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Marte faces tough road with Tribe

Marte faces tough road with Tribe

CLEVELAND -- The Indians might not know exactly what their future holds at third base, but they can safely assume Andy Marte isn't in it.

Marte maintained a spot on the Tribe's roster throughout 2008 because he is out of Minor League options. The thinking was that if he were to be designated for assignment, another team would claim him, and the Indians didn't want him to turn into the next Brandon Phillips -- a player who blossoms in another uniform.

But Marte hasn't blossomed here, and it appears his time is up. Barring an injury, the Indians do not appear at all inclined to keep Marte around as the 25th man on the roster in 2009. That spot appears more likely to go to second baseman Josh Barfield.

"At this point, in all honesty, it's a tough road for Andy," general manager Mark Shapiro said recently. "It's hard to see him fitting, if there's not an injury."

This is, of course, a far cry from what Shapiro was saying about Marte three years ago at this time.

Back then, Marte was the prized acquisition in a controversial trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Red Sox. Boston had acquired him from the Braves, for whom he was a top prospect, then flipped him to the Indians, who viewed him as their third baseman of the future. Marte was billed as a defensive whiz who merely had to fine-tune his two-strike approach to become a power-hitting, middle-of-the-order presence in the big leagues.

Three years later, it's a similar story, in that the 25-year-old Marte's glove is not in question, but his bat is. He has played 174 games in the Majors, including 150 with the Tribe and 80 last season, and he's compiled a .211 average with nine homers and 52 RBIs in 513 at-bats. He has a .337 career slugging percentage and a .265 career on-base percentage.

While Marte's spot on the Tribe's roster was assured last season, he didn't do much to endear himself to manager Eric Wedge when he reported to spring camp in no better shape than he was in at the end of 2007. That came after a strict directive from the organization that Marte work on his physical conditioning over the winter.

Hot Stove

When the season began, Marte found a firm place on the bench for the first half. The trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers in July opened the door for Marte to have a more consistent presence in the lineup, and he hit .291 with seven doubles and 11 RBIs over his last 34 games, raising his season average from .167 to .221. But even when he hit, there were concerns about his lack of power.

This past winter, Marte participated in the Dominican Winter League and batted .259 with no homers, four doubles and six RBIs in 23 games. It might have been an audition for other teams, because, even with their long-term outlook at third base unsettled, the Indians are expected to expose Marte to waivers before the end of Spring Training. It remains to be seen if other clubs would have an interest in Marte, or if he could clear waivers and be sent to Triple-A Columbus.

It appears not even a stellar camp could save Marte from being exposed to waivers.

"Andy is a great kid and works hard, but he's struggled to get that bat going," Wedge said. "Anytime [a strong showing] happens in Spring Training, you've got to take the past into consideration and your ballclub into consideration and the future into consideration. We'll try to throw those three factors into the hat and try to figure it out."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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