ORLANDO, Fla. -- Agent involvement at the annual General Managers Meetings is at a minimum. This is an event centered on interaction between the men who guide the construction of baseball's 30 clubs, a time for firming up priorities and aligning interests. So it's the perfect environment for Indians GM Chris Antonetti to get a sense for what moves, if any, his Tribe club can make this winter to build around a young and developing core. As last year's not-so-blockbuster signings of Mike Redmond and Russell Branyan demonstrated, the Indians won't be major players in the free-agent market. This much is established.
But don't rule out the possibility of the Indians, who are looking to plug a hole at third base and are always investigating opportunities to improve the starting five, talking trade. "It's still very early in the process," Antonetti said after the first day of the meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria. "We're continuing to explore our alternatives and talk further with other clubs to see if we line up." Third base and the rotation are the Tribe's two primary areas of need. Antonetti has internal options to consider at both spots, and it's very possible he'll go down that road. But if a move is made to bring in external help, third base seems to be the more likely of the two spots to get it. With several sinkerballers in the rotation, defensive skills would figure to be a priority. The Indians might have their future answer at third in the form of Lonnie Chisenhall, but he's yet to see so much as an inning of Triple-A ball and is ticketed for Columbus at the start of the season. That leaves the Indians looking for a stopgap option to plug into the hot corner until Chisenhall, the club's No. 1 Draft pick in 2008, is ready -- assuming, of course, he lives up to his potential. Even if a trade is made, plugging the gap might not be cheap. Some names potentially available on the trade front include the Mariners' Jose Lopez and the A's Kevin Kouzmanoff, who are both offensive question marks and arbitration-eligible. The D-backs might shop Mark Reynolds, of 200-plus strikeout fame, but he's due to make $23.5 million over the next three seasons. The White Sox might make Mark Teahen available, but he's signed for another two years and his defense is a big concern. If the Indians stick with what they've got internally, then Jayson Nix is the first option. He'll be fine-tuning his shaky defense at third while playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League next month. Prospect Cord Phelps, a natural second baseman, is seeing some time at third in the Arizona Fall League but has been error-prone thus far. "He's been very good offensively and transitioned as well as you can hope at third base," Antonetti said. "But obviously it's a work in progress. There have obviously been some bumps in the road. But Cord's working hard to improve." Improving the rotation is on the Indians' wish list but might not be all that realistic. Three spots are assured to Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot, and Carlos Carrasco, who was stellar in his September callup this past season, is the odds-on favorite for the fourth spot. That leaves Jeanmar Gomez and Josh Tomlin, who both showed flashes of brilliance in their first exposure to the bigs this season, in the mix for the fifth spot, along with left-hander David Huff, who flamed out in 2010 after leading the Tribe in wins as a rookie in '09, and newly re-signed right-hander Anthony Reyes. The veteran Reyes, who last pitched in the bigs in May 2009 and had Tommy John elbow surgery the following month, threw up to 96 miles per hour in the fall instructional league last month and appears healthy. "We expect him to come into camp to compete for a spot in the rotation," Antonetti said. "We'll have to see how the rest of the winter goes. But Anthony has demonstrated in the past that when he's healthy he has the ability to get Major League hitters out." Ultimately, Antonetti knows addressing the needs at third and in the rotation with the internal options won't leave the Indians without question marks at the two spots going into the year. And that's why he hopes to make the most of this Orlando gathering and the other one that's looming in the form of next month's Winter Meetings. If there's a deal to be made, this is the place to lay the groundwork.