The Indians could use some improvement pretty much everywhere. Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore are locked into two outfield positions. Carlos Santana and Matt LaPorta are both highly regarded as prospects, so both will get every opportunity to succeed on this rebuilding squad. Other than that, the lineup is pretty much fungible. Outside of Fausto Carmona and Chris Perez, no pitcher has an ingrained spot either, so the Indians can really play the market and find value wherever they believe it’s available.
However, I think the position where they can best upgrade is third base. First of all, it’s a strong free agent class, with type A’s Adrian Beltre and Miguel Tejada, type B’s Felipe Lopez and Juan Uribe, and other interesting players including Jorge Cantu and Ty Wigginton. Offense is probably their biggest issue, as they scored only 644 runs last season (5th lowest in the league). Third base was a major issue, as Jayson Nix, penciled in as the starter at the hot corner, only put up 0.2 WAR in 78 games with the Indians last season, and –0.1 overall. Nix is 28 and has been below replacement level in two out of three seasons as a major leaguer. If the Indians can replace him with an offensive upgrade, I think they’ll definitely take the opportunity.
I’m going to suggest they take a run at Felipe Lopez. Lopez should be on the cheap side due to a weak 2010 and a strong market, and he looks poised for a big bounce-back. His .273 BABIP was far below his career .316, and in addition to playing third, Lopez has the versatility to play second and short. Lopez had a great 2009, putting up 3.9 WAR and 116 wRC+. Lopez may be my candidate for the player most likely to mirror Aubrey Huff’s 2010 next season, as he’ll be coming off a poor season but has shown in the past that he’s capable of being a very valuable piece for a strong team. He’s only 30, so he should still have some strong baseball left in him. He could provide a great return on what could be a very small investment by the Indians, making him a potentially very valuable player.
Lonnie Chisenhall, who I discussed in my Wait Til Next Year, will likely be ready within the next two years, but signing Lopez for a year to bridge the gap could allow the Indians to wait for Chisenhall to be ready and make the transition smoother. To improve the poor production they got from third base next year and add another productive asset in the lineup, the Perfect Pickup for the Indians is Felipe Lopez.