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Team would jump at shortstop if it had more money

CLEVELAND -- Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has bigger priorities this offseason than bringing back shortstop Omar Vizquel.

Vizquel, who will become a free agent next month when the
Indians don't pick up his $5 million contract option for 2005,
wants to return for a 12th season in Cleveland. However, Shapiro is
targeting a starting pitcher and perhaps a closer before he can
even consider offering the 37-year-old Vizquel a new deal.

Shapiro called bringing back the widely popular Vizquel "a
longshot."

"We're trying to build a championship team and Omar could be a
part of that, could be," Shapiro said Tuesday. "That doesn't mean
he has to be. I want Omar back, but I want this team to have the
best chance to contend next year from Day One."

Shapiro met with Vizquel and the shortstop's agent, Adam Katz,
on Monday to discuss the possibility of his return. No financial
parameters were discussed, said Shapiro.

"It was a positive meeting," Shapiro said. "It was a good
chance to talk to Omar about the challenges of my job. I told him
if our payroll was at a different level, it would be a no-brainer.
We could do [a new contract] in five minutes."

Instead, the Indians, who could have as much as $15 million to
spend in free agency, will pay Vizquel's $1 million buyout and then
wait and see who might be available on the market.

Shapiro said the club will sign a starting pitcher this winter,
"a No. 2 or No. 3." The Indians are also waiting to hear from
closer Bob Wickman, who is contemplating retirement.

Vizquel batted .291 (165-for-567) with seven homers and 59 RBIs this season. He also scored 82 runs, stole 19 bases and played well
enough in the field to possibly win a 10th Gold Glove.

If he plans to test the free-agent waters, Vizquel will be a hot
commodity.

"There should be, and I assume there will be," Shapiro said.
"There are a lot of good shortstops out there but not many of them
had as good of a year as he had."

Shapiro would like a veteran middle infielder and said it was
"very unlikely" he would start the season with Jhonny Peralta at
shortstop together with Brandon Phillips at second base. The
Indians could offer salary arbitration to Ronnie Belliard, who had
a strong first season in Cleveland, or Shapiro said his coaching
staff feels third baseman Casey Blake could shift to second.