Hot Stove Daily: Cleveland Indians

Hot Stove Daily: Cleveland Indians
By Steve Henson, Yahoo Sports
November 13, 2007

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports
Smoltz

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Cleveland Indians.

2007 record: 96-66

Finish: First place American League Central, lost to the Red Sox in ALCS

2007 opening-day payroll: $62 million

Free agents: Kenny Lofton OF; Chris Gomez IF; Trot Nixon OF.

WISH LIST

The Indians have few immediate holes to fill, although looking ahead beyond 2008 would be prudent. Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia becomes a free agent a year from now and general manager Mark Shapiro already is consulting with ownership on a long-term offer to keep the left-handed 19-game winner. The versatile Casey Blake also is a year from free agency, and nobody recognizes his value more than Shapiro. So expect a serious attempt to keep Blake in the fold as well. Maybe that's why the Indians announced Monday they have raised prime season ticket prices by 11 percent.

Left field is the only open position. Kenny Lofton did a nice job filling in the second half of the year, but signing a free agent corner outfielder or trading for one might be the top priority this winter. Right field is also a question mark, but Franklin Gutierrez likely will have an opportunity to settle into the job in spring training. The Tampa Rays' Carl Crawford, an across-the-board improvement over Lofton, would be an ideal fit. It appears he's available, but wouldn't come cheaply.

A fifth starter and bullpen help are less pertinent needs. The Indians want to give prospect Adam Miller a shot at making the rotation, and left-hander Aaron Laffey was a pleasant surprise. Cliff Lee, owed $9.5 million the next two years, is also in the mix. Although Joe Borowski led the American League in saves and Rafael Betancourt is a top-flight setup man, Shapiro's desire to bolster the bullpen became clear when he pursued Brad Lidge before Houston shipped him to Philadelphia.

REALITY CHECK

Jones
Carmona
The Indians have seen reality, and his name is Josh Beckett. The Boston Red Sox ace shut them down in Game 5 of the ALCS, momentum turned, and it became clear that Indians' rotation anchors Sabathia and Fausto Carmona sank from the weight of the big stage. Given another year with the same nucleus, the Indians hope to return to the cusp of a World Series, and respond with more tenacity.

Shapiro has done a masterful job of keeping key players, integrating youth and adding complementary pieces. However, questions linger. Who is Travis Hafner? Who is Grady Sizemore? Were they overrated when the Indians signed them to long-term deals?

Overall, though, this is a healthy franchise, guided with a steady hand. Should fan interest and season-ticket sales (currently at 13,500) increase substantially, Shapiro might be able to sew up Sabathia and make improvements to the outfield and bullpen. All of which would cement the Indians as one of the AL's elite teams for the foreseeable future.

A-ROD METER

Arod meter

The Indians made a play for Miguel Cabrera at the general managers meetings, an indication they want a big bat at third base. A-Rod, however, is a bit rich for their blood.



MORE HOT STOVE DAILY
Arizona Diamondbacks
Atlanta Braves
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Cincinnati Reds
NEXT: Colorado Rockies

Steve Henson is a Senior Writer and Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Nov 13, 2007 11:51 pm, EST

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