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Choo tops Tribe's offseason priority list

Choo tops Tribe's offseason priority list

CLEVELAND -- While the Indians figure to have another quiet winter in the free-agent signing market, they have quite a bit of internal business to take care of.

Eight Tribe players -- reliever Rafael Perez for the second time; outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right-handers Joe Smith and Anthony Reyes, and third baseman Andy Marte for the first time; and right-handers Chris Perez and Jensen Lewis through "Super 2" status -- are eligible for arbitration this winter, so each is due either a raise or, in some cases, a non-tender.

"From a logistical challenge, it's obviously a lot of preparation," said Chris Antonetti, who took over as general manager at season's end. "But it's not something taking us by surprise. We've looked at it and considered that fact even coming into the season, and we've been preparing all along the way in the second half. We'll certainly be prepared for negotiations. Hopefully we'll be able to drive settlements and won't reach a hearing room. But, if we don't, we'll be prepared for that, as well."

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Without question, the player the Indians have to be most prepared to negotiate with is Shin-Soo Choo. He is arguably the most important piece in the Tribe lineup, and as he enters his first round of arbitration-eligibility, it has been speculated that he could command somewhere between $3 million-4 million for 2011.

The Indians, though, don't just have 2011 to consider. Choo, represented by agent Scott Boras, is under their contractual control through 2013. Knowing the escalating costs that come with arbitration-eligibility, the Indians reached out to Choo and Boras during Spring Training this year to try to negotiate a contract extension into Choo's free-agency years. But that went nowhere.

It appears likely that the Indians will make another run at Choo this winter, perhaps trying to sign him through 2013 to ensure themselves some cost control for the next three years.

"Choo is a guy we'd like to see be a Cleveland Indian for a long time," Antonetti said. "We're fortunate that he's under control for at least three more years. We'll take the opportunity this offseason to revisit it with him and see where those discussions may go."

It might take a deal worth $20 million or more to lock in Choo through his arbitration years. That would be a large commitment for a Tribe team that has scaled back its payroll considerably over the past two seasons and had the lowest attendance in baseball in 2010. But Choo's three-year slash line of .302/.397/.500 certainly hints that he's worth such an investment.

"I'm not thinking about a contract," Choo said at season's end. "That's why I have an agent. Maybe [the Indians and Boras] will talk this winter. My job is to play the game."

Choo, who will represent his native South Korea in next month's Asian Games, has played the game well. Despite frustrations about the club's losing ways the last three years and the lack of protection surrounding him in the lineup this past season, he has remained the club's hardest-working and most-marketable player -- especially once injuries pulled Grady Sizemore from the picture.

Antonetti is thrilled with the progress Choo has made over the past three seasons.

"He's been exceptional," Antonetti said. "He's a complete player who contributes in all facets of the game. One of the things that stands out for him is that each time he's had what he's viewed as a limitation -- whether it's hitting left-handed pitching, how he went back to the wall on defense -- he's taken that upon himself to improve each and every year."

All that improvement has Choo on the doorstep of a major pay hike. How the Indians handle his contract situation will be one of the more intriguing subplots of their offseason.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, CastroTurf. Follow @castrovince on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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