CLEVELAND -- The cost of free agents continues to rise and the list of available players continues to shrink. That has not changed the fact that the Indians need to upgrade their pitching staff on the heels of a memorable Wild Card-clinching season.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has engaged in free-agent and trade negotiations, but Cleveland's lone move of significance at this point was pulling the trigger on a two-year contract with free-agent outfielder David Murphy. Pitching remains a priority, and the Tribe has holes to fill in both the rotation and bullpen.
"It would be our preference to improve on the options that we have," Antonetti said earlier this week. "But it has to be the right guy at the right value. If that pitcher is not available through trade or free agency, we're comfortable going with the guys that we have."
Comfortable, perhaps, but Cleveland is certainly not content with standing pat.
During next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista Fla., Antonetti and the Indians' front office will continue to search for ways to upgrade Cleveland's promising roster. The trade market might prove to be the best route for the Indians to take, but the team has also had success in recent years with smaller signings that netted big contributions. Then again, the Indians' spending spree last winter showed they will step up under the right circumstances.
Here is a glance at the Indians' situation with the Winter Meetings looming:
Rotation: The Indians already lost lefty Scott Kazmir to the A's in free agency, and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is also likely to leave the Tribe for a long-term contract with another team. That has left two holes in Cleveland's staff. Youngster Danny Salazar's rise to the rotation helps fill one spot, but the Indians will look to add another arm or two to the mix to strengthen the group.
Bullpen: The Indians released former closer Chris Perez and saw former setup man Joe Smith ink a three-year contract with the Angels in free agency. Righty Matt Albers and lefty Rich Hill -- staples in the Tribe's 2013 bullpen -- are also on the open market. Cleveland is not only in the market for back-end arms, but for depth for the entire relief cast.
Right-handed bat: Mark Reynolds was signed last winter with the hope of addressing this seemingly-annual need, but his struggles led to being released in August. Once again, the Indians could benefit from adding a right-handed run producer to the middle of the lineup, though exploring the trade market might make more sense than free agency.
Who they can trade if necessary
Outfielder Drew Stubbs: The signing of Murphy created a crowded outfield picture for the Indians, but the team could conceivably keep Stubbs on the roster given his plus defense, speed and ability to hit lefties. That said, Stubbs is expected to earn more than $3 million in arbitration. His diminished role and contract status make him a prime trade candidate.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera: The Indians have made it clear that Cabrera is in the plans for 2014, but it is the final year of his contract and the team has highly-touted prospect Francisco Lindor rising fast through the system. If Cabrera were dealt, Mike Aviles could step in as a stopgap solution at short until Lindor is deemed ready for the big leagues.
Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall: Chisenhall is still just 25 years old and in his pre-arbitration years, making his upside potentially intriguing for other clubs. He has struggled to stick as Cleveland's full-time third baseman, though, largely due to his woes against left-handed pitching. Chisenhall's name has come up in past trade rumors, and third base is certainly a position the Indians could try to upgrade.
The Indians' top 10 prospects, per MLB.com, are Lindor, followed by righty Trevor Bauer, outfielder Clint Frazier, shortstop Dorssys Paulino, outfielder Tyler Naquin, righty Cody Anderson, infielder Ronny Rodriguez, righty Dace Kime, righty Mitch Brown and outfielder Luigi Rodriguez.
Cleveland's wealth of middle-infield prospects makes that an area the team could possibly use in trade discussions, though Lindor is virtually untouchable. While not in MLB.com's top 10, infielder Joe Ramirez, first baseman Jesus Aguilar and outfielder Carlos Moncrief have put themselves high on the Tribe's radar.
Rule 5 Draft
The Indians have two vacant spots on their 40-man roster, making the team eligible to make a selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. Given Cleveland's need for bullpen depth, it would make sense for the club to possibly take a flier on a reliever. The Indians will have a pick within the top 10. Selections cost $50,000, and the player must remain on a team's active roster all season or be offered back to his original team for $25,000.
Among the Rule 5-eligible players from the Indians' system are right-handers Joseph Colon, Tyler Holt, Bryce Stowell, Enosil Tejeda and Giovanny Urshela; lefties Elvis Araujo, Matt Packer and Giovanni Soto; first baseman Chun-Hsiu Chen; outfielder LeVon Washington; and catcher Alex Monsalve.
Big contracts they might unload
Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are owed a combined $86 million over the next three seasons, but neither are viewed as trade candidates at the moment. Cabrera's $10 million salary for 2014, however, could certainly help fund other areas if he were traded as part of Cleveland's pursuit of pitching. The Indians are not shopping Cabrera, but the team is always open to listening to offers for any of its players.
The Indians have $53.87 million tied up in nine guaranteed Major League contracts for 2014, and another $20 million (or more) coming through the arbitration process, if all six of the team's eligible players remain in the fold. Including pre-arbitration players, that puts Cleveland's payroll in the $80 million to $85 million million range for the coming season.