NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Until the Indians reel in a big free-agent fish, the club's seemingly constant runner-up finish in contract negotiations will continue to provide punch lines for a fan base hungry for a contender. The front office brushes the criticism aside with the knowledge that it has been aggressive.
The cycle of missed chances came up again on Tuesday.
Word spread swiftly through the halls of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center that Cleveland was pacing the pack chasing free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino. Manager Terry Francona made a personal plea earlier this offseason and the Tribe made a substantial offer at these Winter Meetings. Once again, though, the Indians came in second when Victorino penned his name on a pact with the Red Sox.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti did what he could from his side of the table, where he tried to persuade Victorino's camp with money, multiple years and a vision of a ballclub filled with young, emerging talent. Antonetti offers a message of optimism when trying to sell free agents on the idea of suiting up in Cleveland.
"It's the same thing that we shared with you guys at the end of the season," Antonetti said. "We have a very talented nucleus of young players around which to build. I think we feel that, if we can complement that group with the right players moving forward, we have a chance to be a very good team."
The Indians -- whose financial limitations are no secret -- offered the 32-year-old Victorino a four-year contract worth more than $40 million. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com and MLB Network pegged the exact figure at $44 million. In a bloated marked for outfielders, it was an aggressive push for a veteran player and potential clubhouse leader.
In the end, however, Victorino agreed to a three-year deal with Boston that reportedly will pay him $39 million. In Cleveland, the switch-hitter could have led off and played center or left field. With the Red Sox, he is projected to be the starting right fielder in a bigger market, playing for a team with a bigger payroll and a more recent history of contending.
Despite Cleveland's 94 losses a year ago, and the still unanswered pitching problems, Antonetti believes more than most outsiders that his ballclub is closer to rebounding. The GM was quick to note that making three- or four-year offers to free agents was not linked to a window for perceived contention. That said, it is clear he feels there is a solid foundation in place.
"I wouldn't want to put any time frames on it and say how many years," Antonetti said. "We have a very talented group of players. Now, again, we need to build around that and complement them and then go to Spring Training and get our work done and play games. Ultimately, that will determine how competitive we are."
Antonetti also has maintained an aggressive approach on the trade front.
With few star shortstops on the market, Asdrubal Cabrera continues to draw interest from teams. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that Cleveland and Arizona had discussed a four-team trade -- described as "dormant" for the time being -- that would send Cabrera to the D-backs. The Tribe has reportedly shown interest in young Arizona pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Trevor Bauer.
Cleveland is seeking three or four players -- with pitching prospects a priority -- in any deal for Cabrera.
Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com reported that the Indians also were one of a handful of teams who have inquired about D-backs outfielder Justin Upton. If anything, the combination of rumors and reports show that the Tribe -- a team also willing to listen to trade offers for Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez and Justin Masterson -- is pursuing all available avenues to reshape its roster.
Missing out on Victorino, though, was just the latest example of Cleveland coming up short in free-agent talks.
The most notable misfire last winter involved left fielder Josh Willingham, who took a three-year deal with the Twins after the Tribe offered a two-year contract. Cleveland also missed on first baseman Carlos Pena and outfielder Carlos Beltran despite strong pushes last offseason. This year, Melky Cabrera, James Loney and Victorino -- each on the Tribe's radar -- agreed to go elsewhere.
Cleveland remains in the mix for free agent Kevin Youkilis, and the club has reportedly shown interest in Mark Reynolds in an effort to fill a hole at first base. Youkilis has also been linked to the Yankees and White Sox, while Reynolds has several suitors. For left field, the Indians remain in the hunt for Jason Bay, despite a premature report on Tuesday claiming he was nearing a deal with Seattle.
With Victorino shipping up to Boston, free-agent outfielders Nick Swisher and Cody Ross also might draw interest from the Indians.
Antonetti is doing what he can to address his team's multiple needs.
"We're further along in conversations than we were [Monday] on a number of fronts," he said.
Francona is trying to do his part, too.
"It's made a huge impact," Antonetti said of having Francona assisting in the recruiting process. "Every agent who we've talked to, where Terry has talked to their client, has come back and said how impressed their clients were not only with the conversation, and how fired up they'd be to play for Terry, but his reputation in the game and the reputation about the environment he creates for players to play.
"That has certainly been a very positive dynamic in our conversations with agents."
The Indians are hoping that all of the talk finally develops into some fruitful transactions.