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Buster Olney suggests Indians could target veteran free agents looking for playing time

Is Jason Giambi still available?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's Buster Olney suggested in a recent Insider-only post ($) that the Cleveland Indians could be a good fit for several aging veterans who may have trouble finding playing time elsewhere.

The Indians aren't going to spend the most amount of money for free agents, but what they can offer is playing time -- at third base, or an outfield spot, or first base -- for someone like Justin Morneau, Juan Uribe, Mike Napoli or Will Venable.

It makes sense, we already know the Indians do not have much money to play with this offseason and they will need to find creative ways to get effective players. One way could be targeting the players, like the Mike Napoli’s of the world, who can still be effective, but not worth the money that bigger market teams would be willing to dish out for full-time starters.

So let’s break down all the players Buster could see the Indians going after.

Justin Morneau

Morneau could be the perfect player for the Indians to pick up for next-to-nothing that could be a surprise contributor in 2016. A concussion shortened his 2015 season to only 49 games, but he looked good in his 182 plate appearances for the Colorado Rockies, hitting for a .310/.363/.458 slash and three home runs.

One big worry is that Morneau’s offensive lasting into his 30’s is that he has been playing in Coors Field. His home/away splits were dramatic in 2015, but the sample size was minuscule. Over 135 games in 2014, however, he looked about even at home and away. His .309/.364/.475 slash away from Coors would be more than worth a couple million to throw at him for a year or two if the Indians can get him at a steep discount. His glove is all but gone at this point, so he would be best used as a DH unless Cleveland really has no faith in Santana at first base.

The Rockies declined his $9 million option.

Juan Uribe

Uribe played for three teams last year--the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves, and the New York Mets--so surely he would appreciate the chance to get some consistent playing time on one team for a full year. If the Indians want to upgrade third base right away, they could do just that.

At 36 years old, Uribe would likely not warrant a commitment longer than a single season so he could provide a stop-gap to wait for Yandy Diaz to develop, or provide insurance if Giovanny Urshela struggles in 2016. Uribe is coming off three straight solid years but is showing obvious signs of a decline. There is no reason to believe that the Indians could not get a 1.0 fWAR season out of him, however, with passable defense and some power potential.

Mike Napoli

Napoli is going into his age 34 season and may be heading into a steep decline. He spent 2015 split between the Boston Red Sox and later the Texas Rangers after a midseason trade. In Boston, he looked pretty terrible, with a .207/.307/.386 slash and 13 home runs in 98 games. When he landed in Texas, however, he looked like the Napoli of old with a .295/.396/.513 slash and drawing a walk in 13.2% of his at-bats.

While he can still draw a walk and potentially hit for power, Napoli seems like another lateral move from Carlos Santana, if the Indians did want to grab him as a replacement. The only difference being Carlos is younger, and already under team control.

Will Venable

Venable is the lone outfield solution proposed by Olney. He fits Olney’s idea of the Indians going after players looking for playing time and he would provide an immediate boost over Abraham Almonte in center field. Venable will also be extremely cheap, coming off a 2-year, $8.5 million contract he signed after 2013 to avoid arbitration with the San Diego Padres.

Similar to signing Uribe for a year to wait for Diaz to develop, 33-year-old Venable could handle center field for 2-3 years until Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer are ready. Personally, I would rather see the Indians address center field in a trade or go all-in on a bigger signing.