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Closing the Deal

I've found it really difficult to get a handle on the Indians' off-season, as there's not really one or two players to concentrate on. And I'm more and more convinced that any substantive improvement to the team will come via the trade, not the free agent signing, opening up a whole new layer of possibilities.

At the core of the off-season madness was two distinct needs, that of a second baseman and a revamped bullpen. Thanks to a nice win-win trade, the Indians not only solved their hole at second, they also allocated current and future funds to fix their other major problem because of Josh Barfield's low service time. So that fire has been put out.

But what of the blazing inferno that is the Indians' bullpen? The Indians have shown some interest in Danys Baez, evidence that most of the other free agent possibilities ranged from untenable to repulsive. I honestly thought that Baez would be a non-starter from both management and player perspective, and it still could dissolve quickly, but there really aren't that many closer opportunities around. The prestige of the role may compensate for money he leaves on the table, and besides, he's going to get paid either way in this market.

Even assuming this would happen, the Indians wouldn't be done with the bullpen remodeling. And if the Indians can't sign a decent closer, they'll have to get even more creative or desperate (depending on your point of view) to fill the role. And let's face it, closers are elevated to be demoted, and with the choices available, there's no guarantee that the spot will be considered fixed even if the guy they sign has relevant experience. Even the best closers have peaks resembling those of NFL running backs, and signing a post-Age 30 closer is the equivalent of acquiring a six-year NFL veteran.

So Peter-Paul scenarios involving Jake Westbrook don't make a lot of sense not only because they'd be going the wrong way on the risk spectrum, but the replacement cost for Westbrook would probably be greater than the value of the reliever coming in return. Yes, Jake is only signed for one more season, and if his agent is smart, will test the free agent waters next winter. But the Indians are still counting on his innings-eating for 2007, and those innings most likely won't be replaced from within the organization.

The Indians could create their own depth in order to trade it for pitching, such as signing another starter or outfielder, and they do have tradable spare parts available. But how much quality is Jason Michaels or Hector Luna or even Paul Byrd going to bring? That "painful" move may be right around the corner.