LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians have not needed the podium at the Winter Meetings for several years. In recent history, the annual event has served as a forum for building a foundation for transactions deeper into baseball's offseason. That continued this year at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
"These meetings, everybody's in one place," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "So everybody expects everything's going to happen. That's not always the case. Sometimes it is, but sometimes you build some beginnings of things that maybe it happens now, maybe it happens later."
Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, and general manager Mike Chernoff might have something up their sleeves, but they have yet to tip their hand. The club is looking at external options for first base after Carlos Santana reportedly agreed on a three-year deal with the Phillies. Free agents Logan Morrison and Matt Adams, for example, have been linked to the Tribe in reports.
While there was plenty of discussion behind the scenes with agents and rival clubs, the only Major League move for the Indians was a trade that sent reliever Shawn Armstrong to the Mariners in exchange for $500,000 in international bonus pool money. Cleveland also signed utility man Michael Martinez to a Minor League deal with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, and reached the same type of agreement with righty Alexi Ogando.
Francona outlined the Tribe's two primary needs during his interview session with reporters on Wednesday. The manager noted that Cleveland would like to try to sign a first baseman. He added that the Indians will try to add to their bullpen, especially after free agents Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith reached multi-year pacts with the Rockies and Astros, respectively.
"We're not done," Francona said matter-of-factly.
Potentially working against the Indians is the fact that their payroll already projects to be around $125 million, even before any external additions. That situation lends itself to trade rumors, and there have been reports that the Mets -- in need of a second baseman -- have inquired about Jason Kipnis (set to earn $13.7 million in 2018).
Kipnis is part of a complicated roster puzzle that the Indians need to solve. He could return to second base, pushing Jose Ramirez back to third, or Kipnis could play the outfield, where he finished the '17 campaign. If Cleveland keeps Kipnis and prefers him in the outfield, that could have an impact on left fielder Michael Brantley. Third baseman Yandy Diaz and corner outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall may also be affected by the position shuffling.
"We don't know until we fill out our roster," Francona said. "And then we'll kind of figure out where we are best suited. Are we best suited keeping Jose at second, put him back at third? Put [Kipnis] at second? Those are things we will answer. We haven't answered yet. It's nice to know you have some flexibility."
Cleveland will continue those internal discussions in the coming days and weeks, and will also use the information gathered during the Winter Meetings to narrow down its trade and free-agent targets. The Tribe's decision-makers never feel pressure to prematurely pull the trigger on a move because of the national spotlight on the Meetings.
"We don't need to be in a room with another team to make a trade," Antonetti said. "We have relationships with our peers and front offices across the game, so we can all make decisions with phones or via text like we do for the other 358 days of the year when we're not together."
The Indians have a vacancy on their 40-man roster, but chose to pass on making a selection in the Rule 5 Draft. In this year's Draft, Cleveland lost right-hander Jordan Milbrath to the Pirates. In 56 2/3 innings between Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron last season, Milbrath had a 3.02 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 25 walks.
The bottom line
"We've had a lot of dialogue with a lot of teams and a lot of different concepts while we've been here. You're hopeful that eventually leads to a trade that makes sense for us. But, we also know that for every 100 of these conversations we have, we're only likely to get one or two done." -- Antonetti