Before moving into the Hot Stove season when the Indians will start to look into improving their roster, it is important to know what needs to be improved upon. The roster should be broken down into a few different groups of players based on the probability of their return.
The Returning Starters
2B Jason Kipnis
These players are all signed through next season and are considered big parts of the future of the Indians. They will almost all certainly return for 2013. It would take a huge trade to pull any of these players out of Cleveland.
The Returning Pitchers
SP1 Justin Masterson
SP2 Ubaldo Jimenez
SP3 Zach McAllister
CP Chris Perez
RP1 Joe Smith
RP2 Vinnie Pestano
RP3 Esmil Rogers
RP4 Cody Allen
RP5 Rafael Perez
Although these pitchers did not all perform at their expected level, they will probably all return for next season. All but Jimenez are signed through 2013 and he has a $5.75M option. This option should really be considered a $4.75M option since there is a $1M buyout if the Indians don't take the option.
1B Russ Canzler
C2 Luke Carlin
SP4 Carlos Carrasco
RP6 Nick Hagadone
With the exception of Carrera and Carrasco, these players are just recommendations out of the plethora of choices that are available. These positions could certainly be filled by better players currently outside of the organization, but should not be a top priority. There is a lot of flexibility here as Carrera can play all three outfield positions and Canzler can move some too. I have listed Carlin instead of Marson as he couldn't possibly any worse and deserves a true shot in the Majors.
With all these players in place there are only three roster spots open for 2013. These spots are for a starting pitcher, a left fielder and a designated hitter. The Indians lineup is extremely lacking in power and the two positions that are missing are notorious for housing players that are well endowed in that ability. There are upcoming free agents and players on the trading block that could easily fill these holes in the roster, the Indians will just have to decide where to put there money and which players are most expendable when acquiring new talent.
Who Will Go
With three empty roster places and over 30 players on the final roster, there are obviously a few players that will not be returning at the start of 2013. Most of these players will be returning to AAA for next season. This includes Corey Kluber, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Jeanmar Gomez, Scott Barnes, Juan Diaz, Scott Maine, Thomas Neal, Cord Phelps, Vinny Rottino, Chris Seddon and Frank Herrmann. Josh Tomlin will also miss all of next season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
A few players have expiring contracts that should be removed from Indians payroll, giving the team more monetary flexibility. These are Casey Kotchman, Travis Hafner and Roberto Hernandez. None of these players played up to the level expected of them in 2012 and should not be returning for next season.
There are also three players still under contract who should not be returning in any form. David Huff, Tony Sipp and Matt LaPorta are all out of options and should be given a chance to leave the Indians and play elsewhere. They all have replacements already with the team that are better than they are and are still under team control. These players could be used in trades prior to arbitration next Spring or simply released, but there is no reason to keep them on staff when they have already shown exactly who they are.
The Indians need to put all their efforts into filling those three open positions. While it may be easier to find slight improvements over the players listed as internal fillings, the fact is that those positions are just not as important. Any money saved from expiring contracts or extra money put into the team needs to go first to finding a new DH to replace Hafner. The importance of a DH that doesn't rotate has been expounded upon already. Left field will be a tougher position to fill, but could be done internally if absolutely necessary. The Indians do not have a hitter who could inspire fear in opposing pitchers like a good DH should. The inclusion of Canzler on the roster will give the Indians a little more flexibility as he can play first or left field, allowing the Indians to sign a first baseman if possible, although this shouldn't be the first choice. A new starting pitcher should be the Indians final priority as there are quite a few potential options in Columbus that could possibly work. This is still an important hole to fill in the roster and the Indians need to do as much as they can to find some new blood to help fill out the rotation.