ORLANDO, Fla. -- Indians general manager Chris Antonetti knows that, on paper, it would appear the Indians have the makings of a deep, homegrown bullpen -- one that can basically be left alone this winter. But somebody cue up the Who, because the Indians "Won't Get Fooled Again" when it comes to bullpen construction. The 2008 season, when a Tribe bullpen that had been one of the American League's best quickly became one of its worst, is a prime example of how quickly confidence can erode in the late innings. "Things never go as planned in the bullpen," Antonetti said Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings.
So while the Indians' first priorities -- a third baseman and a veteran starter -- in the Hot Stove market are clear, don't be surprised if they add an arm or two to compete for a bullpen spot in Spring Training. We're not talking major signings here ... or even Major League signings. Each year, the market is flush with guys who are either in the tail end of their career or who have middling stuff but who nonetheless can get a few people out and eat up some innings. Guys who fit that formula this year include Jorge Sosa, Mike MacDougal, Mark Hendrickson, Randy Flores, Aaron Heilman, Elmer Dessens, Randy Choate, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel and Jeff Weaver, among others. Are Antonetti and the Indians interested in any of the above? Who knows, at this point? These are the types of signings that usually don't transpire until January or February, just before the start of spring camp. But the Indians know better than to expect greatness from such an erratic area, which is why they figure to kick the tires in the bullpen market later this winter. "We'll never have a comfort level with [the 'pen]," Antonetti said. "We feel good about the options we have, and Chris Perez certainly provided some stability with the way he pitched and grabbed hold of the closer's role, and we had other guys who contributed in a meaningful way. With the guys at the level just below that, we have some good depth there. But it's far from certain, and we know we need to have a lot of alternatives." Perez, obviously, is locked into his role after converting 23 of 27 save opportunities and turning in a 1.71 ERA in 63 appearances last year. Between Tony Sipp (2.40 ERA from June 19 through season's end) and Rafael Perez (1.97 ERA from June 1 on), the Tribe appears set in the left-handed setup department. Aaron Laffey could be a left-handed long man option if he doesn't get moved back to a starting role. Among right-handers, Joe Smith turned it on in the season's final two months and began to look more like the setup option the Indians thought they had acquired in 2008. Frank Herrmann, an undrafted Harvard guy, fizzled a bit down the stretch of his first Major League exposure but, on the whole, showed flashes and opened some eyes. Justin Germano emerged as an effective long man. Jensen Lewis is arbitration-eligible, so his place in all this is uncertain. A key for the Indians is the right-handed relief depth down below. Vinnie Pestano was lights-out as the Triple-A Columbus closer (1.55 ERA and .202 average against in 43 games) and got his first taste of the bigs in September. Zach Putnam and Josh Judy might be next to make that leap. Rob Bryson, a CC Sabathia trade acquisition, might not be far behind. So, yeah, the Indians feel pretty good about the bullpen, on the whole. But not good enough to avoid investigation into what the market might bear.