Without further ado, here are the things I think the Tribe needs to do in order of importance:
1) Re-sign Joe Smith
Yes, I consider this to be the most important off season move. With the fall of Perez and the regression of Pestano, our bullpen needs some stability. Smith is definitely going to get other offers, but he's indicated that he'd like to stay. We can also offer him something only a handful of other teams can offer: the closer role. With Scrabble, Shaw, and Allen on board, that's a solid start for the bullpen. Pestano is the kind of guy who will do whatever it takes to return to form and we have guys like CC Lee that can step in, too.
But the linchpin of this new bullpen has to be Smith. We need a guy we can count on and a guy who can be a leader.
Update: I just read some speculation that the Tribe would have $15-$20M to spend this off season. I don't think it would take more than $5M to bring Smith back, if that. I'm guessing more like $4M.
2) Find a starter
While everyone seems to be focused on our offense (see below), the reality of the situation is that our rotation -- that exceeded all expectations -- ranked 15th in all of baseball, 10th in the AL, above only the 4 worst teams in the AL and the Angels. Our rotation was fantastic in the second half, there can be no doubt about that, but given the competition we're facing, they have to be better.
The upside is that we have four starters returning, and Masterson and Salazar should make a nice front of the rotation combo. The downside is a) that won't be enough and b) our depth is lacking. It would probably take a couple of drastic moves to fix both of those problems.
Obviously, I'm hoping that Ubaldo accepts our qualifying offer, but given the fragility of his amazing rebound,
Kazmir has said he'd like to return and it would certainly be nice to have him back, but he's not the solution to facing a loaded Tigers rotation 19 times a year.
3) Add a bat.
There seems to be a growing chorus of people who think adding another bat to this line-up is essential to the team's success, and that it's the most important thing they can do. This is something of a knee jerk reaction stemming from being blanked in our sole playoff game. Go look at the numbers -- the Tribe was #6 in all of baseball in runs scored, #5 in the AL. The teams above them? The Red Sox, the Tigers, the A's, and the Orioles. Hey, what do those first three teams have in common, I wonder?
It's also important to keep in mind that, while the emergence of Yan Gomes was a surprise, the evolution of Jason Kipnis was not. The biggest surprises for our offense were how bad Swisher, Bourne, and Cabrera performed. They all hard career down seasons, yet we still scored the 5th most runs in our league. It's insane to think that all three of them will perform at the same level next year.
In other words, offense wasn't as big of a problem as people keep saying. They were a streaky team -- that's the bigger issue when it comes to offense.
But let's say we're desperate to improve the offense, because those 3 playoff teams are above us, and if we want to make the post-season, we need to surpass at least one of them. Our options for upgrade are fairly limited: third base and right field. There aren't a ton of good options at either spot, and as much as I'd love to see Choo return, that's probably crazy talk given his price.
Speaking of crazy talk, you could always mull this over: Carlos Santana is a converted third baseman. The Dodgers made him change from 3B to catcher something like five years ago. I doubt this is a realistic option, but, then again, Miguel Cabrera is playing third...
Okay, well, aside from having Santana play third, there are two very clear possibilities that fall under the "crazy ideas" heading.
The first is one that's been batted around for quite some time: trade Cabrera. The theory is that Aviles can handle the short stop duties until Lindor is ready, which should be in another year. Given Cabrera's performance in 2013, there wouldn't be that great of a drop off, although there would be some (and can we really afford any?).
I think the right offer could make this happen.
The second crazy idea is going to take a lot of explaining, but it stems by something former Tribe beat writer Anthony Castrovince mentioned in his blog (which I seem unable to locate).
Here's the thing: as of right now, Carlos Santana is our DH and occasional fill-in first baseman or catcher. And that's great, but it's under-utilizing him. Santana's value is as an offensive minded catcher. There aren't many catchers out there that can claim the kind of offensive output as Santana. There are plenty of DHs who can.
In other words, using Santana as a DH is actually kind of waste; it's like using a $20 for something that only costs $10, and in this case you don't get any change.
Which means that, yes, Carlos Santana has a ton of value as a trade chip.
Listen, the DH is something of a dying position in the AL. It's rare to find a team that has an every day DH anymore. It's something of an open spot used by managers to rest guys without losing their bats. Can you even name a DH-only player anymore besides David Ortiz?
So using Santana as a DH and little else is a waste, a waste made all the more glaring by the fact that there are plenty of teams who would kill for a catcher with Santana's bat.
And I know that I've already crossed the crazy line by even suggesting we might trade one of our best hitters, but I'm going to take it a step further. Because you know who could really use an offensive catcher who is signed through 2016?
The Tampa Bay Rays.
And you know who the Rays are more than likely looking to trade this off season?
Price has 2 more years on his contract ('14 and '15). He's a Cy Young winner. The Rays' Achilles' heel is offense.
Wrap your brain around Masterson, Price, and Salazar as our 1-3, as our match-ups for Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanches. It's hard not to like that, isn't it?
Yeah, it means a blow to our offense, but runs are easier to manufacture than pitchers...
Look at it this way, too: such a deal wouldn't cost us any money. We then take the remaining $11M-$16M (after signing Smith) to sign Masterson to a long term deal, $8M of which is already being counted in the '14 payroll. Then we see if we can get a decent bat for $5M-$10M, ideally in a one year deal (Nate McLouth would be a good platoon candidate with Stubbs or Raburn and would cost about $6M/year). But our rotation would be set for the next two years at least (two years spent trying to get Bauer and Carrasco fixed), and our bullpen should be set (with Smith, Scrabble, Shaw, and Allen).
I told you it was a crazy idea.
As always, it should be an interesting off-season.