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The Indians are essentially one (or two) steps away from finishing their offseason business after Monday’s moves.

Re-signed 2B Ronnie Belliard to a one year, $3M contract (club option for 2006), avoiding arbitration

Declined to Offer 1B Josh Phelps and LHP Mariano Gomez 2005 contracts

Offered Arbitration to 3B/OF Casey Blake, RHRP David Riske, and RHSP Jake Westbrook

Re-signed LHP Mariano Gomez to a minor-league contract; Invited him to Spring Training

The Indians went with the status quo, keeping four of the five players who were still arbitration-eligible. Phelps is going to get a job with an American League club, and I think he’ll be a valuable part-time player for somebody. The Indians, however, didn’t want to keep two full-time DHs in Hafner and Phelps, and with the addition of Jose Hernandez and the possible re-signing of Lou Merloni, another lefty-masher wasn’t needed. I get this line of thinking, but getting nothing for Phelps doesn’t really sit right with me.

Mariano Gomez was taken off the roster without having to pass through waivers because of the non-tender rules. The Indians seem to do this with at least one player a year. Mariano will probably return to Akron in 2005 if healthy.

$3M for Belliard is pretty good from the Indians’ standpoint, and the club option in 2006 is a nice touch. After Polanco went off the market (and the Indians were reportedly interested in him), Belliard was the next best option. Now this leaves Casey Blake as a right fielder, which I can live with. What is a bit disturbing are the rumors of Blake signing a multiple-year deal to avoid arbitration. This I think is an overreach for the Indians. Blake was an excellent pickup who paid off very nicely in the past two seasons. That being said, I wouldn’t feel that comfortable paying Blake based on his career year, especially considering he really doesn’t have a position on the team. Yes, Boone is only signed through 2005, but what if he has a good season and the club picks up his option? Franklin Gutierrez may be ready by then, and even if Blake has another 22-24 HR year as an outfielder, he’d be redundant. I’d rather the Indians take him to arbitration, and wait until next season to see if Blake is worth a two-year deal; there’s no rush to lock him up.

So now Mark Shapiro is back to looking for pitching. Kevin Millwood would be a nice fit, as would Orlando Hernandez, and also the newly non-tendered Wade Miller. Also he’s probably going to add one more infielder to the roster, probably Lou Merloni or a reasonable facsimile. I’d like to see a left-handed bat off the bench instead of Lou, maybe a guy like Ben Grieve would be a better fit, especially as an insurance policy in case Blake has to take over for an injured Aaron Boone. You could have Ludwick and Hernandez off the bench against left-handers, and Grieve off the bench against a right-hander. Just a thought.

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