Indians general manager John Hart mentioned all the big-name free agents. He talked about record-setting contracts, economic landscapes and creative thought processes.
Then Hart said something sports-starved Cleveland fans were longing to hear: "I think you'll see us do something this winter."
That's welcomed news in a town whose NBA team is locked out and whose NFL club won't arrive until next year. Their season has been over for three weeks now, but the Indians are still the only game in town.
The club called a news conference Tuesday to introduce Mark Shapiro as Hart's new assistant and the Indians' new vice president of baseball operations. Normally, it would be a non-event. But with nothing else on the local pro sports calendar, several TV crews were on hand and a local radio station broadcast the conference live.
After introducing Shapiro, who replaced Dan O'Dowd, Hart addressed the Indians' upcoming role in the free-agent market, which will officially open on Friday.
Hart didn't prioritize the Indians' off-season winter shopping list, but he did indicate which areas the club would probably begin looking.
"We're going to look into it and see if we can improve our rotation and then we're obviously going to look at the second base situation a little more carefully," he said. "We're going to look at what we have and obviously the idea is for us to improve and I think we'll be able to do that by the end of the winter."
Cleveland has needed a frontline No. 1 starter for the past few years and either Randy Johnson or Kevin Brown would easily fill that void. The Indians are hot on second baseman Roberto Alomar, the brother of Cleveland catcher, Sandy.
Hart said the club has also spoken with the agents for second basemen Jose Offerman and Delino DeShields and have expressed interest in free-agent third basemen Dean Palmer and Robin Ventura. Teams are not permitted to talk dollar figures with players until after Thursday.
"And we've talked to a variety of other players," he said. "We've talked to bullpen people, we've talked to other starters. We've talke to clubs about potential trades. I think going into the general manager's meetings next week we probably are as well prepared as we've ever been."
When Mike Piazza signed his record $91 million contract with the Mets last week, many thought that figure would be the starting negotiating point for other big-time free agents like Bernie Williams and Mo Vaughn.
Hart, however, thinks once those players are signed there will be very few other clubs willing or able to shell out big bucks.
"I think as you see probably the top three or four guys go down, you're going to see some contracts that are going to be record-setting type contracts and I think you may have another two or three players in the market that will try to reach a little higher," he said. "And then I think it's going to settle. I think there are clubs out there, a number of clubs, that have limitations in what they can do."
After winning their fourth consecutive Central title this season, the Indians beat Boston in the AL division series before pushing the New York Yankees to six games in the ALCS. Hart knows that one signing, one trade or one player could take Cleveland even farther.
"We feel we're probably a piece away from taking our club maybe to the next level, we're probably one piece away," he said.
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