Indians

MLB Winter Meetings Primer: The Indians Won’t Stand Pat

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The 2014 MLB Winter Meetings week is here! There has been lots of speculation and rumors already leading up the the convention of GMs, agents, and players looking for work that will take place at the Hilton Bayfront in beautiful San Diego, California. What, you thought it was going to be in Milwaukee?

Every team comes to these meetings looking to improve its club, one way or another. Whether it be selling off pieces for younger, more controllable players or adding to the Major League roster, front offices at worst are laying ground work for potential deals. Just because a deal isn’t made at the Winter Meetings, doesn’t mean it won’t get done. Which brings us to our very own Cleveland Indians.

The team is right there, on the cusp of of getting back into the playoffs where we saw last year, anything can happen. There is zero reason to think the Indians cannot do what the Kansas City Royals just did. The Tribe’s starting rotation looks beastly for 2015, with Cy Young winner Corey Kluber leading the way. The bullpen is strong, but an additional power arm for the late innings to go along with the overused Bryan Shaw in front of Closer Cody Allen would be advisable.

As for the position players, it is no secret the Indians are searching for a bat and ways to improve their defense. But which route will they take? For one, do not expect GM Chris Antonetti and his team to open up the Dolans’ wallets and spend on big free agents. It is far from the best and most prudent way to improve the team’s roster. Two years after the Indians made their first big free agent splash, the masses would love to find a way to get out from under the contracts of both Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who will make a combined $29 million each of the next two seasons. So forget signing a guy like Chase Headley to play third (who reportedly has a four year, $65 million deal in hand from an unknown team). Adding a reliever like Sergio Romo or David Robertson just isn’t cost effective. Romo could be a good fit, but if the Indians allowed Joe Smith to walk a year ago over a three year, $16 million deal with the Angels, then signing a set up man or closer just isn’t happening. Nor should it. Paying big money for relievers to me is a mistake. It is easily the most fickle position in the sport. Guys who dominate one year can be all but shot a year later (Vinnie Pestano, anyone?).

So how should the Indians look to improve their situation? Well, trades of course.

Heading into the Winter Meetings, Antonetti seems to have his sights set on Oakland 1B/RF/DH Brandon Moss. the chatter was there all last week, but quieted down over the weekend. The rumors began to ramp back up Monday as it seems that Athletics GM Billy Beane is trying to come to an agreement on which prospect he wants back from the Indians. The Moss story has had many layers.

First it was that the A’s wanted young starting pitching for the 31-year old power hitter with two more years of club control. Then came the Moss for middle infield prospect Joe Wendle, one-for-one news. Next was the Paul Hoynes report that the trade would be a one-for-one deal with an Indians player on the current 40-man roster going to Oakland. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be Wendle being shipped out. Around noon on Monday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the two sides were on “the verge of a deal.” (Update: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan has reported the deal is done.)

Would the Indians send out Jose Ramirez for Moss? I know we all loved what J Ram gave the Indians down the stretch, very reminiscent of what Asdrubal Cabrera did for the 2007 Indians once he came up for the last 45 games of the season and into the playoffs. But with a glut of young shortstops in the system (Francisco Lindor, Erik Gonzalez) and Mike Aviles available to play short in a pinch, now may be the time to deal Ramirez. I am not saying I want to, but his value probably won’t be any higher than it is now. If the Wendle for Moss deal is still on the table, that is one Antonetti should jump at. Wendle is a nice young player, but he’s lower on the totem pole than Ramirez, Lindor, and Gonzalez. All of this makes me think that if that rumor were true, it would already be done.

Should Moss enter the fold, the Indians likely won’t be done dealing. They will have a crowded outfield with too many left-handed bats. The odd man out would likely be David Murphy, who is set to make $6 million this season.

The latest rumor surrounding the Indians is their interest in stud outfielder Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves. This one I just do not see happening. The Braves seem to be in mini-rebuild mode and obviously the Tribe would love to add a right-handed bat like Upton. His cost would be pretty high, despite two two years and almost $30 million left on his deal. At age 27, he is in the middle of his prime. The saddest thing is when you consider the Indians are paying Nick Swisher the same amount of money that Upton is due.

While they can show interest all they want, it doesn’t mean it is mutual. Upton has a no-trade list in his contract, one of the teams on that list is the Indians. It doesn’t mean he can’t waive it, but the clause is in that deal for a reason. In other words, do’t get yourself too excited over him.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago the Tribe should kick the tires on LA’s Matt Kemp who is out there and available, but his huge contract probably takes him off the Tribe’s target list. Kemp’s most likely destination is rumored to be San Diego.

We keep talking about bats, which is all well and good and adding a bat like Moss would really give the Indians lineup more depth and legitimate power. But the defense could still be an issue. Moss’s arrival would put him as a right field option along with Swisher, who is coming off of surgery on both knees. Carlos Santana has a lockdown on first base. Whoever takes over at short to start the season, whether it be Ramirez or uber prospect Lindor, will be a defensive upgrade to Cabrera. But Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis are still liabilities in their spots. Right field, no matter who is out there – Moss, Swisher, Ryan Raburn, etc – is still a defensive issue.

Only time will tell, but the Winter Meetings have begun and the Indians aren’t just going to stand pat. That you can take to the bank.