiggle room.

No matter how Cleveland goes about upgrading aspects of its roster this offseason, the club is confident that the core group in place can help the Tribe reach the postseason again.

"It's a good position to go into the offseason," Antonetti said. "At the same time, we'll be aggressive in looking to complement that group."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.