"Instead of preparation and evaluation [in Spring Training], we're going to be competing to win and evaluating," general manager Mark Shapiro said of the season's remaining 59 games. "There will be a lot of guys we'll be taking a close look at to get a feel for how we plan in the offseason."
When the offseason begins, the Indians should have a few bucks to spend.
Free agent spending came in under budget last winter, prompting Shapiro to say earlier this spring that, for the first time in his tenure as the Indians' GM, he was working with some financial flexibility. Outside of a few rare cases (the Manny Ramirezes and Alex Rodriguezes of the world), he had the dollars to acquire an impact player this time of year to get the Indians over the playoff hump.
Obviously, the Tribe's poor start erased such talk.
But when Shapiro began his swapping spree June 21, sending the disappointing Johnson to the Red Sox for cash, he also began trimming some significant fat off the payroll.
Johnson was making $4 million this season, and the Indians are believed to be getting back the majority of the $2.2 million that remained on the deal.
Perez and the remaining half of his $1.7 million contract were sent to the Mariners for middle-infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera on June 30.
Wickman had about $2 million remaining on his one-year, $5 million deal when he was dealt to the Braves for catching prospect Max Ramirez on July 20.
The Broussard trade on July 27 was pretty much a wash, financially, as the Indians picked up a good portion of what was remaining of his $2.48 million contract when sending him to the Mariners for rookie outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who is making the Major League minimum.
But Sunday's Belliard deal, which brought in utilityman Hector Luna, was also cost-effective, as the Cards will assume what's left of Belliard's $4 million contract.
Add it up, and Shapiro has a decent chunk of change to put toward his spending for '07.
"It's part of the equation," Shapiro said. "It certainly will have an impact on our thresholds in free agency. Any savings we get will be invested into next year's team."
Just what positions do the Indians need to invest in? That's a determination these last two months of the season are all about.
The Wickman trade appears to be the one with the most immediate impact, because it will give the Indians a look at rookie Fausto Carmona's ability to handle the closer's role. If Carmona succeeds, one offseason dilemma is solved. If he struggles, let the Hot Stove talk begin.
Tribe waiver trade candidates
|Boone has said he wouldn't mind being dealt to a contender, and the Indians probably wouldn't mind dealing him with Andy Marte taking over the regular third-base duties. Boone has labored at the plate in his two years with the Tribe, and this year he has had more than his share of defensive struggles. The Indians and Boone, who is making $3.75 million this season, have a mutual option for '07.|
|Hollandsworth is no stranger to getting dealt midseason. It has happened three times before in his Major League career. That's because teams love to acquire a left-handed bat to aid them in their playoff push, and Hollandsworth, who is making $900,000, has shown this season he still has a capable bat in a reserve role.|
|The Indians considered Mota to be a key part of the January trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Red Sox because they viewed him as a setup man. But he's been nothing short of a disappointment this season, and the club is interested in dealing him. The question will be whether a contender wants to take a chance on the once-stellar Mota.|
The prospects acquired in the Wickman and Perez trades will have no impact on the Opening Day roster for '07. Ramirez is "far away" from the big leagues, in Shapiro's estimation, and Cabrera, who has a Triple-A glove but a Double-A bat, isn't expected to break camp with the Major League club.
Choo and Luna both have an opportunity to earn regular jobs for '07. Choo is getting a look as the starting right fielder against right-handed pitching, and Luna will split second-base duties with fellow utilityman Joe Inglett.
Those aren't the only spots the Indians will be getting a gauge on as the season draws to a close. Aaron Boone was demoted to a utility role, opening the door for prospect Andy Marte to get the regular starts at third base.
Boone, outfielder Todd Hollandsworth and reliever Guillermo Mota are all possibilities to be dealt before the Aug. 31 waiver trading deadline.
The potential blessing in disguise to this wayward season is that it got definitively off-track early enough for Shapiro to jump the gun on what was a necessary overhaul.
"If we get what we think is fair value, we choose to act quick, rather than wait to see if we can get marginally more," Shapiro said. "You could argue that either way is the better way to go, but there are a bunch of teams on the 31st that are stuck and have to lower their price or never get deals done."
Having just 16 members of his original 25-man squad on hand is far from an ideal situation for Shapiro, but it's to be expected when contention hopes spiral down the drain.
"There's a certain level of risk we're going to have to take to be successful in this market," he said. "A few of these trades involved taking some of those risks and some of them didn't involve taking risks, in terms of where we are right now."
And where the Indians are now is in an unanticipated evaluation period.