INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe the Indians will leave the Winter Meetings with a new player, after all. With an open roster spot in the wake of last week's trade that sent catcher Kelly Shoppach to the Rays, the Tribe is exploring potential pickups in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. This continues to be a quiet week for the Indians on the whole, but this is one way the club could infuse new blood into the mix. The Indians -- and the Mark Shapiro regime, in particular -- don't have much of a Rule 5 Draft history. They haven't taken a player in the Rule 5 since they swiped infielder Travis Chapman from the Phillies in winter after the 2002 season. But even then, they immediately sold Chapman's contract to the Tigers, who ended up returning him to the Phillies, anyway.
With a young roster and a rebuilding effort under way, the Tribe is open to the possibility of adding someone in this year's Draft. "We're spending time on it," Shapiro said. "We're definitely talking about it. In the past, we've felt we wanted to protect our own players. But we were able to create some roster flexibility this year." If the Indians, who have the fifth pick in the Rule 5, select a player, they will have to pay $50,000 to the club they selected him from. The player would then be required to remain on the Tribe's active Major League roster or disabled list for the length of the 2010 season. Otherwise, he would have to be offered back to the original club for $25,000. The Indians are like any other team in that they are tight-lipped about which players they might be interested in. So, purely from an outside-looking-in standpoint and understanding the Tribe's need for impact pitching, some names that might be worth considering are that of Rays right-handed starter Aneury Rodriguez, Blue Jays right-handed starter Michael McDonald, Rockies right-handed reliever Matt Daley, A's left-handed reliever Brad Kilby, Yankees left-handed reliever Zach Kroenke and Orioles right-hander Josh Perrault. And that is far from a comprehensive list. "The one or two guys we consider might get picked before we get up there," Shapiro said. "But there are guys who, if they're there when we pick, we might be active on." The Tribe protected seven players -- infielder/outfielder Jordan Brown, left-hander Kelvin De La Cruz, right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, infielders Carlos Rivero, Jason Donald and Wes Hodges and outfielder Nick Weglarz -- from the Rule 5, filling up the 40-man in the process. While the Shoppach trade opened up a spot, it came too late for the Indians to protect any of their other Rule 5 eligibles. That list includes right-handers Carlton Smith, Steven Wright and Yohan Pino, left-hander Chuck Lofgren, infielder Jose Constanza and catcher/first baseman/outfielder Matt McBride, all of whom have the potential to be picked up by another club. One other name to watch Thursday is that of reliever Jason Grilli. The Indians signed Grilli to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite last week, but he is Rule 5 eligible, and the speculation is that he might get taken by another team. As it stands, the Indians view Grilli, formerly of the Marlins, White Sox, Tigers, Rockies and Rangers, as a potential option for their big league bullpen. If he makes the club out of Spring Training, he'll be in line to make $800,000 this season. "We think he can come in here and definitively compete and most likely be a factor in our bullpen," Shapiro said. "He has good stuff and the ability to strike people out. He's an established big leaguer." The Indians could always do what the Braves did in 1988 and use the Rule 5 to select one of their own players. But such a move is obviously rare. Unfortunately for those who feast on the all the deals and rumors that pervade the Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 is about as exciting as it gets for the Tribe this week. Shapiro and his staff are spending the week gauging the market, but it's going to be weeks before that market develops enough for the budget-conscious Indians to find the kind of bargains they're looking for. "It's a matter of just clarifying our interests [with agents]," Shapiro said, "and staying in touch."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.