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Tribe must juggle key FAs, payroll at Meetings

Indians hoping to bring back impact bats like Bruce, Santana
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A year ago, there were whispers throughout the Winter Meetings that the Indians were an unexpected contender to sign free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The reports proved to be more than mere rumblings, as Cleveland did indeed go on to reel in its blockbuster target.

That helped set the stage for a memorable 2017 season for the Tribe, though it ultimately fell short of the club's World Series aspirations. Now that the Indians' brass has arrived in Florida on Sunday for this year's Winter Meetings, expect more whispers about how the reigning American League Central champions are trying to strengthen their roster.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A year ago, there were whispers throughout the Winter Meetings that the Indians were an unexpected contender to sign free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The reports proved to be more than mere rumblings, as Cleveland did indeed go on to reel in its blockbuster target.

That helped set the stage for a memorable 2017 season for the Tribe, though it ultimately fell short of the club's World Series aspirations. Now that the Indians' brass has arrived in Florida on Sunday for this year's Winter Meetings, expect more whispers about how the reigning American League Central champions are trying to strengthen their roster.

Over the next few days, Cleveland's top decision-makers will have internal meetings, league gatherings and also a chance to meet with rival teams and agents to discuss potential trades and free-agent signings. The Indians have won two straight AL Central crowns, collected 102 victories this past season -- including an AL-record 22 in a row -- and were in the Fall Classic just two seasons ago. The franchise wants to keep that momentum going.

The Indians have a handful of key players who are testing free agency. First baseman Carlos Santana and right fielder Jay Bruce, along with relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, are among the team's free agents. Outfielder Austin Jackson, who played a key role last year on a one-year deal, is also on the open market. Each player would still fit with the Tribe, but bringing them all back looks unrealistic.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Indians' early winter moves included picking up the club options for outfielder Michael Brantley ($12 million) and pitcher Josh Tomlin ($3 million). It has been a quiet offseason for the Tribe since those decisions, but talks could gain steam this week.

Barring a trade to free up some salary, Cleveland does not appear to have as much financial wiggle room as a year ago. As things stand, the Indians' 2018 payroll projects to be in the neighborhood of $125 million, even before any Major League additions. Given the versatility of a few players already in the fold, the Indians could target a corner outfielder or corner infielders in order to add offense. Bullpen help is also on the team's to-do list.

The annual Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET on Thursday, but the Indians' 40-man roster is currently at capacity. If Cleveland wanted to make a pick in the Draft, it would need to vacate a spot on the roster.

Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, and general manager Mike Chernoff will hold daily sit-downs with local reporters to discuss the team's situation and offseason progress. Manager Terry Francona, who missed the Meetings last year, is scheduled to sit down for an interview session from 2:30-3 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Keep checking Indians.com throughout the Winter Meetings for the latest on the Tribe, and head to MLB.com for baseball's biggest headlines over the next several days.

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.

Cleveland Indians