Quiet Indians discuss possibilities at Meetings

Quiet Indians discuss possibilities at Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As much as Chris Antonetti may have wanted to make headline-grabbing moves during this year's Winter Meetings, his first as the general manager of the Indians, the club's young roster and financial situation did not allow it.

Antonetti is optmistic about Cleveland's direction, and the potential of the developing players in the fold, but he simply is unable to compete with the big-dollar contracts already being dished out this offseason. If Antonetti feels any angst over the circumstances, he doesn't show it, constantly wearing a smile and maintaining his sense of humor.

On Monday at the Meetings here at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin resort, Antonetti had a friendly chat in his suite with Blue Jays manager, and former Indians farm director, John Farrell. A day later, Antonetti was jokingly asked if the talks with Toronto had fallen apart, and he didn't miss a beat.

"No," Antonetti replied. "I got coffee with John today. So those talks were productive."

All kidding aside, Antonetti was busy holding various discussions throughout these Meetings. While the bulk of Cleveland's needs will likely be solved from within, there are areas that the Tribe could address through free agency or trades this offseason

The Indians want a third baseman, and perhaps a versatile infielder as well. Along those lines, the team met with the agent for veteran infielder Nick Punto at the Meetings, and there appears to be mutual interest. Cleveland is also in the market for a starting pitcher and a right-handed-hitting outfielder.

How soon any of these holes might be filled, if at all, remains to be seen.

"We've had a lot of conversations with agents and other teams," Antonetti said. "Momentum ebbs and flows. On some things we may have had a little bit more momentum [one day] than we did [another day], but that's just a natural part of the dialogue, especially on trades."

The Indians currently have $28.12 million tied up in contracts for 2011, and the Opening Day payroll projects to be in the $40-50 million range. With four players left eligible for arbitration and due for raises, the Tribe's payroll projects to fall around $40 million even without offseason additions.

The club's current situation is partly the result of finishing last in baseball in attendance during their 93-loss showing in 2010. It is the reason agent Scott Boras gave this week for believing it might be hard for the Tribe to sign star outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, his client, to a long-term extension this winter.

Boras and Antonetti did not speak at the Meetings, but the GM plans on discussing a possible deal for Choo -- eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason -- in the near future. If Cleveland is unable to lock Choo in to a long-term pact this winter, the club can at least take solace in the fact that the outfielder is under club control through 2013.

"With any player," Antonetti said, "there are different junctures in time to explore multiyear deals. We've refrained from doing those during the season for the most part. So each offseason represents a new opportunity for us to determine whether or not it makes sense to explore it."

Deals done: The Indians signed 33-year-old catcher Paul Phillips, formerly of the Rockies, to a Minor League contract. Phillips has been invited to attend Spring Training with the big league club and will compete for the backup job behind the plate. That was the lone move the Tribe made at these Meetings.

Rule 5 activity: Cleveland opted against vacating a spot on its 40-man roster, which is at capacity. As a result, the Tribe sat out the Rule 5 Draft this year. The Indians did, however, lose infielder Josh Rodriguez to the Pirates (first overall pick) and right-hander Jose Flores to the Mariners (second overall pick).

Goals accomplished: Behind adding a fourth catcher to the fold in Phillips, the Indians were quiet as expected during this year's annual gathering. The Indians met with multiple free agents and entertained some trade scenarios, and they will continue dialogue on those fronts as the offseason progresses.

Unfinished business: The Indians are still searching for a solution for third base and would like to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder. The outfielder will likely be one who can hit lefties well. Cleveland is also in the market for an experienced, but inexpensive, starting pitcher to help take some heat off the young staff.

GM's bottom line: "We expect to be a better team. We expect to win more games than we did last year and we expect to continue to improve. But we do need to balance that with the development of some young guys." -- Antonetti

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.