NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Indians spent time this week trying to find a full-time starter for first base. If Cleveland is unable to reel in a clear-cut veteran option, the contingency plan appears to be an all-out competition during the coming spring.
On Thursday, the Tribe added another body to the growing first-base field by selecting Chris McGuiness with the fifth overall pick in the annual Rule 5 Draft. McGuiness was plucked from the Rangers' Double-A roster and he will be given a chance to make the Indians' Opening Day roster.
"He plays a position where we're going to try to be creative to find someone to help our Major League team," said Ross Atkins, Indians vice president of player development. "He had a very good year in Double-A and a very productive Arizona Fall League.
"We feel like he's an average defender at first base already, and he could make an impact soon. We're excited about aquiring him."
The Indians are chasing free agent Kevin Youkilis as an option for first base, but the Yankees are also involved, and have offered the veteran a one-year contract worth $12 million, according to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. It is believed that Cleveland is dangling a two-year deal to sign Youkilis, but that has not stopped the Tribe's pursuit of lesser-known alternatives.
McGuiness joins Russ Canzler, Lars Anderson and Mike McDade on the list of possibilities currently on the 40-man roster. Matt LaPorta is also among the competitors, though his place off the roster hinders his chances of making the big league team out of Spring Training.
It hardly seems as though the Indians are content with that cast of players.
"We'll continue to look to improve our alternatives -- our corner alternatives, not just first base," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The guys that are here are here for a reason, because we think they have some ability to contribute. But we'll continue to look to try to improve moving forward."
McGuiness, 24, hit .268 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage in 123 games for Double-A Frisco (Texas) last season. Along the way, the lefty-swinging first baseman produced 23 home runs, 25 doubles and 77 RBIs. In the Arizona Fall League, he hit .283 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 25 games en route to earning the league's Joe Black Most Valuable Player Award.
Antonetti noted that Texas planned on testing McGuiness as an outfielder, and the Tribe might do the same this spring.
"He's an interesting guy to bring into camp and take a look at," Antonetti said. "We have multiple corner spots that are open -- left field, first base -- and [designated hitter]. I know the Rangers were actually thinking about having him play some in the outfield. A lot of it will just depend on how our roster takes shape heading into Spring Training."
It cost Cleveland $50,000 to select McGuiness, and he is required to remain on the club's 25-man roster for the entirety of the regular season. If the Indians want to remove him from the active roster, the team must first offer him back to the Rangers for $25,000.
Beyond adding McGuiness, the Indians also lost reliever Hector Rondon (Cubs) and left-handed starter T.J. McFarland (Orioles) in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. That was tough for the Tribe, but the club felt it made the necessary risks when setting its 40-man roster prior to the selection process.
"We wish we could protect 50 guys," Antonetti said. "Unfortunately, we can't. We had to make some difficult decisions as we were looking to manage our roster. Those were both guys that got strong consideration to be added to our roster, but in the end we just didn't have enough spots.
"Hopefully they'll have an opportunity to go in and impress the Cubs and the Orioles and make a team."
The 24-year-old Rondon is working his way back from a pair of right elbow injuries, but took part in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason without health issues. Cleveland re-signed the pitcher -- a former top prospect for the club -- earlier this winter, but decided against adding him to the roster.
"We felt like that was an area of depth for us, in the bullpen," Atkins said. "Hector is a very good pitcher that we obviously have a lot of respect for and a history with. We hate to see him go, but we're happy for him in this opportunity and certainly, selfishly, hope we get him back."
McFarland, 23, was a fourth-round pick by the Indians in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and enjoyed a solid showing between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus this past season. Over 27 games, the lefty went 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA and 96 strikeouts against 45 walks in 163 innings.
"He puts the ball over the plate, and at 22 years old, was having success in Triple-A," Atkins said. "He has a feel for three pitches and has a chance one day to be a Major League starter. It's just you're balancing timelines and when that chance will be. It was a tough decision for us and, ultimately, we'll see what happens. We want nothing but the best for T.J."