CLEVELAND -- The Indians are currently dealing with a balancing act: finding ways to fill their needs for next season while keeping an eye on the club's long-term plan. It is a situation that has made trades an ideal way to address various issues.
Every team tries to deal from an area of strength. For Cleveland, its bullpen -- filled with young, controllable arms -- has been a bright spot over the past few seasons. It has also been an area the team has drawn from during trade discussions.
That has remained the case this offseason. The Indians dealt hard-throwing right-hander Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays last week in order to acquire infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes. There will surely be other relievers on the block, with All-Star closer Chris Perez serving as arguably the team's top trading chip.
"That's a business decision that they're going to have to make," Perez said at the end of this past season. "I think whatever they decide to do is definitely going to tell you which way the team is going, one way or the other."
The Indians are coming off a 94-loss season, so the organization needs to be willing to at least listen to offers on its players. There are reports swirling that teams have already started to inquire about shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, starter Justin Masterson and Perez.
Cleveland might not be shopping its players, but the club is fielding phone calls.
There are obvious holes at first base, left field and designated hitter, as well as in the rotation. In the upper level of the Minor Leagues, the Indians lack the kind of impact prospects a developing organization needs. Under the circumstances, the club is not limiting its approach to this offseason.
"It goes for every player on our roster, and every player in our organization," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said recently. "We have to be open minded and at least engage in the dialogue to at least understand how other teams value our players."
Every winter, there is more talk between GMs that leads to nothing than discussion that results in a completed deal. That said, Cleveland has shown recently -- by dealing a handful of Minor League relief prospects last winter and shipping Rogers to Toronto this year -- that it is willing to dip into its bullpen to swing a trade.
Of the arms currently in the fold, Perez and sidearmer Joe Smith, who are both eligible for arbitration this winter, appear to be the top trade commodities. Perez, 27, saved 39 games last season and could make upwards of $7 million through arbitration this winter. Smith, 28, is coming off his second strong season in a row and could earn $2.5 million or more through arbitration.
Perez is under control for two more years, while Smith can hit free agency next winter.
"You might get a bag of balls for me, so I'll still be here," Smith quipped at the end of the season. "But a guy like C.P., yeah, there's no doubt [he could be traded]. There's been talk about it. Obviously, we'd love to have C.P. back, because that just makes us that much deeper with him and Vinnie [Pestano] in the eighth and ninth inning.
"But, if they feel they can get some pieces for [Perez] and help this team, and take a chance with Vinnie as the closer, then we'll just see where it goes."
Cleveand has to really weigh whether it wants to break up the back-end formula, though.
Despite the 94 losses, the Tribe ended the season with a 24-12 record in one-run games, marking the second-best winning percentage in the American League (behind Baltimore). Cleveland went 20-7 in games in which Smith, Pestano and Perez each appeared, and posted a 38-8 record in games that featured both Pestano and Perez.
Combined, the threesome of Smith, Pestano and Perez posted a 3.01 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP and a 2.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season. The rest of the bullpen combined for a 4.56 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 2.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Parting with either Perez or Smith could strike a big blow to Cleveland's relief corps.
"It's part of the game," Pestano said with a shrug. "I think that's our strength. If there was a situation where those guys weren't with us anymore, we'd have to get significant pieces for those guys to fill that gap. I think we've got very capable arms down there to handle a situation like that, but we're definitely at our best with those two guys."
The Indians were seemingly in good shape for such a transition with Rogers in the fold. He blossomed into a reliable late-inning arm after being acquired in a mid-season deal with the Rockies, and looked to have potential as a setup man. If Cleveland traded Perez, allowing Pestano to assume the closer role, Rogers could have shifted to the eighth inning. That possibility is now off the table after the trade.
Behind Pestano and Smith, Cleveland has some young arms in Cody Allen, Scott Barnes and Nick Hagadone, and a few experienced relievers in Tony Sipp, Rafael Perez and Frank Herrmann. There is a lot of risk tied up within that group, and the uncertainty only increases when considering the Minor League relievers who could be thrown into the fire next year.
Such risk could convince Cleveland to keep its late-inning combination intact.
If a roster overhaul is in the works, however, anything is possible.
"I kind of find it hard to see them keeping me here and then trading other people," Perez said. "But you never know. ... My job in the offseason is just to get ready for a baseball season. Right now, it's to prepare for Cleveland. But at the same time, it doesn't matter where I play. I just have to get ready."