Indians unable to add bullpen depth
Tribe inquires about top relievers, but asking price too high
CLEVELAND -- Mark Shapiro sat down in the Indians' dugout before a group of reporters at 4:01 p.m. ET on Tuesday, exactly one minute after MLB's non-waiver trade deadline had passed.It passed without the Tribe making a deal on the final day. "It's up to Eric [Wedge] and the guys now," Shapiro said, before joking, "I'm going to go watch the Gulf Coast League for a month." Shapiro's inaction in the last couple of days before the deadline was not for lack of effort. As he promised weeks earlier, he scoured the market for some bullpen arms to augment the likes of closer Joe Borowski and setup men Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez. But as Shapiro pointed out, only three prominent relievers changed uniforms before the deadline -- Eric Gagne, who went from the Rangers to the Red Sox, Scott Linebrink, who went from the Padres to the Brewers, and Octavio Dotel, who went from the Royals to the Braves. The Indians, who traded Minor League catcher Max Ramirez for outfielder Kenny Lofton on Friday, had inquired about each of those players and several others. But the prices in return, Shapiro said, were too steep for the Indians to stomach. "It's safe to say we were among the finalists for at least one of those three," Shapiro said. It's believed the Indians were close to acquiring Dotel. The Royals reportedly were interested in one of the Indians' young outfielders. The Tribe might have been willing to part with outfielder Ben Francisco, who was recently optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, but not willing to deal Franklin Gutierrez, who has been platooning with Trot Nixon in right field. In the end, the two sides could not consummate a deal, and Dotel went to the Braves for right-handed starter Kyle Davies. Shapiro greeted the bullpen market with trepidation. He was an assistant GM in the winter of 1998, when the Indians dealt budding outfielder Brian Giles to the Pirates for reliever Ricardo Rincon -- a move that hardly helped the club in the long term. As a result of that Rincon deal, Shapiro had made a vow to himself to never trade an everyday player for a reliever. Yet in this market, he found himself considering that very possibility, only to shy away in the end. Shapiro seemed shocked at what the Red Sox were willing to give up for Gagne. Boston parted with established big league starter Kason Gabbard and Minor League outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre.
"That's quite a bit to give up," Shapiro said, "for a guy who's going to pitch in a setup role for them." The Indians didn't seek bullpen help for lack of confidence in Borowski, Betancourt and Perez. But because Borowski and Betancourt both have extensive injury histories, and Perez is only in his second big league season, Shapiro hoped to add another late-inning option for Wedge. "Not just to lighten the burden," Shapiro said, "but to provide depth, in the event of an injury." Shapiro pointed to two specific pitchers who can provide such depth from in-house. Left-hander Aaron Fultz, recovering from a rib cage strain, made his second rehab appearance Tuesday and should be ready to return to the club any day now. And Jensen Lewis, a hard-throwing right-hander converted to bullpen work in the Minors this season, has opened some eyes since his July 13 callup. For his part, Borowski, whose 29 saves rank third in the American League, feels the Indians have enough bullpen options to stay in contention for the AL Central title and the Wild Card. "We definitely have the pieces to be competitive and make the playoffs," Borowski said. "I don't think anybody's going to run away with the division. Like I said a month ago, it's going to come down to the final week." Shapiro's search to make another deal before the deadline came down to the last half hour. Without getting into specifics, he said he not only looked for pitchers, but for position players, as well. Was Shapiro disappointed? "Any time you've got a chance to impact something, you're disappointed if you can't do it," he said. "But we made a move [the Lofton trade] that we think impacted the team. We'll go back to the team we built in the offseason and the depth we've gathered, as well, and hope that's good enough to get us where we want to go."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.