Jonah Keri wrote up the needs of every AL team over at Grantland, and he's optimistic about the Tribe:
Looking for a sub-.500 team that could break through and make the playoffs next year? The Indians are that team.
The entire bit on the Tribe is certainly worth a click-through in these news-starved, pre-winter meeting days. Keri's take is that the Indians pitching staff has the chance to really be special, with the young, cheap bullpen backing up the groundball heavy staff. The Indians rotation has generally been young (and pretty lousy) in recent years—the last time the rotation could honestly boast three "proven veterans" was, if you squint, 2009, when the team broke camp with Pavano, Carmona and Cliff Lee. That's not a very convincing bunch of "proof", so if you're on the pessimistic side, you can go back one more year and see Sabathia, Byrd, Westbrook, Carmona, and Lee all starting the season in Cleveland—that's pretty veteran, no? Regardless, the quartet of Masterson, Jimenez, Carmona, and Lowe represents the most appealing mix of talent and ability since that 2008 group. If the Indians are good, it will likely be because of the exploits of three or so of those pitchers.
Keri correctly identifies the Indians problem areas as first base and outfield, and he floats a couple of ideas. Carlos Pena might work at first, especially if Santana spelled him against lefties, as Keri suggests. At the same time, as Bastian reiterated the other day, the Indians really ought to be looking for a right handed bat, not another lefty for Santana to cover for.
Keri's pick for an outfielder as an upgrade over Brantley-rerra (or, just as an insurance against what is a remarkably fragile group of guys, both in terms of health and performance) was DeJesus, who's no longer available after signing with the Cubs for 2 years/$10 million. DeJesus probably wasn't a real option—yet another lefty—and it's not obvious to me that the Indians are going to make a real move in the outfield. The available options are uninspiring. The eye naturally gravitates towards Carlos Beltran, who can hit from the right side and would make an intriguing signing since he could conceivably transition into the DH role after Hafner's contract ends at the conclusion of 2012 (it's almost over! it's almost over!). At the same time, you've got to assume the Indians are priced out of that market. For his part, Bastian (same link as above), thinks Jason Donald in the outfield might be a possibility so, hrm, OK. We'll see.
Over on the Baseball Show with Rany and Joe (iTunes link), Jazayerli and Sheehan agree on a couple of things germane to the Indians: that the strongest free agent crop is first base, and that the Royals are either favorites or a close second to the Tigers to win the Central, especially with the acquisition of Jonathan Sanchez. On the former point, here's the whole list, and the name bandied about by Bastian and others, Derrek Lee, is the one that makes sense to me. On the latter point, I"ll bite my tongue, as I know the follies of trying to bet on young talent—hey, by the way, whatever happened to Jhonny Peralta? Is he still double play partner to Josh Barfield in anyone else's private moments?
A couple of questions for you, smart, smart Tribe fan—
First, what are the Indians real needs? My ranking is:
And, umm, that might be it. We've still got infielders coming out of our ears (Chisenhall, Hannahan, Asdrubal, Donald, Phelps), there's still a lot of starting pitching depth (Tomlin, Huff, Gomez, McAllister, Barnes), they have a backup catcher, and they have a deep bullpen. What am I missing?
Secondly, who's the diamond in the rough here, at either outfield or first? You're allowed to use Matt LaPorta as the answer, but only for one position or the other.