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Offseason Issue: Right Field/First Base

I'm going to deviate a bit from the series format, so please indulge me.

The 2005 Indians were a unique team offensively, in that their best hitters played up-the-middle positions, while their worst hitters played positions where teams traditionally got most of their offensive punch.

As the season wore on, the main culprits on the offensive side were Aaron Boone, Ben Broussard, and Casey Blake. Two of the three (Boone and Blake) are under contract for 2006, while the third is arbitration-eligible. Only one of the three (Boone) is guaranteed to start next season.

So this exercise boils down to two players, one of whom will probably be displaced during the offseason. Casey Blake to me seems the obvious choice for replacement, even though he's under contract for another year; he'd assume a utility role, covering all four corner spots, which seems a good fit for him.

First Base

Ben Broussard probably is either your starting first baseman in 2006 or with some other team, because he's a first baseman and a first baseman only (yes, he did play some outfield earlier in his career, but realistically he's not usable there), and because the Indians can non-tender or trade him. Why pay Ben $1M or so to sit on your bench when you could probably deal him or use the money to sign a more useful player?

Ryan Garko, one of the organization's best hitting prospects, throws a monkey wrench into my line of thinking. Garko by all accounts has a good enough bat to play at first base, although there's been some questions as to his defense. But I believe he's probably ready for the majors, although there will be an adjustment period. One option is to play Garko and Casey Blake here until Ryan gets comfortable at first, then phase Blake back into a utility role. Or the Indians could get sign someone like John Olerud and use him in an offense/defense platoon.

Another idea would be to use Jason Dubois here. Dubois, acquired last summer for Jody Gerut, is another in the long line of right-handed power bats that the Indians have traded for or acquired (Josh Phelps, Ryan Ludwick, etc). Dubois has below-average range in the outfield, so moving him to first base might be a nice fit. The question is if the Indians will be patient enough to deal with a prolonged adjustment period. Jason has a long swing, and he'll strike out a lot. But he'll also provide some pop to all fields, which is the main reason why the Indians acquired him in the first place. I could easily see him squeezed off the roster if they do acquire a right fielder; I think the Indians think more highly of Garko's bat.

Of course another option is to obtain a free agent. Paul Konerko has probably priced himself beyond the Indians' price range, but there are a couple guys that may be of some interest, including Erubiel Durazo, Kevin Millar, John Olerud, JT Snow, and Travis Lee. Olerud or Snow would be a nice platoon partner/defensive replacement if the Indians go with Garko at first. Durazo would be a nice value pick if the price is right. Lee is essentially a slightly-older version of Ben Broussard, and Millar will probably be overvalued given his connection with recent postseasons.

On the trade market, the best option looks to be Lyle Overbay, who the Brewers may deal to make room for Prince Fielder.

Right Field

Looking over the possible outfield free agents, I'm not that impressed. Beyond Brian Giles, there isn't much out there. Reggie Sanders would be a nice option, Jacque Jones or Juan Encarnacion would be OK if the price is right, but after that you get to guys like Jeff Conine and Richard Hidalgo. Rondell White doesn't have the arm for right field.

There are a couple internal options, but none of them, beyond Dubois, are probably ready. Franklin Gutierrez and Brad Snyder played most of their games in AA last season, and while both project as major-league right fielders, probably aren't quite ready for the majors. So there's something to be said for Blake remaining in the outfield until Gutierrez and/or Snyder breaks in...after all, he's already under contract through 2006.

Then there's the trade market, which I can't really assess right now. There's rumors that the Red Sox are again looking to deal Manny Ramirez, but the chances of him coming to Cleveland are slim. The Mets might be looking to move Mike Cameron, who I've liked for a while. But all of this is early speculation.

All of this does depend on what the Indians do with Kevin Millwood and their bullpen; if they spend $15M in order to reinforce the pitching staff, there might not be much left over to upgrade the offense.