Since it's pretty much a given that the Indians are done playing meaningful games this year, it's time to start thinking of their offseason moves. The 2004/2005 offseason probably is going to be the busiest since at least 2000, when the Indians lost Manny Ramirez and signed Ellis Burks and Juan Gonzalez, among other moves. Last season, the "major" move in retrospect ended up being the signing of Ronnie Belliard, along with the lowlights of the Scott Stewart (or shall I say the Ryan Church) trade and the Jose Jimenez signing.
I'll try to play along with the front office in guessing which players they are targeting in trades or free agency, which players they are looking to move, and which players won't be brought back. After the season, the organization sits down somewhere and makes some kind of "war plan" for that offseason. And that starts with internal player evaluations. Guys like Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez are going to be evaluated, but the real meat of the evaluations come down to fringe players like Ben Broussard or Coco Crisp or Casey Blake, who for one reason or the other may be expendable or tradable in order to bring in something the team needs. This is where the GM and his staff earns their money; they need to project these players using scouting and/or statistical methods (the Indians use both) and determine whether they will (a) be a good fit in the projected 2005 roster and (b) be worth their 2005 salary. In Blake's case, for example, there's a good possibility that he'll be eligible for arbitration, and if he is, he'll get a big raise from what he made this season. I'll get to all these issues as I review each player on the 40-man roster right after the season ends.
After determining where all the internal players fit in the 2005 scheme, things shift to external players, ie free agents and trades. If the organization sees a "hole" in the projected roster, they'll identify several players that would fit that hole, regardless of cost. For example, let's say they are looking for a veteran starter, and they say that Pedro Martinez, Brad Radke, and Odalis Perez are all capable of filling this role. Of course, then you have to look at economic feasibility, or how much that player is going to cost. This probably takes Pedro off the table. Then you take the remaining players and rank them as far as ability is concerned using scouting/statistical methods. I'll try to do this as well, and we'll see how close I get to what the front office eventually does. The trade option is also a distinct possibility, which makes a lot of sense for the Indians, who have the minor-league talent to deal and the ability to take on a contract. Given Shapiro's flexibility doctrine, a player who has one or two years left on his deal might be a better option than to sign a similar player to a longer contract on the free agent market.
Just to whet your appetite, here's an interesting article from a couple days ago. In it are some pretty interesting revelations as to where Shapiro thinks the best value will be on the free agent market.
In looking to manage the roster, Shapiro sounded certain about where its No. 1 weakness is: pitching that is Major League ready. The need for pitching is in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, and Shapiro did more than hint that the Indians will be looking to fill those needs either in trades or in free-agent signings after the season. Shapiro said the free-agent pool would probably yield more help for the rotation than for the bullpen. So he might have to use a strong-arm guy like Jason Davis or top prospects like Jeremy Guthrie and Andrew Brown in relief instead of as starters.
Judging by this remark, it looks like the main object in the free agent period is to go after a starter. This season, there's a lot of pretty decent starting pitching available, including Matt Morris, Carl Pavano, Kevin Millwood, Brad Radke, Matt Clement, and Kris Benson, among others. While I doubt very seriously the Indians are going to stand pat with their bullpen, the biggest improvement to the team should be made to the rotation first and foremost. This then should create a chain reaction with a guy like Jason Davis or Jeremy Guthrie, who are being tried in relief in September. If you can turn Davis into a quality setup pitcher or even a closer, you don't have to go out and pay top dollar for two holes (a starter and a reliever).
This is all preliminary speculation, but given what the team did in the past two offseason, it's pretty nice to (realistically) speculate as to which proven starting pitcher the Indians are going to target in November.