Next year a stepping stone for Tribe

Next year a stepping stone for Tribe

When it comes to the Indians' roster, what you see now very well may be what you get in 2010.

Do the Indians have needs? Certainly.

Do they have the deep pockets to fill them? Absolutely not.

Team president Paul Dolan told reporters in August that ownership was prepared to lose $16 million in 2009. And the outlook isn't any brighter for '10, when attendance figures promise to be paltry again, as fans wait out another rebuilding period.

It is, then, a bleak picture for the Tribe in the upcoming Hot Stove market. While the club could undoubtedly use some help -- most notably in the starting pitching department -- that help will have to come on the cheap, if at all.

When the Indians opened the 2009 season, they had a payroll of $81.6 million, the 14th-highest in the game. But they dramatically slashed payroll over the summer with the trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.

When the Indians open the 2010 season, they are projected to have a payroll somewhere between $50 million and $60 million, depending on what they do or don't do this offseason.

More cost-cutting measures might be ahead, if, for instance, the Indians find a taker for closer Kerry Wood and his $10.5 million contract. And no major additions are expected.

Knowing this financial outlook, it is reasonable to suggest that, even in a division as weak as the American League Central, the Indians are going to need to have good luck and maybe even a few minor miracles to contend for a crown next season. They will be fielding an inordinately young and unproven lineup, and their starting pitching staff is even more questionable than it was coming into 2009.

But there are some promising pieces, and some reasons to believe that, if the Indians can get their pitching in order, they can open up a new window of contention in 2011 and beyond. For now, this is where the 40-man roster stands, as the offseason begins:

Contract issues
Free agents: Jamey Carroll, INF; Tomo Ohka, RHP.
Eligible for arbitration: Rafael Perez, LHP (likely a "Super Two"); Anthony Reyes, RHP; Kelly Shoppach, C; Jose Veras, RHP.
Player options: None.
Club options: None.
Non-tender possibilities: Reyes, Shoppach.

Catchers
• Chris Gimenez, .144 BA, 3 HRs, 7 RBIs
• Lou Marson, .250 BA, .721 OPS (AAA); .708 (Majors)
• Carlos Santana, .290 BA, .943 OPS, 23 HRs, 97 RBIs (AA)
• Kelly Shoppach, .214 BA, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs
• Wyatt Toregas, .284 BA, 7 HR, 29 RBIs (AAA); .176 BA, 6 RBIs (Majors)

Here's how fast things change in this game. A year ago, the Indians had enviable catching depth at the big league level, with Shoppach considered worthy of splitting starting time with Martinez. Now, Martinez is with the Red Sox, and Shoppach is coming off a horrid offensive season that has left him a non-tender candidate. Cleveland isn't expected to pay Shoppach in arbitration, so it might go with the rookie Marson as the starter behind the plate, until Carlos Santana is ready. Toregas could serve as the backup. But is Marson's bat ready for the big leagues? If Gimenez's bat pans out, he could be in a super utility role in which he also helps out in the outfield and behind the plate.

First base
• Matt LaPorta, .299 BA, .917 OPS (AAA); .254 BA, .750 OPS (Majors)
• Andy Marte, .327 BA, 18 HR, 66 RBIs (AAA); .232 BA, 6 HRs, 25 RBIs (Majors)

On the Indians' official 40-man roster, LaPorta is listed as an outfielder. But with Grady Sizemore expected to be back to full health and Michael Brantley emerging in the outfield, first base will likely become LaPorta's everyday spot. Did Marte, whose natural position is third base, do enough after his July promotion to prove he belongs in the big leagues, or will the Indians once again expose him to waivers at some point between now and Opening Day 2010?

Second base
• Niuman Romero, .240 BA, .598 OPS (AA/AAA)
• Luis Valbuena, .250 BA, 10 HRs, 31 RBIs

Though not yet on the 40-man roster, Jason Donald, a middle-infield prospect acquired in the Lee trade, will figure into the second-base mix somehow next season. He might form a platoon with Valbuena, if the Indians still protect the emerging Valbuena from facing left-handed pitching. Romero is a light-hitting middle-infield depth option who was called up late in '09 only because Donald was hurt.

Shortstop
• Asdrubal Cabrera, .308 BA, 6 HRs, 68 RBIs

It took a couple months, but the Indians made the right move in placing Cabrera at his natural position at short. And Cabrera's bat was among the most steady of any on this club in '09. The Venezuelan native is quickly blossoming into a star.

Third base
• Jhonny Peralta, .254 BA, 1 HRs, 83 RBIs

It has been speculated that the Indians might further cut costs and make a move involving Peralta, who is due to make $4.6 million next year. But it's believed Cleveland doesn't view Marte, who is the only other available option at third base, as an everyday player, and Peralta is one of the few remaining established players on this roster.

Outfield
• Michael Brantley, .267 BA, .711 OPS, 46 SBs (AAA)
• Shin-Soo Choo, .300 BA, 20 HRs, 86 RBIs
• Trevor Crowe, .235 BA, 1 HR, 17 RBIs
• Grady Sizemore, .248 BA, 18 HRs, 64 RBIs

With Choo continuing to grow as a cornerstone bat, Sizemore expected to return to full health and Brantley sparking the top of the order after his September callup from Columbus, the Indians' outfield is looking like a potential strength for 2010. Crowe has the athleticism to fill in at all three spots and could form a platoon, of sorts, with Brantley in left.

Designated hitter
• Travis Hafner, .272 BA, 16 HRs, 49 RBIs

Hafner is now a year removed from arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome right shoulder. By season's end, he still wasn't ready to play on an everyday basis. The most he played all season was four consecutive games. While his performance improved over 2008, he's still a shadow of his former self at the plate. The Indians, who still owe Pronk another $40 million through '12, hope he'll be back to full strength and full production in '10.

Rotation
• Fausto Carmona, 5-12, 6.32 ERA
• Carlos Carrasco, 11-10, 4.64 ERA (AAA): 0-4, 8.87 ERA (Majors)
• David Huff, 11-8, 5.61 ERA
• Aaron Laffey, 7-9, 4.44 ERA
• Scott Lewis, 0-0, 8.31 ERA
• Justin Masterson, 4-10, 4.52 ERA
• Anthony Reyes, 1-1, 6.57 ERA
• Hector Rondon, 11-10, 3.38 ERA (AA/AAA)
• Jeremy Sowers, 6-11, 5.25 ERA
• Jake Westbrook, Did not pitch in '09

It's a dicey outlook for the Indians' rotation, which is coming off a rough season to begin with. Westbrook, who did not recover from June 2008 Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in time to pitch in '09, projects as the No. 1 starter, which says a lot. Carmona was a mental and mechanical mess this season. Masterson made an awkward transition from relief with the Red Sox to rotation work with the Tribe. The left-handed Huff, Laffey and Sowers have all had some success in the Majors, but none have electric stuff. Carrasco, acquired in the Lee trade, got his first taste of the big leagues and struggled. Rondon is a top prospect who is likely to begin 2010 in Triple-A.

Bullpen
• Mike Gosling, 0-0, 5.04 ERA
• Jensen Lewis, 2-4,, 4.61 ERA
• Adam Miller, Did not pitch in '09
• Chris Perez, 1-2, 4.26 ERA
• Rafael Perez, 4-3, 7.31 ERA
• Tony Sipp, 2-0, 2.93 ERA
• Joe Smith, 0-0, 3.44 ERA
• Jess Todd, 0-1, 7.66 ERA
• Jose Veras, 4-3, 5.19 ERA
• Kerry Wood, 3-3, 4.25 ERA, 20 saves

The Indians spent last winter trying to upgrade their bullpen, specifically with the acquisition of Wood, and it didn't work out. The 'pen was an embarrassment in the season's first half. In the second half, however, the addition of Chris Perez and the development of rookie Sipp helped calm the bullpen down. Wood might get dangled in the offseason, which would change everybody's role. For now, the Indians have some pieces to possibly put together a solid 'pen. Still, if the rotation is shaky, it won't matter much.

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