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Tribe seeks late-inning experience in bullpen

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Indians have internal options for their vacant closer job in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, but manager Terry Francona is not sure he wants to move the relievers out of the roles they filled for the team last season.

"We're going to have to see how the winter plays out," Francona said on Wednesday. "Then, we'll get them aligned."

The Indians have expressed interest in free-agent closers such as Grant Balfour, John Axford and Fernando Rodney, and had an offer out to Edward Mujica, who signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox. During a meeting with reporters on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, Francona made it sound as though he would prefer to solve the closer role with an external addition.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has maintained all winter that the club believes Allen or Shaw could fill the ninth-inning job, if necessary. While Francona echoed that confidence, the manager expressed how much he likes having the pair of right-handers in setup roles.

"I think [Allen] could handle it with very little hiccups," Francona said. "Saying that, I'm not sure that that puts our ballclub in the best position to win. At an early age, we used him in so many high-leverage situations. From the sixth inning on, bases loaded, snuff out a rally, we basically went to Cody. Right- or left-handed didn't matter. He was so good at it, and I would think he'll only continue to get better. It's hard to lose that guy.

"That one guy can make your whole bullpen so much better. So many times you get a save situation, it could be a three-run game with nobody on and the game's already been lost int he seventh or eighth. Same thing [with Shaw]. He could do it in the ninth, no doubt. But, what he does earlier is valuable."

Allen posted a 2.43 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings as a rookie last season, and Shaw had a 3.24 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 75 innings of work.

The Indians had four arms from last season's bullpen -- Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Rick Hill -- hit free agency this offseason, creating a heap of uncertainty. Cleveland is exploring both free agency and trades to replace some of the potential innings lost.

"We just want as many good pitchers as we can in the bullpen," Antonetti said. "We feel that Cody and Bryan are both capable of pitching in that role, if that's the way our roster takes shape this winter. In an ideal world, we would prefer to bring in a guy, or multiple guys, that have late-inning experience."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
Read More: Cleveland Indians, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen