So how on earth does free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson fit into the picture?
The short answer is that he probably doesn't.
Hudson made close to $7 million with the Dodgers last year and has reportedly been looking for a $9 million contract for 2010. Anyone who thinks the Indians can swing anything close to those figures simply hasn't been paying attention.
The longer answer is that it would appear the Indians are being floated as a suitor for Hudson's services by parties close to Hudson. It's no secret that agents do their due diligence in trying to drive up the price for their clients by creating a market, real or imagined, for them. That could be the case here.
Tribe general manager Mark Shapiro was asked about Hudson on Wednesday and followed with his tried-and-true practice of not commenting on specific players.
"Within our operating budget," he said, "we're still looking for methods to improve the team."
The word budget, in this case, might as well be bolded.
If the Indians are truly in on Hudson at this juncture, it would be more than a little surprising, given the nature of their winter pursuits. The Tribe's signings, to this point, include just one Major League free agent (backup catcher Mike Redmond, who will make $850,000) and a handful of non-roster invitees, such as Shelley Duncan, Austin Kearns, Saul Rivera and Jason Grilli.
Furthermore, the Indians have a young second baseman in Luis Valbuena who projects to receive the regular at-bats at the position this year. Valbuena had a solid rookie year in '09, batting .250 (92-for-368) with 10 homers, 25 doubles and 31 RBIs in 103 games. He improved as the year went along, batting .281 with six homers, 14 doubles and 21 RBIs from July 1 through the end of the season.
Yes, the Indians have concerns about Valbuena's ability to hit left-handed pitching, which is why they will probably continue to spell him in those situations. And yes, they would like to see a little more range from him on the defensive end.
But on a team expected to field a youthful lineup and rotation with an eye on building toward more serious contention hopes in 2011, Valbuena fits right in.
Hudson does not.
While with the Dodgers, "O-Dog," as Hudson is known, recovered from a wrist injury that sidelined him at the end of '08 and batted .283 with none homers and 62 RBIs. The 32-year-old Hudson made a base salary of $3.38 million, but performance incentives more than doubled the value of his contract.
Hudson is looking for a guarantee closer to his actual '09 earnings, though the industry speculation is that he'll have to take a pay cut.
But even a contract closer to Hudson's $3.38 million guarantee from last year would seem to run counter to the Tribe's spending strategy. And it's no secret that the Indians have higher priorities than second base. Witness their rotation, where Jake Westbrook, who hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues in nearly two years, is the projected No. 1 starter.
Still, Shapiro would neither confirm nor deny interest in Hudson.
"At this time, we're looking to make the biggest impact possible on the team," Shapiro said. "I understand where our greatest weaknesses are, so I could prioritize. But I'm not dealing in a realm where I can just address our priorities. We have to look at how we can most impact the club positively."
Perhaps that involves Hudson. But given the circumstances, it would appear doubtful.