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Tribe looking to land bat to pair with Santana

Tribe looking to land bat to pair with Santana

Tribe looking to land bat to pair with Santana
DALLAS -- On the surface, the Indians have been very quiet at these Winter Meetings. Behind the scenes, general manager Chris Antonetti has been active, holding plenty of discussions and exchanging a variety of trade proposals.

The details are murky. All that is known is that Cleveland would like to land a bat -- preferably of the right-handed variety -- to help upgrade an offense that labored through the growing pains of youth and the real pains of injury last season. First base and the outfield remain the most logical areas to address.

On Wednesday, Antonetti expressed some confidence that the Indians would complete some type of deal before departing Dallas. That could mean a low-level free-agent signing is in the works, or that one of the trade offers -- that are in hand and on the tables of other teams -- may come to fruition within the next 24 hours.

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"I would expect to have something done," Antonetti said. "Now, whether that's a Minor League free-agent signing, or if it's a trade, I don't know. I'd say we have a handful of trade proposals right now out there, at least. Actual proposals. There are a couple that are up to us and there are a handful that are up to other teams."

Antonetti indicated that the Indians have no plans to try to acquire a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

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Cleveland needs offense, and the team's fans are craving a legitimate power threat thumping away from the heart of the order. Going after the likes of free-agent sluggers Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder was always a pipe dream. Even first basemen such as Carlos Pena or Derrek Lee appear to be financially out of the question.

The Indians would need to shed some salary via trade to sign that caliber of free agent.

There is one hitter that the Tribe feels can provide one powerful answer for some of the club's offensive issues. And he is already on the roster. Cleveland firmly believes that catcher Carlos Santana has the ability to emerge into the type of star that the team's fan base so badly desires.

"We know how scary things are going to be," manager Manny Acta said.

That is "scary," as in scary good.

Last season, during his first full tour in the big leagues, the 25-year-old Santana collected 27 homers, 35 doubles, 79 RBIs and 97 walks. He was one of only four players in the Major Leagues (Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto being the others) to achieve at least 25 homers, 35 doubles, 75 RBIs and 95 walks.

Santana did so while hitting just .239 for the Indians.

"We didn't make that much out of the batting average," Acta said. "He walked 97 times. These people sometimes get caught up in the old batting average stat, but the old batting average is only relevant if you don't walk at all.

"And the fact that he kept his on-base percentage above .350, that was good enough for us. If you go and look into the statistics, this guy, he was in a very select group."

This offseason, the Indians are keeping Santana in mind as a part-time first baseman as the team explores another hitter to help out at that position. He spent 95 games behind the plate and another 66 at first base in 2011. Santana -- a switch-hitter -- can also be used to spell Travis Hafner on occasion as a designated hitter.

Santana's versatility, which is driven by the fact that the Indians want his bat in the lineup on a daily basis, helped him lead Cleveland in games played (155). He was second on the team in plate appearances (658), and that showing followed a 2010 season that ended abruptly in August with a serious left knee injury.

"We asked a lot of Santana," Antonetti said. "First off, he was coming off knee surgery -- major knee surgery. He led our team ... in games played. He hit in the middle of the lineup. He was charged with being the primary catcher for his first full season in the Major Leagues.

"Any one of those independently would be a significant thing to ask of a young player, and he was doing all three. He still ended up being a very productive player despite all of those challenges, and I think next year he'll be even better for it."

The Indians view Santana as their starting catcher, but the team does not seem willing to rule out working him in more at first base -- or one day making him a first baseman on a regular basis -- if the situation warrants such an approach.

"Ideally, you don't want guys bouncing back and forth that much," Acta said. "Because of the fact of our inconsistency at first base, and also because of all the injuries that we had, we had to keep him in the lineup as much as possible. ... We value him as a catcher, but to tell you the truth, I tell you with Santana, he's a very good -- wherever you put him he's going to be able to produce.

"And, it all depends what we can accomplish right now during the offseason. What can you acquire? If you can go out there and either make a trade or sign somebody that is going to be productive at first base, or if Matt [LaPorta] shows up to Spring Training and becomes the player we envision him to be, it makes things easier for us.

"Not that many teams have a catcher with that type of production, so that gives us an advantage."

Santana wanted to take part in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, but the Indians asked him to rest leading up to Spring Training. Cleveland wants his legs fresh and his bat ready, because -- no matter who might be acquired this offseason -- Santana is an extremely important part of the lineup.

"I've always been a pro-winter ball guy," Acta said. "We just are trying to be cautious with him. He's our producer in the middle of the lineup."

As much as fans want the Indians to spend big money to land a stud slugger, the team has faith that some of its young, developing hitters can turn into core players. Cleveland has youngsters all around the diamond, and the group in place is largely being counted on to take a leap forward in 2012 to help the team contend.

Cleveland continues to look outside the organization for moves that make sense, but the club is going to rely heavily on the youth that is establishing itself on the big league stage at Progressive Field.

"That's something that we place a lot of value on," Acta said, "the fact that over the last three years we continue to make progress when it comes down to our depth. It's not a secret that's been an issue for us."

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.

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