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Inbox: Is Tribe in on Ohtani sweepstakes?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
MLB.com @MLBastian

How hard do you expect the Indians to pursue Shohei Ohtani? Do they even have the space to give him plate appearances?
-- Derek, Akron, Ohio

Yes, the Indians have interest in Japanese two-way star Ohtani, as they should. Really, given the guidelines for the bidding process for Ohtani, all 30 teams have nothing to lose by making their pitch. Cleveland has little available to offer for a signing bonus, but it has a postseason-ready roster to present as a reason to consider the Tribe.

How hard do you expect the Indians to pursue Shohei Ohtani? Do they even have the space to give him plate appearances?
-- Derek, Akron, Ohio

Yes, the Indians have interest in Japanese two-way star Ohtani, as they should. Really, given the guidelines for the bidding process for Ohtani, all 30 teams have nothing to lose by making their pitch. Cleveland has little available to offer for a signing bonus, but it has a postseason-ready roster to present as a reason to consider the Tribe.

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Now, just so we're clear, the Indians are not considered a favorite to land Ohtani, whose reported priorities are to have the opportunity to pitch and hit in the Majors, while also considering teams' locations and market dynamics. Cleveland is hardly a large market, but look no further than LeBron James for an athlete who has transcended the city's market size for global superstardom.

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The reality, though, is that the Indians can only offer a maximum of $10,000 in the way of a signing bonus, while the Rangers ($3,535,000), Yankees ($3.5 million) and Twins ($3,245,000) can offer the most. Cleveland spent the entirety of its $5.75-million pool for international signings for the year. Its top two signings were shortstop Aaron Bracho ($1.5 million bonus) of Venezuela and outfielder George Valera ($1.3 million) of the Dominican Republic. They currently rank 28th and 25th, respectively, among the Indians' Top 30 prospects, per MLBPipeline.com.

Because Ohtani is 23 years old, he is still subject to more strict international signing rules. He is limited to signing a Minor League contract that includes a signing bonus, and would earn the minimum (around $545,000 in 2018) in the Majors. He would not be eligible for arbitration until 2020, though a team would have the ability to sign him to an extension. Had Ohtani waited to be posted after turning 25, he would have faced no restrictions. So, his arrival now shows that his desire to play in the Majors is not solely about the money at the moment.

During negotations with free agents, the Indians will sometimes send "pitch books" to some of their targets to provide information about the team, city and other aspects. In Ohtani's case, his representatives sent a questionnaire to all 30 clubs to address what he is looking for in a team. You can bet the Indians made their pitch.

Cleveland already boasts a strong rotation -- headed by two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber -- but the team would have room for Ohtani. As for hitting, Cleveland is looking for a first baseman and could also offer at-bats at designated hitter or corner outfield. Finding innings or at-bats for Ohtani would not be a problem for the Indians, and it's no secret how much manager Terry Francona loves versatility in his players.

All of that said, Ohtani coming to Cleveland is a long shot. According to multiple reports, the Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers look like the front-runners right now.

Tweet from @patrick_cbus: What pitcher is likely to be traded and does meritt have a chance in the rotation? Patrick -columbus. #indiansInbox

Heading into the 2018 season with Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin gives the Indians a strong foundation for the rotation. Behind them, guys like Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando and Cody Anderson (coming back from Tommy John surgery) offer some potential depth. I could see the Indians exploring the market for Salazar, given his recent history of injury, increasing salary, years of control and his still-intriguing potential. There are plenty of teams that would roll the dice on Salazar. As for Merritt, it's hard to see him cracking the rotation as it's currently consistuted. But, with the lefty having no Minor League options left, he could compete for a spot in the bullpen. That will be something to watch this spring, for sure.

Video: CLE@NYY: Merritt K's Judge to start the frame

Tweet from @Sleepy453: What���s the chance the Indians resign Napoli to a $8-$9 million deal and let Santana walk? Tim M/Sandusky, Oh #IndiansInbox

We all know how fond Francona is of Napoli, and how important he was to the 2016 Tribe, but it's hard to imagine that kind of reunion, in my opinion. True, the first baseman hit 29 homers last year, but he posted a .193/.285/.428 slash line with a career-high 33.6 strikeout percentage. Napoli posted an 81 weighted Runs Created Plus, which indicates that he was 19 percent below league average offensively. Cleveland squeezed all that could out of Napoli in '16 and it was a memorable season for the slugger. But, I don't think he'd present an upgrade over what the Indians could do at first base internally.

Video: TEX@ATL: Napoli launches a two-run home run to left

Tweet from @DreamingBasebll: Which Indians' prospect who has yet to make his major league debut do you think has the best chance to make an impact for the team in 2018? #IndiansInbox

That's an interesting way to frame the question. If we included players who have already made their MLB debut, I'd say catcher Francisco Mejia. I could see him playing some kind of role for the Indians by midseason or in the second half. Since you added that wrinkle, though, I'll go with pitcher Julian Merryweather (Cleveland's No. 12 prospect). The righty was recently added to the 40-man roster, and prospects on the roster typically will get a look first. Merryweather had a rough go in Triple-A last year, but he is starting to emerge as a depth arm behind the big league pitching staff.

Tweet from @BrianLavrich: Who would you put on your Hall of Fame ballot and why? #IndiansInbox

For the record, I am not eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame, yet. But, if I could vote this year, I would check the boxes for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome and Larry Walker. I'll save the "why" for a post later this offseason.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

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