LAS VEGAS -- A deep, discounted closer's market helped make the search for a ninth-inning arm the Indians' top priority this winter. That need ranked above the search for an infielder and for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. "You could make a solid argument for each of the three [needs being a priority]," general manager Mark Shapiro said Tuesday. "But [closer] was the logical choice for us to go to initially."
Now that it appears the Indians have filled that need with what is believed to be an impending deal with free agent Kerry Wood, the Indians can begin to focus on their next two priorities, with an infielder being the more pressing of the two. And let it be known this is just the beginning, as even Shapiro is quick to admit the closer search has occupied much of the Tribe's time. He was asked where the Indians stand in their search for an infielder to man either third base, second base or shortstop. "That's a slower process for us," Shapiro said. "I think once we make our first move, whatever that is, and determine how much of our offseason resources we can allocate to that, that's going to determine how we fill the second or third spots." In years past, the Indians might have looked to fill all three needs simultaneously. They have never been big spenders since the rebuilding Shapiro initiated in 2002, but they at least had the financial resources to consider impactful options in all open spots. Not this year. Not with $57 million of an expected $80 million payroll tied up in 11 players and the sagging economy likely to affect ticket sales and revenues. "It's a little bit tougher for us to execute on two fronts at the same time," Shapiro said. "Not every year, but this year, with the resources we've got." The gist here is that if the Indians do indeed lock up Wood -- and the financial terms of their offer remain unknown -- they might be financially handcuffed in their search for an infielder and certainly in their need for a starter. Look, then, for the Indians to investigate the lower tier of free-agent possibilities or get creative on the trade front. Multiple scenarios exist for the infield, because of shortstop Jhonny Peralta's purported ability to move to third and Asdrubal Cabrera's flexibility up the middle. The Indians also have utility man Jamey Carroll in the fold, and it's possible they will seek out a similar part-timer to complement him. "We're looking at a broad range of guys," Shapiro said. "We're going to aim for the highest impact we can make and go from there." The Indians have shown an interest in shortstop Rafael Furcal this winter, but the Wood signing would likely preclude them from signing a free agent of Furcal's ilk. Some lower-tier free-agent options up the middle include Felipe Lopez, Nick Punto and Juan Uribe. Over at third, the only remaining everyday option in free agency is Joe Crede, who has missed significant time the last two seasons with the White Sox because of a bum back. As far as a starter is concerned, the Indians aren't likely to delve into that chase until later in the winter. They are rumored to have some interest in talking to reclamation project Kris Benson, but it's not clear how strong that interest is.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.