CLEVELAND -- The Kenny Lofton-in-Cleveland era might have come to a close. Again. Lofton, acquired for his third career stint with the Tribe in late July of this year, will be a free agent this winter, and the Indians don't appear as if they'll be asking him to come back in '08.
That's no knock on the speed, defense and postseason experience the 40-year-old Lofton brought to the Tribe roster for the stretch run in '07. It's just that the Indians are hoping to get more run-production from left field next season, and Lofton, who notched only 38 RBIs between Texas and Cleveland this season, isn't a prime candidate to supply it. "We have not addressed any of our free-agent decisions yet," general manager Mark Shapiro said earlier this week. "It was fun to watch [Lofton] play. He contributed in the way we hoped." But when naming the Indians' most likely candidates to fill left field next season, neither Shapiro nor manager Eric Wedge brought up Lofton's name. Rather, the Indians will likely sort through a pool of internal candidates that includes David Dellucci, who has two years remaining on the free-agent deal he signed with the club last winter, Jason Michaels, who has a year left on his contract, Ben Francisco, who made his big-league debut in '07, and Shin-Soo Choo, who will be coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow. The Tribe might also seek a potent left-field bat in either the free-agent or trade markets this offseason. "We have a lot of alternatives in the outfield," Shapiro said. "As far as how that shakes out, we'll have to gauge how the winter goes on." Dellucci and Michaels platooned in left field at the outset of '07, right up until Dellucci, who was struggling at the plate to the tune of a .234 average, tore his hamstring on June 19 and missed the vast majority of the season's remainder. Francisco made a nice impression on the Indians not just with his strong spring camp but also with his big-league break-in, which saw him bat .274 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 25 games. Choo, who was the Tribe's regular right fielder at the end of '06, would have been the one called up ahead of Francisco, had he not injured his elbow early in the year. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September and will likely be a little behind in Spring Training. As for Lofton, well, the fans went crazy every time he came up to bat, and the presence of No. 7 served as a nice piece of nostalgia from the Indians' 1990s glory days. But the nostalgia might have ended with the American League Championship Series loss to the Red Sox. "He energized our fans," Shapiro said, "and it was exciting to watch him play that meaningful role for us at that most important time." Here's the question... Lofton ranks third all-time among Indians players in runs scored, with 975. Do you know who holds the team record in this category? Assessing the options: While Lofton might be gone, expect closer Joe Borowski to come back for a second season with the Tribe. The Indians hold a $4 million option for '08 on Borowski, and they're expected to exercise it. Yes, he caused an awful lot of anxiety in the fan base over the course of putting together a 5.07 ERA. But his league-leading 45 saves speak for themselves. And when speaking for himself about his feelings on returning, Borowski was all for the idea. "Who wouldn't want to come back?" he said. "It's a first-class organization, from top to bottom. It starts with the front office, the way they treat you and what they look to bring in. You can't say enough about the team. It's probably the closest group of guys I've ever been around. It would be a pleasure if I had the opportunity to come back next year." The Tribe also holds '08 options on left-handed reliever Aaron Fultz, who might be considered expendable now that lefty Rafael Perez has established himself in a setup role, and right-handed starter Paul Byrd, whose status is very much in question in light of his recent admission to using human growth hormones between 2002 and '05. If Byrd is suspended by Major League Baseball for his HGH use, the Indians might not be inclined to keep him and his $8 million salary around. Miller sighting: The Surprise Rafters provided a bit of a surprise Tuesday, when Indians top pitching prospect Adam Miller pitched three innings for the Arizona Fall League team against the Phoenix Desert Dogs. "I guess it was kind of a big secret," Miller told Baseball America about his appearance. "Nobody really knew I was coming." Miller worked three scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory, giving up just one hit. He set down eight in a row and he used all his pitches effectively, though his fastball isn't back up to the upper 90s just yet. A strain in the right-handed Miller's pitching elbow kept him out of action at Triple-A Buffalo for several weeks this season. He finished the year on Double-A Akron's postseason roster. The Indians had hoped the 22-year-old Miller would make his big-league debut, either in the rotation or out of the 'pen, at some point in the '07 season, but a finger strain and the elbow troubles limited his playing time. Hence, the AFL assignment. Miller is not considered one of the candidates for a starting job with the Tribe at the outset of '08. "He's a prospect," Shapiro said. "We'll determine what his role is next year." Huff stuff: David Huff, the Indians' top Draft pick in 2006, is also pitching for Surprise. He missed significant time this season with elbow soreness, so this AFL stint is important for him to build up his innings. Huff is 1-0 with a 5.63 ERA in three appearances for the Rafters. He has struck out eight batters in eight innings of work. And the answer is... Earl Averill holds the team mark with 1,154 runs scored in his Indians career. Tris Speaker ranks second with 1,079.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.