If you love big trades, this offseason is for you.
In the past couple of days, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and (possibly) Juan Pierre have changed teams.
The most important deal from the Indians' standpoint was Thome going to Chicago for Aaron Rowand and two top prospects. The Indians were reportedly in contention for Thome, offering Coco Crisp and David Riske for Thome and OF Jason Michaels. If those details are correct, the Indians' offer was pretty good from a player standpoint; Crisp is younger and cheaper than Rowand, and Riske for Michaels would give the Phillies some help in the bullpen for a fourth outfielder.
(Commence train-of-thought speculation)
I think a lot of signs point to the Indians dealing David Riske if they can get an outfielder or a starting pitcher in return. Even if you assume Matt Miller won't be available, the Indians have pretty good depth in the setup roles between Rhodes, Cabrera, Sauerbeck, and Betancourt. If they do sign BJ Ryan or another closer, then they'd have five spots accounted for (again, assuming that Miller is injured). Probably one of the remaining spots would go to a longman (Brian Tallet, Jason Davis, etc). So if there's one area the Indians could deal from, it's the bullpen.
Right now the Indians have a lot of pieces in place, but a couple don't really seem to fit. What, for instance, will they do with Jason Dubois, who's right-handed and has good power potential, but is below-average in the outfield and has a difficult time adjusting to major-league pitching? What about Brandon Phillips, who appears blocked at second and short, and is out of options? What do they do with Ben Broussard if they do bring in a first baseman? Will Ryan Garko be that first baseman?
On the closer front, Billy Wagner will probably be setting the market soon when he chooses between the Mets and the Phillies. After Wagner signs, the rest of the closers should sign fairly quickly, including BJ Ryan.
Kevin Millwood is probably going to take his sweet time deciding where to go, so perhaps solving the closer question first is a way for Shapiro to put out one fire quickly before addressing the other major issues. I think going hard after Brian Giles is a better tack than after Ryan, but maybe Shapiro feels there's a better chance of landing Ryan than Giles. Ryan apparently likes the situation in Cleveland, where he'd be the closer, and away from the East Coast media circuses.
There's no doubt in my mind that Ryan is an excellent closer, and probably a better value than Billy Wagner, the only better stopper on the market,but I don't really like spending that kind of money on a 60-70 inning pitcher. But then again, look at what's out there among outfielders and starters.
(End train-of-thought speculation)
I've said this several times before, but going the trade route may be the best course of action IF the Indians want to fill all their needs this offseason. They might be able sign BJ Ryan or Brian Giles, but not both.