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Indians laying groundwork to start Meetings

Indians laying groundwork to start Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The door to the Indians' suite at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort swung open Monday afternoon, and out walked Blue Jays manager John Farrell and assistant general manager Tony LaCava.

Farrell and LaCava left the room smiling and laughing after meeting with Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, along with a handful of others from Cleveland's traveling party here at the Winter Meetings. Antonetti was quick to downplay the notion that the Tribe and Blue Jays were working on a trade.

Antonetti's chat with Farrell and LaCava -- former members of the Indians' player development department -- was simply that, a chat between old friends.

"I don't have any updates for you really -- other than we met with Toronto," Antonetti said.

Antonetti quickly clarified.

"That wasn't really an update," he said. "They just stopped by."

The friendly conversation served as a fitting summation for the Indians' role on Day 1 of baseball's annual gathering. Cleveland is currently in discussion mode, kicking the tires on available players in an effort to fill a handful of roster needs (third base and starting pitching being the top priorities).

The Tribe is not, however, about to make a huge splash on the free-agent market. Cleveland is working with limited resources, anticipating a payroll drop to the $40 million-$50 million range, and currently trying to develop a young core group of players. The club does not feel the time to spend lavishly is now.

That said, Antonetti might find time this week to meet with uberagent Scott Boras, who represents Indians star right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Choo could see his salary rise to around $4 million or he might be penning his name on a long-term extension in the near future.

As for where Antonetti stands in his talks with Boras, the Indians general manager stayed true to his reputation of keeping such information close to the vest.

"It's something we'll explore with Scott at the right time this offseason," Antonetti said. "I'm not going to go blow by blow along the way, where we stand, whether or not we met, where we are in that process. I just don't feel it's that constructive. We appreciate and value Choo and we're certainly open-minded to talking with Scott about it.

"Obviously, with him eligible for arbitration, we're going to be having those discussions naturally this offseason anyway. They can take a lot of different directions at that point, whether it's just a one-year deal or it's something beyond that that makes sense."

There is not an extreme sense of urgency to complete a long-term deal with Choo, considering he is under Cleveland's control for the next three seasons. Then again, Boras just got done negotiating a seven-year, $126 million contract for outfielder Jayson Werth, who is now being fitted for a Nationals uniform.

Asked about Werth's new contract, Antonetti smiled.

"I'm not going to comment on that," he replied.

Indians manager Manny Acta -- dismissed by as the manager of the Nationals midway through the 2009 campaign after two-plus seasons with the club -- kept his comments politically correct when asked about Werth's deal.

"Good for them," Acta said. "They have a very good fan base. Those people were very nice to me. So they got a very good player to their roster. It's a tough division. You need to get guys like him in order to compete with the other clubs, so good for them. That's all I can tell you."

Acta then grinned.

"I like Choo," he added. "So we're fine."

Signing Choo to an extension falls within Cleveland's long-term plans. Looking at the more immediate picture, it is the holes at third and in the rotation that the club would like to address. The Tribe is also in the market for a right-handed-hitting outfielder and possibly a backup catcher.

At third base, the Indians are hoping to find a defensively sound player, taking some pressure off a young rotation that relies heavily on producing ground balls. That being the case, the Indians might not have serious interest in Edwin Encarnacion, who is intriguing for his power and criticized for his throwing arm.

"Defense is certainly a priority for the position," Antonetti said. "That said, it's the entirety of the package. We're looking to field the best team we can, and if there's an exceptional offensive player available at that position that may not be as strong defensively, we'll be open-minded to that as well.

"But we do recognize that we have a predominently ground-ball staff, so defense behind them is important."

The Indians are rumored to have interest in Nick Punto and Andy LaRoche could draw some interest from the Tribe as well. Cleveland likely inquired about the availability of third baseman Mark Reynolds as well, but Arizona dealt him to Baltimore on Monday.

In their search for a right-handed bat in the outfield -- helping off-set the all-lefty trio of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Choo -- the Indians have been linked to free agent Jeff Francouer. Another report indicated that the Tribe inquired about free agent Fred Lewis, but he hits from the left side.

The Indians would also like to add an arm or two to their rotation, helping provide some reliability to the young staff currently in place. Asked about the possibility of adding a veteran, though, Acta was adamant that the ballclub was not going to add a pitcher simply due to the fact that he was a veteran.

"Is he going to be able to help?" Acta said. "I made it known for years during rebuilding that I don't go for veterans just because they're 40 years old and they've been around 15, 17 years. I need a guy that is going to contribute at this point, not only to be a leader in the clubhouse.

"If I really want a leader in the clubhouse, I'll just take a plane and go to Washington and hire somebody over there from the government or something. I need people that can help me in the field."

If the Tribe is going to find rotation help through free agency -- some potential bargains on the market include Chien-Ming Wang, Dave Bush and Freddy Garcia, among others -- it is highly unlikely that the club would see any deals come to fruition this week. It is more probable that Cleveland would let the market continue to develop before reaching any agreements.

"I think that's more likely the way it will play out," Antonetti said. "We're engaged in those conversations and in the event that someone was prepared to move earlier, then we're certainly open-minded to that as well. But, we're not in a position to preempt the market."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }