With Matt Clement officially off the table, Mark Shapiro now has a decision to make. Right now there's probably two pitchers (Perez and Lowe) left who's worthy of a 3-year deal, two (Millwood and Milton) who are worthy of two-year deals, and the rest (Loaiza, Hernandez, Estes, Lima, etc) probably isn't worth anything more than $3M. Going into the offseason, the #1 priority was getting a starting pitcher, but events have taken place that may force the Indians to forego a starter in favor of upgrading the team in other aspects. Is paying Eric Milton $21M really going to fix a hole in the rotation? What about paying Odalis Perez $18M? There comes a time where the cure is worse than the disease, and that time is rapidly approaching.
So now Shapiro has around $8M to spend, and no good starter to spend it on. Here's his realistic options, given that Ronnie Belliard's contract would be part of that $8M:
(1) Offer Belliard arbitration ($3M), sign Kevin Millwood ($5M)
Wouldn't be a horrible turn of events, but this is nothing I'm going to get excited about. Belliard probably won't be nearly as valuable as he was in 2004, but it's reasonable for him to put a 260/330/400 while playing unspectacular defense. Kevin Millwood, back on the market a year after not getting a contract offer to his (or his agent's) liking, is probably looking for a multi-year deal. Given the pitching market, 2 years/$10M looks like a fair offer. I think Millwood is a better pitcher than Milton, and should cost less. He's not nearly the caliber of pitcher Matt Clement was, but there's no one left on the market that good.
(2) Non-tender Belliard, sign Placido Polanco ($5M), sign Orlando Hernandez ($3M)
I like this option a little more than the previous one. When healthy, El Duque's a pretty decent pitcher, and I think he'll only be getting a one-year deal. I talked about Polanco previously; he'd be a perfect fit for this team, solidifing the infield defense and providing a bit of an upgrade on offense. I'd even consider offering him a three-year contract; I think he's that good. Granted, these aren't signings that would invigorate the fanbase, but they're smart signings.
(3) Non-tender Belliard, sign Eric Milton ($7M), sign Stopgap 2B ($1M)
I mentioned smart signings in option #2, and this option isn't one. Milton is a below-average pitcher who is extremely overrated. Look at his career statistics and tell me if he's worth $7M a season. What would be even worse about signing Milton is that you downgrade second base. Yes, Belliard only cost $1M last year, but that doesn't guarentee this stopgap would exceed expectations to the extent Belliard did. This would be a horrible turn of events.
(4) Non-tender Belliard, sign Odalis Perez ($6M), sign Miguel Cairo ($2M)
Slightly more palatable than Milton/Stopgap, but still not a good move. Cairo has been pretty much a part-timer the last couple seasons, so who knows what the Indians will be getting if they give him 450 at-bats. He's an OK fielder, and his bat is worse than Belliard's.
(5) Non-tender Belliard, sign Magglio Ordonez ($5-8M)
The only bad thing about this is that it would force Casey Blake to second base, something I don't like. If Magglio's knee is healthy (and yes, that's a huge if), he's a tremendous player, as most of you know all too well. He's a good defender in right field, has a good arm, and is one of the best hitters in baseball. Problem is, he's represented by Scott Boras, and hasn't gotten a physical from anyone so far. If he's healthy, I would even forego getting a pitcher and give him the entire $8M.
(6) Non-tender Belliard, sign Moises Alou ($5M), sign Placido Polanco ($5M), trade Blake
This is getting real creative, and there's no way this is happening. But as long as I'm dreaming up options, I'll add this one. Alou, while definitely in his decline phase, would be a nice bat to add to the lineup. Blake is probably tradable even if the Indians offer him arbitration. The issue is getting a starter in return for him. Again, this is pipe-dreaming, but who knows?
There's a lot of other options, but most of them are variations on previous themes. If I had to pick one of them, #2 would probably be the best, mainly because I really like Polanco.