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Tribe notes: Choo on the move?

The Indians are willing to listen  to trade offers for a number of their players, but right fielder Shin-Soo Choo seems the likeliest candidate to be moved. He is in his final year of arbitration eligibility and is represented by uber agent Scott Boras.

Boras is famous for taking his players to free agency rather than exploring contract extensions. That is a large part of the reason Cleveland has not been able to sign Choo to a multi-year deal, despite the club’s efforts. During the recent GM Meetings, Boras continued to lay the groundwork for Choo’s likely exit out of Cleveland by firing a shot at Indians ownership.

“Choo’s let it be known that he has a desire to win,” Boras told a group of reporters. “I think the ownership in Cleveland, foundationally, they’re going to have to illustrate some dynamics with new revenues and where they stand about what they do to show their fan base and their players who they are in competing.

“That’s a new calling that they are going to have to bring forth to give players, and everybody involved, [an idea] about what their intentions are in their ownership.”

Indians GM Chris Antonetti chose not to get into a war of words with Boras.

“I don’t think we really need to react to that,” Antonetti said. “We obviously have to conduct business the way we think it makes sense for the franchise.”

As for Choo?

“We have, on numerous occasions, looked to try to extend Choo’s stay in Cleveland,” Antonetti said. “We’ve looked to extend his contract. We just haven’t been able to reach an agreement.”

Under the circumstances, it makes sense for the Indians to be open minded about trading Choo this offseason, or prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Otherwise, Cleveland will likely be in line for Draft compensation if/when Choo hits free agency next winter.

Other items of note:

  • Kevin Youkilis fits a need for the Indians. He provides some pop from the right side and can fill the hole at first base. Plus, he can add some veteran leadership to a young clubhouse. All the signs point to Cleveland having interest in the free agent, and the club does. Other teams reported to be interested: Mariners, Marlins, Phillies, Dodgers and White Sox.
  • The Indians have been rumored to have some level of interest in outfielder Jason Bay. Free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera might also be a player Cleveland targets in its search for outfield help this winter. The list of targets is undoubtedly long, and the Tribe is likely in the early stages of talks at this point.
  • According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Indians are one of several teams who have shown interest in outfielder Shane Victorino. Texas and Boston have also been mentioned as potential suitors.
  • The Indians lack impact pitching prospects at the upper level of their farm system, so that is something the club will look to acquire as part of any trade (for Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson or Chris Perez, among others). So, it was not surprising that ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Tribe has sought young arms as part of trade discussions for Cabrera.

–Jordan Bastian 

Tribe rumor roundup

The Indians are in the market for help at first base, left field, designated hitter and in the rotation this winter. Coming off a 94-loss season, the club has potential trading chips in Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson, among others.

Here are some recent rumors and reports on the Tribe:

  • The Indians are reportedly one of several teams with interest in South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. Teams needed to turn in posting bids for the 25-year-old lefty on Thursday. Other clubs reportedly with interest are the Cubs, Rangers, Phillies and Angels.
  • The Red Sox and Indians have had talks about the potential avaiability of Choo and Masterson, per Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com. Choo is coming off a solid year, but is a Scott Boras client and will be eligible for free agency next winter. Masterson is coming off a down year, but is under control for two more years, and had a strong 2011 showing.
  • The Indians have reported interest in free-agent 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis. Other teams mentioned in rumors have been the Red Sox and Phillies. In Cleveland, Youkilies could be reunited with manager Terry Francona, and fill the Tribe’s need for a first baseman with some pop.
  • According to reports coming out of St. Louis, the Cardinals have interst in Cabrera. Cleveland traded for infielder Mike Aviles last week, fueling speculation that Cabrera could be on the block. GM Chris Antonetti has said a few times that the Indians are not shopping Cabrera and expect him to be the club’s Opening Day shortstop.
  • Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher has garnered interest from Texas, Seattle and three other teams so far. The Indians might have interest, especially if Choo is on the block.
  • Outfielder Grady Sizemore, coming off a variety of health woes and with zero games logged in 2012, hopes to play in 2013. According to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, the Red Sox have checked in on Sizemore. The Indians have not ruled out bringing Sizemore back, but it would likely need to be on a Minor League contract.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians land Lars Anderson

The Indians made a minor move on Tuesday, reeling in Minor League first baseman Lars Anderson from the Red Sox. Cleveland sent Double-A Akron knuckleballer Steven Wright to Boston to complete the deal.

Anderson, 24, has spent the bulk of this season with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .259 with nine home runs, 22 doubles and 52 RBIs in 93 games. Along the way, he has posted a .359 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage.

In parts of three seasons with Boston, the left-hitting Anderson has gone 8-for-48 (.167) in 30 games. This season, Anderson went just 1-for-8 (.125) in a brief six-game stint with the Red Sox between April and May.

Anderson has spent most of his playing career at first base, but has experience in the outfield as well.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians in holding pattern

The Indians aren’t necessarily waiting until the Trade Deadline’s arrival to make a move, that’s just the way things appear to be going. If the right trade proposal was in hand, Cleveland wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

“If we had the right deal, we would move on that deal,” Indians general Chris Antonetti said on Friday. “There’s nothing keeping us from doing it. We don’t have to wait for the Deadline.

“But, it has to b the right deal that makes the right sense, and I don’t necessarily see that happening in the short term.”

The clock is ticking and Cleveland still has needs in the rotation, lineup and bullpen. While Antonetti has said no singular area is a higher priority than another, the main issues this year have been a lack of consistent starting pitching and an impact right-handed bat.

The Tribe prefers to target players under control beyond 2012.

One player that fits that mold is San Diego’s switch-hitting third baseman, Chase Headley. He won’t become eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season, making him the type of player Cleveland likes. The Tribe has indeed inquired about Headley, but the asking price is expensive.

ESPN.com reported that the Orioles, A’s and Pirates are also among Headley’s most aggressive suitors.

In the selling department, the Indians have attractive chips in closer Chris Perez (whose salary will spike through arbitration this winter) and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (likely headed for free agency after next season). As things currently stand, Cleveland seems unlikely to deal either player.

It’s not always about aggressively buying or selling, though. There is a chance that Cleveland might partner up with another “buyer” to try to orchestrate a trade that addresses needs for both teams.

“You can try to re-position yourselves,” Antonetti said. “There may be opportunities in this market where two buyers potentially line up to address other needs, because there aren’t enough sellers for the buyers that are out there.

“It could spur teams to be more creative and potentially trade from an area of depth or perceived depth to address another need.”

–Jordan Bastian

Indians targeting Garland?

The Indians are “working on” a deal with free-agent right-hander Jon Garland, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports via Twitter.

Garland, 32, underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in July and missed the remainder of the 2011 season. His recovery time was projected to be at least six months. The Dodgers declined an $8 million 2012 club option to retain Garland, opting instead to pay a buyout of $500,000 and sending the pitcher into the free-agent pool.

Targeting Garland as a low-risk addition makes sense for Cleveland, which enters 2012 with a few rotation questions. As things currently stand, the four pitchers virtually locked in for jobs are Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff will compete for the fifth spot this spring.

The pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona (his real name is believed to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia) is currently dealing with legal and visa problems in the Dominican Republic. Carmona is on MLB’s restricted list and it is unclear when or if he will be able to rejoin the Indians this summer.

Garland has spent parts of 12 seasons in the Majors with the White Sox, Angels, D-backs, Padres and Dodgers. He has won at least 12 games seven times and twice won 18 games in a season. Overall, the righty has gone 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA across 353 games in the big leagues. Garland was 1-5 with a 4.33 in nine outings last year before the shoulder injury sent him to the disabled list.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians’ deal with Lugo is off

The Indians reached an agreement on a Minor League contract with veteran infielder Julio Lugo more than  a week ago, but MLB.com has learned that the proposed deal is no longer expected to come to fruition.

Lugo, 36, was going to receive an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club with a shot at competing for a bench job. His chances of making the Opening Day roster appeared thin, and now he will re-enter the free-agent pool.

In parts of 12 Major League seasons — including stops with the Astros, Rays, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles and Braves — Lugo has hit .269 over 1,352 career games. Last year, he signed a Minor League contract with Atlanta in May, but was ultimately released in September.

Lugo hit .231 (12-for-52) in 13 games for Triple-A Gwinnett and .136 (6-for-44) in 22 games with the Braves during the 2011 season. The  infielder hits right-handed and has experience at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield.

Right now, the Indians have 20 non-roster invitees in the fold for this spring.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians interested in Pena, Kotchman

It has been well-documented throughout this winter that the Indians have checked in on just about every available first baseman not named Prince Fielder. As spring approaches, two names high on Cleveland’s list are Carlos Pena and Casey Kotchman.

On Thursday, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Indians GM Chris Antonetti has approached ownership about potentially providing the necessary funds to afford the likes of Pena. The Scott Boras client is a coming off a season in which he slugged 28 homers and it is believed that he is seeking a multi-year deal.

The more realistic option might be Kotchman, who could improve the Tribe’s average, on-base percentage and strikeout rate. A year ago, the Indians whiffed 1,269 times, marking the most in team history and the fourth-highest total in American League history. Kotchman hit .306 with 66 strikeouts in 500 at-bats last season, while Pena hit .225 with 161 strikeouts in 493 ABs.

With only 10 homers a year ago, though, Kotchman obviously does not boast Pena’s power potential.

Pena netted a one-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last offseason after hitting  .196/.325/.407 with 28 homers and 84 RBIs in 2010 with Tampa Bay. This past season with Chicago, he improved in batting average, OBP (.357) and SLG (.462), while offering his typically sound defense.

Another consideration is Cleveland’s current situation at first base. Regular catcher Carlos Santana (a switch hitter) figures to see some playing time at first — most likely against left-handed pitching. While the general thought has been that the Indians could benefit from a power-hitting, right-handed first baseman (to replace a struggling Matt LaPorta), Cleveland’s decision-makers believe a lefty-hitting first baseman such as Pena or Kotchman might make more sense.

On days when Santana does not start behind the plate, the Indians project to feature catcher Lou Marson, who hit .297 against left-handed pitching last year. So having Santana (1B) and Marson (C) in against a left-hander and a lefty-hitting first baseman paired with Santana (C) against right-handers is something the Tribe is evaluating.

One unanswered question is whether Pena or Kotchman would be willing to accept that kind of playing time situation. It seems more likely that Kotchman — coming off a year in which he earned $750,000 after signing a Minor League contract with the Rays — would be open to a platoon-like scenario. Kotchman is also more affordable for an Indians team that does not have much financial flexibility.

If the Indians do not add a first baseman before Opening Day, the team’s top  internal candidates currently consist of LaPorta (who has a Minor League option remaining) and Shelley Duncan (who is out of options).

–Jordan Bastian

Indians still trying for Beltran

Back in July, the Indians expressed interest in acquiring outfielder Carlos Beltran from the Mets before the Trade Deadline. MLB.com has confirmed multiple reports indicating that Cleveland is now showing interest in signing Beltran as a free agent.

According to various reports, the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays, and possibly at least one other club, are also in on Beltran at the moment. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the field has since narrowed to St. Louis, Toronto and Cleveland.

The Indians are known to be searching for offensive help, but their sudden inclusion in the Beltran race is a bit surprising. For starters, Beltran blocked the process last July when he would reportedly only accept a trade to the Giants or Phillies. The interest between Cleveland and Beltran was not mutual on the surface.

Since then, however, Beltran has switched agents. He is now represented by Dan Lozano after previously having Scott Boras as his agent.

While Beltran would be an upgrade for Cleveland — a team in need of an offensive boost — theclub’s outfield is already crowded with Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan in the mix. The Indians’ financial situation is also such that the team might have to shed some payroll space in order to take on the cost of adding Beltran.

Nothing has changed behind the scenes for the Indians in regard to their financial limitations.

It is believed that Beltran is seeking at least a two- or three-year deal worth around $12-13 million annually — possibly more. Up to this point this winter, it has been clear that adding something in the range of $7-10 million would be difficult for the Indians to do without also freeing up some salary space.

The Indians had early talks with free-agent outfielder Josh Willingham, for example, on a two-year deal in the $14-16 million range. Had Cleveland taken on his contract, the Indians might have needed a subsequent trade to free up some cash. Willingham went on to sign a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins.

Cleveland could backload a contract for Beltran, considering a number of contracts will come off the books after the 2012 season (Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe). Even so, the Tribe might be forced to shift some things around a little in order to make it work for this year.

Beltran could play left field — Sizemore was re-signed for center — which would seemingly push Brantley into a fourth outfielder role. Brantley has also expressed a willingness to help out at first base, if needed. First base is currently Cleveland’s primary position of concern.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians in talks with Cameron, LaRoche

MLB.com can confirm a Cleveland Plain Dealer report indicating that the Indians are in talks with free-agent outfielder Mike Cameron and free-agent infielder Andy LaRoche. Both players would be brought into the fold on Minor League contracts that include non-roster invites to attend Spring Training with the big league club.

Cameron, 38, hit just .203 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 78 games between stints with the Red Sox and Marlins in 2011. He would presumably come into camp with a shot at winning a bench job. His value for Cleveland is as a right-handed bat and a backup for center fielder Grady Sizemore.

As things currently stand, the Indians project to have three left-handed-hitting outfielders (Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo and Sizemore) in the lineup. In all, Cleveland’s starting nine projects to have six lefties and two switch hitters under the current roster composition.

LaRoche, 28, is also a right-handed hitter, and he has enough versatility to handle multiple positions on the field. He hit .247 in 40 games with the A’s last year. LaRoche is a third baseman by trade, but he also has some experience at first base, second base, shortstop and left field.

On Friday, the Indians added infielder Jose Lopez and outfielder Felix Pie on Minor League deals as well. Cleveland also acquired right-handed-hitting outfielder Aaron Cunningham in a trade with the Padres. Cunningham, 25, might have a leg up on the fourth outfielder’s role considering he is out of Minor League options.

The Indians remain in the market for a right-handed power bat — preferably at first base. The trade route is looking increasingly more likely than free agency.

–Jordan Bastian

Indians adding Pie to outfield mix?

The Indians have agreed on a Minor League contract with outfielder Felix Pie, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. The deal, which would include a non-roster invite to big league camp, could be worth $1 million in salary and performance bonuses.

Pie, 26, would provide Cleveland with some depth and insurance for an outfield that was beset with injuries a year ago. As things stand right now, the Indians’ outfield consists of Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo. All three suffered a variety of health woes in 2011.

According to the Sun’s report, Pie would have the option to opt out of his contract if he wasn’t on the Indians’ Opening Day roster.

Beyond looking for added depth, Cleveland remains on the hunt for some offensive help. Finding a right-handed hitter with some power — for either first base or the outfield — remains a priority. The Indians continue to check in with free-agent outfielder Josh Willingham, who has narrowed his list of suitors.

Willingham’s list might be down to the Twins or Indians, though Cleveland had not tabled an official offer as of late Saturday night. The outfielder is believed to be seeking three years and his situation might hinge on the pending decision of free-agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer. If Cuddyer re-signs with Minnesota, Willingham-to-Cleveland talks could gain steam.

–Jordan Bastian

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