Trade Analysis: More Moves To Follow

The Indians' latest trade was really a setup.<br><br> General Manager Mark Shapiro acquired a veteran setup man in Arthur Rhodes to bolster the bullpen -- while at the same time setting up a number of other possible moves.<br><br> By unloading outfielder Matt Lawton and his $7.25 million contract, Shapiro now will:<br>

* Have a few more bucks to throw at a free-agent starting pitcher;
* Likely be able to negotiate with Ron Belliard to bring the popular second baseman back for 2005;
* Possibly be able to deal one of the Indians' incumbent relievers in any number of potential trades for either a:

** coveted starting pitcher;
** an outfielder to replace Lawton, or ;
** another infielder should talks with Belliard break down.

The Indians are still in the market for a starter and have offered a three-year deal to Matt Clement. They might be able to sweeten the offer after this deal, in which they saved themselves nearly $4 million in salary.

Rhodes, a 35-year-old left-hander, still has two years left on a three-year, $9.2 million contract he signed as a free agent last winter with Oakland. But in the deal that sent Lawton to Pittsburgh, Shapiro and Pirates GM Dave Littlefield also agreed to throw a little cash each other's way.

The Indians probably will have to toss in some extra green to help defray Lawton's pricy contract, but still have saved themselves money.

For now, Shapiro is excited about adding Rhodes as a hard-throwing setup man for closer Bob Wickman despite the lefty's poor 2004 season with the Athletics. Expected to be Oakland's closer, he failed miserably, going 3-3 with a 5.12 ERA and only nine saves.

"There were a multitude of things that happened to him to explain why he had a bad year," Shapiro told The Associated Press. "We're still hopeful he's going to be a strong, solid contributor in the bullpen. Certainly experience is something that's going to improve us in the bullpen."

When working in a setup role in front of a reliable closer, Rhodes has had some sensational seasons in the past.

With Baltimore in 1996-97, he went a combined 19-4 with 164 strikeouts in 148 1-3 innings in helping set up Randy Myers for a total of 76 saves.

For Seattle in 2001-02, he went a combined 18-4 with 164 strikeouts and only 25 walks in 127 2-3 innings to help Kaz Sasaki save a total of 82 games.

Indians fans know how much of a disappointment Lawton was in Cleveland after being obtained in the blockbuster trade that sent Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets in December 2001.

"This gives us a chance to improve as a team defensively," Shapiro said in reference to Lawton's weak fielding -- and with a hint to more possible moves.

With right-fielder Jody Gerut recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right knee, the Indians' three starting outfielders at this time would likely be Coco Crisp in left, Grady Sizemore in center and Ryan Ludwick in right. So adding a proven outfielder now becomes one of Shapiro's priorities.

Of course, the deal also could open the way for Casey Blake to switch to outfield from third base if Aaron Boone is fully recovered from knee surgery to play the hot corner.

This deal was the first of the entire winter meetings -- but not likely to be the Indians' last one. After all, winter actually hasn't even started yet.

Matt Lawton scores the winning run as Arthur Rhodes covers the plate after uncorking a wild pitch -- giving the Indians a 4-3 win over the Athletics last May. It dropped Rhodes' career record to 1-9 against Cleveland.

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