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Inbox: Will Indians be able to retain Ubaldo?

Inbox: Will Indians be able to retain Ubaldo?

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Inbox: Will Indians be able to retain Ubaldo?

Tim Lincecum has been mediocre for the last two years and is being described as a back-end-of-the-rotation guy. How much do you think his outrageous deal will affect the pitching market this offseason?
-- Keith K., Westlake, Ohio

I'm sure there are plenty of players -- not to mention their agents -- who were thrilled to see the Giants retain Lincecum on a two-year, $35-million contract. Its impact on the marketplace remains to be seen, but it is certainly a nice starting point for mid-tier free-agent pitchers. For the Indians, it could make it even harder to re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez.

Granted, Lincecum is being paid for potential (the righty went 62-36 with a 2.81 ERA and a pair of Cy Young Awards from 2008-11) and not for his recent performance (20-29 with a 4.76 ERA from 2012-13). That said, Jimenez is 29 years old (same age as Lincecum) and is coming off a much stronger season, following a similar two-year setback.

Jimenez went 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA over the 2011-12 seasons before bouncing back with a 13-9 record and a 3.30 ERA in '13. The right-hander struck out 194 batters in 182 2/3 innings and had the American League's top ERA in the second half. Now, Big U is eligible to hit the open market, and he certainly seems worthy of a similar contract to the one Lincecum signed.

Have a question about the Indians?
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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Once Jimenez voids his option for 2014 (valued at $8 million), as expected, the Indians will almost certainly give him a one-year, $14.1-million qualifying offer for next season. Cleveland has interest in bringing the starter back on that kind of contract, but Lincecum's deal, which includes $17 million in 2014, makes it clear that a better multi-year pact will likely be offered elsewhere.

What tier of starting pitcher will the Indians go after in the offseason? Also, I would like to point out that I sent you an email last year saying the Indians should sign Michael Bourn and move Nick Swisher to first base. It then happened, but I was never acknowledged for predicting this.
-- Chris S., Westerville, Ohio

Sorry, Christradamus. I can't seem to find that email, but let me offer you a belated: "Nailed it!"

Maybe you should tell me which pitchers the Indians will target. With the potential loss of Jimenez and Scott Kazmir -- both potential free agents this winter -- Cleveland will be in the market for a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and possibly a few more arms to throw into the mix. Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway has already shown a knack for reclamation projects.

As is, the Indians like the foundation of their rotation: Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister. More arms are clearly needed, though, especially given the uncertainties that surround guys like Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco. The list of possible free-agent pitchers includes Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Halladay, among others.

I also think you'll see the Indians make a push to sign Masterson to an extension this winter.

If the Indians don't re-sign Kazmir, it looks like they'll have a starting rotation full of right-handed pitchers. Are there any signs Cleveland is worried about this?
-- Jake H., Cygnet, Ohio

You won't see the Indians sign a lefty just for the sake of signing a lefty. Cleveland didn't add Kazmir to mix things up. The club brought him in because of his low cost and high potential. If a left-hander is available and the performance and acquisition cost align, the Indians would undoubtedly have interest. I don't think the Tribe will force the issue there, though.

Hey Jordan, congratulations on your bundle of joy. Here's my question: What are the chances Masterson moves to the bullpen full time?
-- Drew Z., Masury, Ohio

Thanks, Drew! It's been an eventful offseason already in the Bastian house, to say the least. For those who didn't catch the news on Twitter, my wife and I welcomed a daughter into our family on Oct. 19. Little Addison slept right through Shane Victorino's grand slam in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.

Masterson holds too much value as an innings-eater and staff leader to shift into a full-time bullpen role. The right-hander's move to the 'pen at the end of last season was due to a combination of need and circumstance. Big Masty will be back in the No. 1 role next season. Could he move to the bullpen later in his career? That's possible, but that would be a long way down the road.

Intra-division trades are rare, but the right-handed, power-hitting cleanup hitter the Indians are looking for could be Kansas City's Billy Butler. Last year was an off year, but I believe coming to camp in shape can change a lot. Could Cleveland work out a deal for Butler, who has an option for 2015?
-- Cam M., Auburn, Maine

Knowing the Indians, they would at least inquire about a player like Butler, whose market could be limited due to both his performance in 2013 and his role as primarily a designated hitter. He's only 27, has averaged 20 homers and 90-plus RBIs for the past five years and is under club control for at least 2014 (with a $12.5 million team option for '15). Those are all attractive attributes.

Right now, however, the Indians prefer more flexibility with the DH role, especially with the emergence of Yan Gomes as a starting catcher. Cleveland benefits from being able to mix and match catcher Carlos Santana, Swisher and others in and out of the DH slot. Butler has experience at first, but he's been a DH in 92 percent of his starts over the past three seasons.

I like the way you're thinking, Cam. A trade is the most likely avenue for filling the Indians' power need. I'm just not sure Butler is the answer.

In closing...

Any chance that manager Terry Francona will play a little more small ball in 2014 and beyond? I can think of several instances in 2013 when a bunt or squeeze could have resulted in a very important run.
-- Ed C., Randolph, Ohio

I think you'll see Francona manage in accordance with the kind of players he has in the lineup. Cleveland was actually in the middle of the pack in terms of sac bunts in 2013, ranking seventh in the AL. Only one playoff team (Detroit) had more. In fact, the Red Sox and Rays (tied for 12th) and the A's (14th) were all near the bottom of the league in sac bunts. Good teams pick their spots for giving away an out.

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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