NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Eric Wedge has been around long enough to have this Winter Meetings game down to a science. In fact, he joked Tuesday that he might make a game of it. "This is rumor-mill mania," Wedge said with a laugh. "I've thought about starting some. You whisper something to somebody, give it an hour and it will be on the other side of the building."More
But when it comes to Wedge's Indians, even the rumor mill is relatively quiet. The smart money is on the Tribe fielding a team in '08 that very closely resembles the one that fell a game short of the World Series in '07. And Wedge, who will be entering his sixth season at the helm, is OK with that. "I've done a lot of thinking about it," Wedge said. "I believe the best way for us to get better is for the guys we're bringing back to get better. With our youth and the core we've got coming back, my focus is and our focus should be on the players we've got coming back." Wedge pointed to designated hitter Travis Hafner, specifically, as a guy the Indians hope to get more production from next year. Hafner managed to drive in 100 runs for the fourth straight year in 2007, but his average dipped from .308 in '06 to .266 and he was never the consistent, middle-of-the-order threat the Indians had come to expect him to be. Regardless, Wedge said the '07 season will probably stand as an important one in Hafner's development. "We hold him in high regard," Wedge said. Wedge also holds high regard for the value of experience -- and the Indians got plenty of it in a whirlwind year that saw them dispose of the Yankees in the American League Division Series and squander a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. "I'm a big believer that you learn from all your experiences," Wedge said. "Not just winning, but losing, too. There's probably no greater experience than playing the Yankees and Red Sox in the postseason." And there's probably no greater disappointment than taking the ALCS to a Game 7 and losing, only to see your opponent move on to a clean sweep in the World Series. Wedge, though, isn't concerned about an October "hangover" lingering into the season ahead. "Our guys do a good job of separating," he said of a Tribe club that won just 78 games in '06 but notched 96 victories in '07. "We'll learn from it and move forward. Our guys have experienced just about everything you can experience, with the exception of the World Series. We fell short, but we feel good about the guys we've got coming back." Looking around at the rest of the division, though, Wedge knows winning another AL Central title won't be a gimme. In fact, about an hour after he finished up his powwow with reporters, a report came out that the rival Tigers were about to wrap up a deal to acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins. Yep, the Central just got a little bit tougher for the Tribe.
"We look at [what other teams do]," Wedge said, "but our focus will always be on the Cleveland Indians. If we play the way we're capable of playing, we can beat anybody." Knowing one can never breathe comfortably in matters involving the bullpen, Wedge is excited to have another late-inning option in Masahide Kobayashi, the Tribe's Japanese import. He plans to use him to augment closer Joe Borowski and primary setup man Rafael Betancourt. "I think he's going to be a strong addition," Wedge said. "We're going to have depth. You can't have enough depth. We've seen that time and time again." As far as those coming back, Wedge wants to see improvement from infielders Andy Marte and Josh Barfield, who both figure to be depth options at third base and second base, respectively. He wants to see a healthy and productive year from David Dellucci in left field. And he wants Cliff Lee to revert to his 2005 form and once again become a reliable member of the rotation. But those are just the obvious candidates for an upgrade. "Collectively," Wedge said, "you look at the 25 players we'll break with and the 35 or so we'll use over the course of the year, and you want to make sure everybody is doing everything they can to help us win as many games as we can." The front office will continue to do all it can to explore avenues for improvement on the roster, but this still figures to be a quiet offseason for the Indians. "If we find a deal that makes sense, we'll pull the trigger," Wedge said. "But you can't find what's not out there. We'll still put emphasis on the guys we have."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less