CLEVELAND: One of the many decisions the Indians must make in the off season concerns Andy Marte.
Do they keep him on the 40-man roster and give him a chance to make the team in spring training or leave him unprotected and allow him to seek employment elsewhere?
Marte was all but buried in a mountain of unfulfilled expectations when he caught fire at Triple-A and stayed hot the entire season, batting .327 with 18 home runs and 66 RBI in 82 games.
That forced the Tribe to take one last look at him in the big leagues, summoning him to Cleveland on July 27. Even though Marte is a third baseman, he was installed at first as a way to get him at-bats after the trade of Ryan Garko to San Francisco.
Marte has responded by batting .286 with six homers and 20 RBI in his past 30 games, dating to Aug. 19. Whether that is enough to change minds in the front office is the question.
""I was praying at Triple-A that I would get another chance to prove myself up here,'' Marte said Monday. ""I don't know what's going to happen. It's not my decision. I will go to the Dominican and play winter ball. They asked me to concentrate on third base.''
The fact the Indians care enough to ask Marte to do anything might indicate they intend to keep him on the roster through the winter.
In trials of varying duration the past three years, Marte compiled a disappointing average of .219 with nine home runs and 48 RBI in 456 at-bats. Even at Triple-A Marte never had a sustained run of success, though he would have one or two hot streaks during the course of the season.
But something clicked this time around.
""I worked a lot with (Columbus hitting coach) Jon Nunnally,'' Marte said. ""I started staying back and swinging at better pitches. Since I've been back here, I've gotten more consistent with my swing and my at-bats. I feel more comfortable.''
One of Marte's more impressive at-bats came last week against Tiger ace Justin Verlander, who struck out four of the first six batters he faced. Trevor Crowe started the third with a single, and Marte doubled on a breaking pitch, hitting the hardest ball of the night off Verlander.
""He's one of the toughest in the league,'' Marte said. ""When he had runners in scoring position, he was throwing 92-93. Otherwise, he was throwing 98-100.''
Marte would prefer to find a place in the Tribe lineup next season, but Jhonny Peralta is ahead of him at third, and Matt LaPorta seems to have the inside track at first.
""If I'm not here,'' Marte said, ""I'll be somewhere else.''
NEXT, THE KNIFE? -- Right-hander Joe Smith's season is over, at least in the bullpen. However, because of a balky left knee, surgery appears to be in his future.
""It's the same issue he's had,'' manager Eric Wedge said Monday. ""There's the potential for surgery. They'll can go in and scope it.''
Until the past few days, it seemed as though Smith might return to the bullpen for the last week of the season, but a bullpen session was scratched on Saturday, indicating that his knee was not responding as hoped.
IT'S OFFICIAL -- Wedge announced what David Huff already said: He will pitch no more this season.
""He's shut down,'' the manager said. ""And he's at 167 innings, which is where we targeted him. The important thing is he finished strong.''
NEEDS MORE WORK -- Chris Gimenez's .148 batting average isn't what Wedge is looking for, but the manager still feels keeping him on the roster was worth it.
""He has to continue working on his swing,'' Wedge said. ""But he's very versatile, and I like him behind the plate. His problem is that he's not getting plate coverage.''
How did Gimenez manage to avoid being sent to the minors?
""I know he didn't hit the way we wanted, but he had a good developmental year,'' Wedge said. ""Being up here every day helped him.''
Gimenez is being groomed as a super utility player who can fill in at first, in the outfield and behind the plate.''