Coming off a surprising 92-win season in 2013, the Indians are at somewhat of a crossroads heading into the offseason. While the Tribe will return many of the core players that led to their success this season, Cleveland still has quite a few issues that will have to be addressed over the next few months.
The Indians need to patch up a bullpen that was lousy at times in 2013, and must find a new closer to replace the unreliable Chris Perez. Also, the Tribe would be wise to try and acquire a big-hitting outfielder to fortify their sometimes-inconsistent offense.
Skilled players cost money or young talent, though, and that could be the problem for the Indians this offseason.
The Indians opened up their pocketbooks in a big way last winter when they signed Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher to pricey long-term deals. While Bourn and Swisher were both integral to Cleveland's success in 2013, they are slated to make a combined $28.5 million in 2014 -- a figure that will likely be over a third of the Tribe's payroll next year.
The sad reality might be that after Cleveland's spending-spree last offseason, the Indians likely can't even afford to sign a big-name free-agent this winter. A big reason for that is because not many people witnessed Cleveland's return to MLB relevance in 2013. The Tribe averaged less than 20,000 fans a game at Progressive Field this year, the third-worst total in baseball.
Knowing that the Indians likely won't make any huge splashes in free agency, they're going to have to get the players they need the old-fashioned way -- via trade. But even that is a dicey scenario for Cleveland, because, right now, the Indians are not in a position where they are willing to mortgage the farm and trade what young talent they do have.
So how are the Indians going to acquire the players they need to succeed in 2014?
Well, luckily for the Tribe, bullpen help usually comes cheap. As far as a closer goes, guys like Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw are options already on Cleveland's roster. Getting a big bat for the outfield is going to be far more tricky, though. Cleveland's best bet at this point might be to try and shop shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and his $10 million 2014 salary around, and see if there are any interested buyers that can provide the Tribe with a solid bat.
No matter what route the Indians decide to take to try and improve their roster this offseason, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti is going to earn every penny of his salary this winter. Antonetti had way more room for error after the 2012 season, and, if you remember, he did misfire on the Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds signings.
Antonetti will have no such luxury this fall, and that could cost the Indians down the line.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Indians for over 25 years.
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