The 2012 Cleveland Indians were not a good team. After the All-Star Break, they went 24-53 and manager Manny Acta got fired. Their big, game changing acquisitions last offseason, Derek Lowe and Casey Kotchman, combined for -0.6 fWAR between them and Lowe was released in August. Throw in a 5.40 ERA from 2011 trade deadline acquistion Ubaldo Jimenez, and you have a ship without a rudder…a team going nowhere fast.
Here's one thing that the Indians need to avoid: washed up Indians that the team keeps bringing back on the off-chance they put it all together and have a healthy season. The Tribe paid Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore a combined $18 million last season to play a total of 66 games between the two of them. That's over a quarter of Cleveland's 2012 payroll on a pair of players who combined to play in 20% of possible games between the two of them. That's…not good. All isn't bad for the Indians though, as the team is set up the middle with Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley. The team desperately needs a DH after failing with Hafner and a rotating cast of others in 2012, and they need a first baseman after suffering through a season of Kotchman last season. The team also needs a left fielder after rotating through Johnny Damon and a host of mediocre minor leaguers. And then there's the starting rotation, which has a series of question marks after Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister, though exercising options on Jimenez and Roberto Hernandez might not be the worst thing they could do.
The Indians don't have a lot of money to play with, but thankfully, they'll have some wiggle room after runnin from Sizemore and buying out Hafner's option. I think Adam LaRoche could be a good choice at first base if the Nationals don't pick up his mutual option, but he might be out of their price range, which would essentially push them into the Kotchman tier yet again this offseason…so in other words, Carlos Pena or James Loney. In the outfield, there are essentially two options for the Indians: sign a center fielder and shift Brantley to left to improve the defense, or sign a left fielder to improve the offense. Melky Cabrera could come extremely cheap for Cleveland and take up residence in left field, returning to the AL Central where his career was reborn with the Royals in 2011. Former Indian Ryan Ludwick might also get a look to improve the team's power, but his age (34) might not be what the Indians are looking for. I can also see the team taking a look at Juan Pierre for some reason, as he fits the "traditional" leadoff hitter model, which would be a downgrade after Shin-Soo Choo thrived in the role last season. Angel Pagan could be an excellent option for the improving defense part of the equation, but he'll likely have a ton of interest around the league.
I think closer Chris Perez is as good as gone after his numerous incidents this season, and some team that craves a "capital C closer" would probably have a lot of interest in him. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo is entering his final season of arbitration, and hasn't shown much of a desire to return to Cleveland for the long haul, and he'd be a fantastic option for a team looking for a versatile, well-rounded outfielder if they strike out on the bigger ticket free agents. There are also some very weak rumblings surrounding Masterson after his ERA jumped close to 5.00 in 2012 and he enters his second year of arbitration.
The Indians would be wise to go after young talent in any trades, but not necessarily raw prospects. With Kipnis, Santana, Cabrera, Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall all in the majors, the Indians have a window that is getting close to opening. Any talent dealt should be only traded for players within a year or so of contributing, as opposed to the 19-year old in A-ball that might not be ready to play in the majors for another four years. Cleveland also doesn't need to trade their younger players that are still cost-controlled for a veteran to try to make a run. Look what happened in the summer of 2011 when they traded for Jimenez. I'm sure the Indians brass would rather have Drew Pomeranz and Alex White right now, even if both have struggled with the Rockies.