While the Tribe has multiple needs in this winter marketplace, it appears doubtful the club will be able to add a player of major impact in multiple areas. That's the simple math that comes with having roughly 70 percent of your anticipated 2009 payroll tied up in 11 players already under contract.
"We're just trying to make the best impact to our team that we can," general manager Mark Shapiro said Monday, as baseball's annual Winter Meetings began in earnest at the Bellagio. "With the economic realities as they are and us knowing our resources are going to have to be very focused and very precise, we're just going to make the biggest impact in runs scored or runs [prevented]. That may be an infielder, a starter, a closer, or one of each at a lower level. Time will tell."
And time has not been of the essence in this slow-progressing Hot Stove season. The Indians, like many other teams, have been forced to play the waiting game while the big fish get settled.
When it comes to the impact player, the Indians' chief priority right now is to add a closer, and they'll probably be able to do so in a market saturated with free agents (Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Fuentes, Trevor Hoffman, Kerry Wood, Jason Isringhausen and Brandon Lyon, among others) and potential trade bait (the Mariners' J.J. Putz, the Pirates' Matt Capps and the Orioles' George Sherrill, among others).
It's not an enviable position, but it's nonetheless likely the Indians will need the Mets to act first, because the Mets are in a better financial position to set the market.
The Mets have reportedly offered Rodriguez, who saved a Major League-record 62 games last season, a three-year contract believed to be worth around $36 million, but it appears K-Rod is likely to hold out for more. The remaining free-agent closers are waiting to see what K-Rod commands before they put themselves in a position to sign.
But while the Indians must wait, Shapiro said they aren't doing so idly.
"We've been very active in our conversations, both trade and free agent," Shapiro said. "It took a little while to get started, but we've been as busy as we've ever been at a Winter Meetings."
While the Indians have a glaring need for an infielder, the closer search looks to be more fruitful.
"It's definitely the deepest market," Shapiro said. "We've been fairly open in saying that. And there are trade alternatives that are certainly available. That's certainly a market that we have to explore."
But the Indians continue to explore possibilities in the infield, some of which involve Jhonny Peralta making the move from shortstop to third base. Peralta is already playing third in the Dominican Winter League so that he'd be acclimated to the hot corner if a move is made.
At the moment, the Indians' preference is to leave Peralta where he is. But that could change in a hurry.
"Peralta is our shortstop," Shapiro said. "We've played Jhonny at third in the Dominican because we could. We thought it was a good opportunity for him to get comfortable at the position in the event that we acquire a player that justifies considering the move. But we have not yet acquired a player like that."
Don't rule out the possibility of the Indians acquiring a shortstop, moving Peralta and leaving second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera where he is.
Now that Rafael Furcal has turned down a multiyear offer from the A's, the Indians will reach out to his agent, Paul Kinzer, this week. But if Furcal is adamant about obtaining a four-year contract worth $12 million annually, as has been speculated, it's difficult to imagine it coming from the Indians. They have concerns about the 32-year-old Furcal's injury history. A left ankle injury and back surgery have limited him to just 174 games over the last two seasons.
One rumor that surfaced Monday and was reported by Yahoo! Sports linked the Indians to trade talks involving Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada. But Shapiro indicated that rumor was bogus.
In general, few rumors are flying about the Indians, primarily because they are not players for the market's big names.
"We certainly don't have the ability to play at the highest levels of the market," Shapiro said. "Even if we get to the next level, it's hard to say we [can make] multiple moves. We'll balance our offseason decisions, take the resources we've got and make the highest impact we can make."