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One of seven Tribe free agents, Smith wants to return

One of seven Tribe free agents, Smith wants to return

One of seven Tribe free agents, Smith wants to return

CLEVELAND -- Joe Smith threw the final pitch by an Indians hurler this past season. The veteran sidearmer worked the final two outs in the top of the ninth inning of the American League Wild Card Game and walked off the mound toward an uncertain future.

Smith -- one of seven potential free agents for Cleveland this offseason -- has made it clear that he wants to keep pitching for the Indians.

"Definitely. They know it. They all know it," Smith said. "Everybody in this clubhouse knows I want to be back. We'll see how it goes. I've never been through it, so it'll definitely be something new. I want to be back here. I don't want that to be my last game."

Following their 92-win season, which included a 21-win September to capture the AL's top Wild Card spot, the Indians lost to the Rays, 4-0, in the one-game playoff on Oct. 2. Smith did what he has done so consistently over his five seasons in Cleveland: He turned in a clean inning late in the game.

Smith was acquired from the Mets in a three-team, 11-player trade in December 2008, and the right-hander ascended the bullpen's depth chart to the role of setup man over the past few years. This season, the 29-year-old Smith posted a 2.29 ERA in 70 apperances, marking the third consecutive season in which he logged at least that many games.

In his five years with the Tribe, Smith posted a 2.76 ERA across 303 games, striking out 214 and walking 106 over 271 innings. Over the past three seasons, he ranked 11th in the Majors in groundouts (314) and eighth in baseball in relief appearances (213).

On the open market, Smith appears poised for a multi-year contract given his age and consistent performance over the past few seasons. Cleveland has an assortment of young relief arms in the fold, but the uncertain nature of the club's eighth- and ninth-inning roles make Smith a possible candidate to re-sign.

Smith has been with Cleveland through some of the team's tough times, making this season's turnaround even more enjoyable for the reliever. When the book was officially closed on the 2013 campaign, Smith was convinced that the Tribe was on the cusp of something special.

"I think you saw that from what they did last offseason," Smith said. "I said it all along, when you bring in a guy like [manager] Terry Francona, things are only going in one direction, at least the thought process is in one direction. It's nice to see. We had a few down years. This was fun.

"It's a young team, and nobody expected us to do what we did this year. If you look at it from a positive standpoint, at least we got a taste of [the playoffs]. Once you get that taste, it burns a little bit the first time -- not succeeding. But it was a fun atmosphere. It was an unbelievable atmosphere.

"It just gives these guys coming in next year, all of us, whoever is here, it just gives you that much more incentive. When you get that taste, you want more of it. That was a lot of fun. It was a short ride, but this team is only going up."

Here is a glance at the rest of the Indians' potential free agents:

Free agent: RHP Matt Albers
2013 stats: 3-1, 3.14 ERA, 63 innings, 35 strikeouts, 23 walks
Last three years: 10-6, 3.45 ERA, 188 innings, 147 strikeouts, 76 walks

The 30-year-old Albers was acquired from the D-backs in an offseason trade and proved to be a valuable weapon out of the Tribe's bullpen. He led AL relievers in groundouts (106) and had a rate of 15.1 groundouts per nine innings. Albers would seem to be a candidate for at least a two-year contract, considering his consistency over the past few years.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: Low

Free agent: DH Jason Giambi
2013 slash line: .183/.282/.371
2013 stats: nine homers, 23 walks, 31 RBIs, 71 games
Last three years: .217/.326/.431, 23 homers, 60 walks, 71 RBIs, 195 games

The value of the 42-year-old Giambi lies beneath his overall numbers. In the batter's box, he had a .960 OPS with runners in scoring position, tied a single-season franchise record with three pinch-hit homers and averaged one RBI every six at-bats. Perhaps more important for Cleveland was the veteran leadership that Giambi (a managerial candidate with Colorado last winter) brought to the clubhouse.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: High

Free agent: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
2013 stats: 13-9, 3.30 ERA, 182 2/3 innings, 194 strikeouts, 80 walks
Last three years: 32-39, 4.45 ERA, 547 2/3 innings, 517 strikeouts, 253 walks

Coming off a strong comeback season, the 29-year-old Jimenez will be a candidate for a multi-year contract. The four-year, $52-million deal signed last winter by righty Edwin Jackson looks like a good comparison at the moment. Jimenez will need to void an $8-million team option and a qualifying offer from Cleveland in order to hit the open market this winter.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: Low

Free agent: LHP Scott Kazmir
2013 stats: 10-9, 4.04 ERA, 158 innings, 162 strikeouts, 47 walks
Last three years: 19-24, 5.09 ERA, 309 2/3 innings, 255 strikeouts, 128 walks

Kazmir's will be an interesting case to follow this offseason. The 29-year-old lefty did not pitch in affiliated baseball in 2012, then turned in an incredible comeback campaign in '13. Due to the inconsistent nature of his past few seasons, Kazmir would seem to be a candidate for a two-year contract that includes an option for a third year.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: Medium

Free agent: OF Jason Kubel
2013 slash line: .216/.293/.317
2013 stats: five homers, 29 walks, 32 RBIs, 97 games
Last three years: .251/.321/.439, 47 homers, 118 walks, 180 RBIs, 337 games

The Indians acquired the 31-year-old Kubel from Arizona in late August to add some depth and injury insurance to the roster. Kubel became the odd-man out down the stretch and was routinely out of the lineup during the Tribe's run to the postseason. Given his down year, Kubel might have to settle for a Minor League contract that includes a spring invite if he can't secure a big league deal this winter.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: Low

Free agent: C Kelly Shoppach
2013 slash line: .193/.288/.339
2013 stats: three homers, 12 walks, nine RBIs, 36 games
Last three years: .202/.288/.373, 22 homers, 47 walks, 58 RBIs, 199 games

Shoppach, 33, spent time with four organizations in 2013, returning to Cleveland in late August to give the Tribe a third catcher for the stretch run. The Indians have two front-line catchers in Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana, and Lou Marson projects as the third-stringer if his right shoulder injury is resolved in time for Spring Training. Shoppach could come back on a Minor League contract, or possibly seek a backup job elsewhere.
Chances of staying in Cleveland: Medium

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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