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Inbox: Where does Cunningham fit in?

Inbox: Where does Cunningham fit in?

Inbox: Where does Cunningham fit in?
When one of our neighbors came knocking on our door with a homemade dessert in hand, complete with a fancy dish that we would have to return to their home at a later date, we had a feeling we were going to like our new town.

A little more than a year later, we have no complaints. Our move to Cleveland was a great one for my family. From the people we've met to all the places we've discovered, living in Ohio has been a blast. I might never root for the Buckeyes, but at least I share my neighbors' distaste for the University of Michigan. Go Spartans!

Since it's the holiday season, it seems like an appropriate time to thank the Indians for making my first season on the beat a smooth one. I'd also like to thank all of you Indians fans for welcoming me so warmly. That includes all the fans who write in angrily using all caps in your emails. Vent away. I can take it.

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And, since it's the season for giving, here's the last Indians Inbox for 2011.

Happy holidays.

I do not understand why the Indians traded for Aaron Cunningham -- mainly because he is out of Minor League options. Since he hit just around .170 last season, I don't see how he would be a better option to be the fourth outfielder than Shelley Duncan, Jason Donald, Felix Pie, Ezequiel Carrera or another possible signee. Why would the Tribe make a move like that?
-- Jeffrey C., West Lafayette, Ohio

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Jordan BastianE-mail your query to MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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The Indians need right-handed help off the bench. Right now, that seemingly knocks Pie and Carrera (both left-handed hitters) a touch behind the competition for a place on the Opening Day roster. There is also the chance that Duncan, Donald and Cunningham make the team out of Spring Training.

Barring a move to add a first baseman, Duncan (also out of options) could contend for regular at-bats at first. Donald is in the mix as a super utility player due to his ability to man multiple spots around the field. It is Duncan's situation that creates the need for someone like Cunningham.

If Duncan does indeed beat out Matt LaPorta for the vacancy at first base, his role as the fourth outfielder would be diminished. That opens the door for someone like Cunningham -- a right-handed corner outfielder with a decent history of handling left-handed pitching -- to make the roster as a bench player.

It is a similar role to the one held by Austin Kearns a year ago. The difference is Cunningham is younger, more affordable and still has some upside. As a role player, Cunningham is not a bad reserve option, especially given his .299 average and .887 OPS against lefties (Majors and Minors combined) over the past three years.

All of that said, just because Cunningham is out of options does not make him a lock for the Opening Day roster. His contract situation might give him a leg up on the competition, but there will be others in the mix. Pie (signed to a Minor League contract) will be considered, too. The Indians have not ruled out adding more outfield depth before spring, either.

All I ever hear is that the Indians can't afford a certain player. If Cleveland wants a winner, the team has to spend the money.
-- Doug, Denver

There are plenty of Indians fans who share your frustration, Doug. It is worth noting, however, that Cleveland is spending a significant amount of money this offseason. The team's payroll will see an increase of around $20 million for the 2012 season, which is monetary progress, even if the bulk of that is due to arbitration.

I know, I know, the team isn't spending on the open market. And there is no denying that a big free-agent splash often does wonders in appeasing a fan base. It is not good business to make a move for the sake of making a move, though. Like it or not, the Indians do not currently have the financial means to be a huge player in free agency.

Since first baseman Derrek Lee is a free agent, why wouldn't the Indians go after him? If not Lee, who will the team get?
-- Juan B., Montvale, N.J.

The Indians have expressed interest in Lee this season, but reports are that the interest has not been returned. At this point, the right-handed power options on the open market are few. If the Indians are going to add a bat before the season begins, it will likely be via trade. There is also the chance that Cleveland rolls the dice with the group already in hand, with the thought of potentially trading for offensive help before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

I've heard that the Indians are in talks to acquire Carlos Lee from the Astros. Is there any truth to this? I also heard that the Twins signed Josh Willingham for three years and $21 million. How could the Indians not afford him?
-- Mike I., Fairview, Ohio

Houston approached Cleveland about Lee and the Astros were reportedly willing to assume half of his $18.5 million salary. The Indians would need Houston to cover more than that in order to add Lee without needing to make a subsequent trade to free payroll. Adding a free-agent contract of $7-10 million for 2012 would likely necessitate the same approach.

As for Willingham, the Indians had early talks with his camp about a deal in the $14-16 million range on a two-year deal. It was Minnesota's willingness to offer three years that made the difference. The Indians had concerns about his durability, given he has averaged only 121 games over the past four years.

Jordan, now that the Angels have Albert Pujols at first base, I've been hearing that they will try Mark Trumbo at third. Why doesn't the Tribe try and swing a trade for him? That would solve our problems at first base for sure.
-- Ernie N., Southern California

After the Ubaldo Jimenez trade that sent former Indians pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to the Rockies, I'm not sure Cleveland has the type of top prospects likely needed to acquire a player like Trumbo. The Indians have probably inquired, but the Angels' asking price is undoubtedly high.

Who in the world is Jose Lopez? He hit .211 last season. Is this stuff for real? The more I read about this team, the more I ask myself: IS THIS THE TWILIGHT ZONE?
-- Joseph D., New York

You're becoming an Inbox regular, Joseph.

Lopez is a former All-Star who will be brought into camp on a Minor League contract. It's a low risk move to add some right-handed depth behind the starting infielders. He can handle first, second and third base and is only a couple seasons removed from being a solid big league player. From 2008-09, Lopez hit .285 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs on average for the Mariners.

This winter, Lopez has hit .311 with five homers and 21 RBIs through 35 games for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League.

And, hey, give the man some credit. He hit .216 last year.

Will the Indians trade Chris Perez like it was rumored recently? I really don't want to see him go.
-- Ryan S., Monroeville, Ind.

There were no reports (that I know about) that claimed the Indians were going to trade Perez. I did note during the Winter Meetings that the Indians were willing to listen to trade offers for Perez, if there was any interest out there. Some teams inquired, but Cleveland was not shopping the closer. It does not seem like he is going anywhere but to the Tribe's bullpen for the 2012 season.

I had a dream that the Indians signed Yu Darvish. Should I seek professional help, or is this in any way a realistic possibility?
-- Nathan T., Rocky River, Ohio

You are cognizant of the fact that it is was only a dream, so I do not think professional help will be necessary. Beyond that, my suggestion would be to keep dreaming.

In closing ...

Your first year as the Indians beat reporter is about to end. Can you share with us your greatest thrill and your biggest disappointment while covering the Indians this year?
-- Jose T., Utuado, Puerto Rico

My greatest thrill was winning the legendary "Paul Hoynes Hawk Call" pool during a game in my rookie season on the Indians beat.

Beyond that, I'd just go all soft on you and say it was a blast getting acquainted with Cleveland and its lovely people over the past year. It didn't take long for my family to feel right at home. Biggest disappointment? Watching the Indians' hot start go for naught. That was a fun ride while it lasted, even for us scribes.

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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