NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As Indians general manager Mark Shapiro addressed reporters in his hotel suite at the Winter Meetings on Monday afternoon, assistant GM Chris Antonetti, seated across the room, received a phone call. "We're meeting at four," Antonetti told the caller. "We're trading for Johan Santana." Of course, this was little more than a gag for the writers' benefit, as the Indians -- like so many others gathered here at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center -- are merely interested observers in the Santana sweepstakes.
It's expected that if Santana, the Twins' two-time Cy Young Award winner, is dealt, he will sign a contract extension with his new club. People would inevitably point to the length and value of that contract as a potential bargaining chip for C.C. Sabathia, who, like Santana, is a left-handed ace in the AL Central, a Cy Young winner and eligible for free agency after 2008. Already, it is speculated that Santana could demand at least $20 million a year, which will lead some to wonder whether the cash-conscious Indians can afford to keep Sabathia. Shapiro, though, doesn't view the matter quite the same way. "We internally frame our offers," Shapiro said. "It's not that we ignore what's going on, but our primary goal is to retain the player and maintain the ability to build a championship team around him. It's not an arbitration case." What Shapiro means is that comparable contracts, in his estimation, won't matter as much in the Sabathia extension talks nearly as much as the Indians' ability to offer a deal that doesn't cripple them financially and Sabathia's willingness to accept another "hometown" discount. That's the type of discount Jake Peavy is close to accepting with the Padres. Peavy, another Cy Young winner, will reportedly soon sign a three-year extension that would pay him upwards of $17 million a year from 2010 through 2012. That's a figure that might be a little more palatable to the Tribe. "What's more important for you guys to focus on is Peavy, not Santana," Shapiro told reporters. "That deal is more important, because it's done and Santana is fiction." It is a fact that the Tribe front office will soon submit a proposal to ownership for an offer to Sabathia. The offer would then be placed before Sabathia and his agents at Legacy Sports. The Indians' intention is to have the situation settled, one way or another, before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 14. "If we threaten our ability to build the team around the player, we don't sign the player," Shapiro said. "The only question here is whether we can find a business deal that makes sense for the player and for the club." In the meantime, the Indians remain one of the quieter clubs at the Winter Meetings. At present, the Tribe's only direct need for '07 is a utility infielder, and Shapiro and his staff are investigating ways to fill that need in the trade market, placing a high value on speed. "When looking at our team," Shapiro said, "knowing speed is not one of our greatest attributes, you prioritize that spot -- defense at second base first, then speed."
Offensive ability would rank third, which is why the Indians have not yet made an offer to free agent Chris Gomez, a solid hitter who has limited range up the middle and is no speed demon on the basepaths. It's still possible the club will sign Gomez if the trade market doesn't turn up any speedier alternatives. The free-agent market is of little to no interest to Shapiro right now. "There will be a time we'll pick back up with free agency when the bulk of them are gone and we might find some bargains," Shapiro said. "But right now we're not in any free-agent pursuits." Nor are the Indians close to making a trade. Shapiro met with fellow GMs from a handful of clubs Monday, but he said none of those talks are in the "advanced stages." As far as the rumor mill is concerned, the Indians are still being linked to Pirates left fielder Jason Bay, who might be dealt this winter. Left field is the Indians' most glaring area for potential improvement in '07. "I do feel that if we do stand pat with the guys we've got, we're going to get some improvement," Shapiro said. "I think David Dellucci will be better and healthy. But if you look to add a veteran guy somewhere, it's going to be a spot where we didn't get production last year." The Indians are also looking into the possibility of adding a player through Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. The club's 40-man roster is currently full, but a player could be designated to pluck a player in that Draft. If a player is selected, he must stick with the big league club out of Spring Training or be offered back to his original team. On the whole, though, the Indians are expected to spend this week observing the noise, not making it. And while they won't be the ones acquiring Santana, as Antonetti joked, they will certainly be interested to see where or if he's dealt. "I look at the dynamic of how it affects our division," Shapiro said. "The potential of not having Santana in our division is a positive, but the potential of the Twins infusing a lot of young players is a negative. We're more interested from an industry perspective." And apparently not from a bargaining standpoint.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.