Indians GM Mark Shapiro did his best to leave the door open for Ronnie Belliard following his trade to the Cardinals Sunday.
"That absolutely is still possible," Shapiro said when reporters asked him about Belliard returning as a free agent in the offseason. "We hope he will consider coming back."
Belliard will indeed consider coming back. What he won't consider is accepting the two-year, $8 million contract you'll offer him. Not when the Cardinals will probably offer him four years and $24 million to stay. Not when the Braves or another team might jump into the fray and also offer Belliard $20-30 million.
As I write this, baseball's trading deadline is about seven hours away. Any other major moves the Indians are going to make to improve the standing of next year's team are probably going to happen between now and then.
If there is one thing we have learned over the past couple of years, it's that the the Tribe's money is fool's gold come wintertime. Every fall, they speak of adding significant pieces to the roster, or making competitive offers to their own free agents, but every winter it's the same story. The Indians approach free agents with a handful of cash and a hopeful smile, while other teams back up the Brinks truck and sweep the free agents off their feet.
We have no reason to believe the coming offseason will be any different, certainly as the fan base is systematically turned off by a smoking crater of a season. The Indians will draw over two million fans to Jacobs Field this year. Think they will even approach two million next year? That's a palpable drop in revenue they should already see coming.
The prospect of another minimally productive offseason puts a high amount of pressure on Shapiro to make the most of the mini-fire sale he's been conducting for the past month.
Shin-Soo Choo, Hector Luna, Asdrubal Cabrera and Max Ramirez aren't the appetizer. They're the main course. You want improvements for 2007? If you're looking at Choo and Luna, you're looking at them.
It's disheartening to think that Choo and Luna might be the two best players the Indians add to the roster between this summer and next February. But until Shapiro and owner Larry Dolan team up to make a free agent splash worth noticing, or the equivalent in a trade, it's smart to assume that the coming offseason will produce another slew of Jason Johnsons and Todd Hollandsworths signed on the cheap.
The Tribe's offseason chronologically begins after the 162nd game, when this season is mercifully euthanized. But the Indians' real offseason might effectively end at 4 p.m. Monday, by when they very possibly might have made the biggest strides they are going to make toward recovering in 2007.