Contention seemed to arrive a year early two seasons ago for the Tribe, but it was an unexpected collapse that defined the most recent campaign. The Indians do not appear on the verge of a complete rebuild, but it is possible that the team continues to weigh trade offers for some of its players during this week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
"We've said it from the start," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We were going to be flexible with how we worked through the offseason. If there are opportunities to improve the team, to improve our position moving forward, we'll be open-minded to it."
While also trying to address their own roster needs, the Indians are open to listening to trade proposals for a number of their players. The most attractive trade chips include shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo and closer Chris Perez. Sinkerballer Justin Masterson has also had his name floated in trade speculation.
Coming off a disappointing 94-loss season, Cleveland can't afford to be closed minded about possibly making deals that might benefit the club's long-term health. Whether via trades or free agency, new manager Terry Francona's team is also in the market for help in the rotation and left field, as well as for first base and designated hitter.
Here is a quick glance at the Indians' situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville:
Rotation: Much of the Indians' struggles last season stemmed from the myriad problems that struck the starting staff. As things currently stand, the 2013 staff will consist of a similar cast with unpredictability throughout the depth chart. One of Cleveland's top priorities this offseason is to add some stability to the rotation through either free agency or trades.
First base: The Indians went with a one-year solution for first base last offseason by signing veteran Casey Kotchman. Without a clear in-house solution, Cleveland might take a similar approach this winter. The Indians might consider giving internal candidate Russ Canzler a shot, but the club will certainly explore its options through free agency and trades.
Left field: Cleveland cycled through 10 left fielders -- Shelley Duncan, Johnny Damon and Ezequiel Carrera were each tested as the starter -- and never found a reliable full-time solution. Carrera and Canzler are two in-house possibilities for 2013, but the Tribe will look for alternatives via every possible avenue.
Who they can or need to trade
Cabrera: The Indians are planning on having Cabrera as their Opening Day shortstop, but the club is keeping an open mind about clubs trying to trade for the two-time All-Star. By acquiring Mike Aviles, the Tribe has a starting-caliber shortstop in case Cabrera is dealt. Cleveland could use some impact prospects and Cabrera's ability and contract have potential to net a solid package.
Choo: All signs are pointing to Choo leaving via free agency next offseason, leaving the Indians in a position where the club should listen to trade offers. Choo is coming off a solid year and is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter. Cleveland entertained offers for Choo at the July 31 Trade Deadline, but chose to hold on to the talented right fielder.
Masterson: Masterson is coming off a down season, but the sinkerballer still has plenty of value in his potential and his ability as an innings eater. The right-hander is eligible for arbitration this winter and is under club control for two more years. It seems unlikely that the Tribe would trade Masterson unless the team was able to add some rotation depth this winter.
C. Perez: Perez is coming off a solid season -- his second as an All-Star for the Indians -- but his salary is climbing through arbitration and the closer ruffled plenty of feathers with off-field comments last year. Cleveland is planning on opening 2013 with Perez as its closer, but it makes sense for the team to listen to any trade offers for the righty.
Carlos Santana: Santana is still viewed as a key part of the Tribe's young core, but his club-friendly contract makes him a target for clubs trying to pry players away from a Cleveland organization in search of some impact prospects. Santana is unlikely to be dealt this winter, but the Indians would certainly listen to any trade proposals.
Most of Cleveland's best prospects remain in Class A, complicating the big league team's current situation. The Indians are strong up the middle with shortstop prospects such as Francisco Lindor, Dorssys Paulino and Ronny Rodriguez. A few other top prospects include reliever Chen-Chang Lee, right-hander Mitch Brown, first baseman Jesus Aguilar and outfielders Tyler Naquin and Luigi Rodriguez.
Rule 5 Draft
The Indians' 40-man roster is at capacity, so the team would need to clear room if it wanted to select a player in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. Cleveland recently added Minor League pitchers Lee, Trey Haley and T.J. House, as well as outfielder Tim Fedroff, to protect them from the Draft. Two notable players left unprotected are Aguilar and right-hander Hector Rondon.
Big contracts they might unload
The Indians already freed up some money by declining a $13 million club option to retain designated hitter Travis Hafner and a $6 million club option to keep starter Roberto Hernandez. If Cleveland were to trade Choo or Perez, it would free up some more money that would have otherwise been tied up in arbitration. Cabrera is owed $16.5 million over the next two seasons.
Moves made so far
The Indians acquired Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes from the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Esmil Rogers on Nov. 3. ... Cleveland signed outfielders Matt Carson and Cedric Hunter, infielders Luis Hernandez and Nate Spears, and pitchers Rondon and Jose Flores to Minor League contracts. ... Claimed right-hander Blake Wood off waivers from the Royals.
Arbitration eligible: Aviles ($1.2 million in 2012), Choo ($4.9 million), Masterson ($3.825 million), C Lou Marson (first time), C. Perez ($4.5 million), LHP Tony Sipp (first time) and RHP Joe Smith ($1.75 million).
Including the potential salaries for Cleveland's arbitration-eligible players, the team's payroll projects to sit around $50-55 million before any additions. That gives the Tribe some wiggle room for acquisitions, considering the team operated on a budget around $68 million in 2012, and the team can likely afford to operate in the same range for '13.