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Tribe Happenings: Many battles to be fought this spring

Tribe Happenings: Many battles to be fought this spring
February 10, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

With spring training now officially here as pitchers and catchers will report today and tomorrow (most already have), we have been ramping up the coverage here at the IBI over the past few weeks with lots of preview pieces, breakdowns and more about the 2013 Cleveland Indians. Today, I throw my hat into the ring as I look at five positions on the team that are not settled going into camp and have some competition.

The IBI’s Steve Orbanek did a nice preview of the top five questions heading into camp in his Friday notebook, so be sure to check that out. I wanted to give my input on that, but in a different way and look solely at the positions. Note, I am not including the designated hitter below as at this point I don’t believe it is a “position” to be won this spring as it will be used to rotate starters on the field and players from the bench.

Fifth starter

Candidates: Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber

Assuming that right-hander Zach McAllister is named the fourth starter as expected, these four pitchers will go into camp in consideration for the final rotation spot. Yes, I did not list lefty David Huff, and that is because I get no indication that he will even be considered for a starting role. Manager Terry Francona was on the radio recently and mentioned and talked about all of the candidates for the fifth spot, but failed to mention Huff. Maybe it was an oversight, but it falls in line with what the organization has been hinting all offseason and that is that Huff will only be fighting for a left-handed relief job this spring. Also, up-and-coming right-handed pitching prospect Danny Salazar will get some looks this spring, but he won’t be an option until after the All Star break – if even then.

The four starters being considered all come with some question marks. Bauer is a high profile pitcher with unlimited potential, but is unproven at the Major League level. Carrasco is the one with the most recent success at the Major League level, but is coming off Tommy John surgery and did not pitch in 2012. Kazmir is a wildcard that was once one of the best young lefties in the game, but he hasn’t really pitched at the Major League level in three years and his last good season was five years ago in 2008. Kluber is the healthiest of the bunch and got an extended look in the second half last season, but his upside is limited and he may not be anything more than a depth starter at the Major League level.

That being said, I think Kazmir has little chance to win the spot in spring training. There are simply way too many questions with his health and performance where a half dozen or so spring outings and 20-25 innings are not going to prove much. He needs to go to Triple-A and pitch more innings so the Indians can properly evaluate him over a longer period of time before they consider him for a starting or relief role. If he remains healthy and pitches well, he could be an option in May or June. Bauer and Carrasco will both be restricted in different ways this season. The Indians may choose to bring Bauer along slowly and have him open at Triple-A Columbus to get settled in and finish himself off before calling upon him later in the year when a rotation need arises, and Carrasco will be limited with the number of starts and innings he can make this season coming off of Tommy John surgery.

Kluber may end up being the benefactor of all the question marks and restrictions with the other pitchers and be named the fifth starter; however, the key in all of this will be Carrasco. If Carrasco is healthy and looks good in spring training, I do not see how the Indians cannot have him open the season as the fifth starter. I originally believed they may open the season with him in extended spring training to monitor his innings workload on the front end, but I now believe if they monitor it, it will have to come on the backend. Reason being, it would be tough to have him go through his entire throwing program this spring, pitch in spring training games, and then shut him down at the end of spring training for a month, only to have to start him back up again a month later. That might end up doing more harm to him in the long run than overextending his innings this season.

So I believe Carrasco is the favorite to win the spot if he has a good camp, and if he has a hiccup then Kluber will be the next in line to get the spot. Bauer and Kazmir go to Columbus as depth, though Kazmir could still factor into the left-handed relief or long man mix.

Backup catcher

Candidates: Lou Marson, Yan Gomes, Omir Santos

This probably is not so much of a competition as it is a preface to a competition that could come later this summer or next offseason. Marson has a good hold on the backup catcher role as he will earn a guaranteed $1 million this season and beyond Gomes the Indians really do not have any other competition for the position. Santos is probably the next option beyond Marson and Gomes, but he is around more as depth at Triple-A and as an emergency catcher.

Gomes has a better bat than Marson and he is probably ready to be a Major League contributor with his bat, but he is still an unfinished product defensively behind the plate and can’t be relied upon to do anything more than catch a game here and there without risk of exposing him. That won’t cut it as a backup catcher.

A lot of people fall into the trap that just because a player puts up good numbers offensively in the minors that they have nothing left to prove, but there are other facets to the game which need to prove themselves as well, and obviously one of those is defense.  If the Indians truly view Gomes as the heir apparent to the backup catcher role, then they should be doing their due diligence to make sure he is Major League capable to handle the spot defensively in the big leagues. It is tough to "finish off" a guy at catcher when he may only get 10-20 games there over the course of a season at the big league level because he is being moved all around the diamond at other positions. With that in mind, I think that it makes sense to send him to Triple-A Columbus at the outset of the season so he can play catcher every day and hopefully prove he is a Major League option there and ready to handle more pressing catching duties once Marson is ultimately traded or released within the next year.

Now, having said all that, I prefer Gomes make the team as I think his bat and versatility help in the short term, but long term it makes more sense to have him open in Columbus for two-three months to work on a few things at catcher that he otherwise can't do in Cleveland because you need game experience to get better. So Marson wins by default, but this is a position that come June or July if Marson is struggling and Gomes looks ready may make for some drama if the Indians make a change in the guard.

Fourth outfielder

Candidates: Ezequiel Carrera, Tim Fedroff, Ben Francisco, Jeremy Hermida, Ryan Raburn

This is probably one of the more defined battles going into camp as Carrera probably is the favorite to win the fourth outfielder role out of spring training because he is already on the 40-man roster, is out of options, is the best defender of the group, has the most speed of anyone in the group, and is probably the most versatile of anyone in the group.

It appears to be a slam dunk for Carrera to make the team so long as he performs well this spring and stays healthy, and someone doesn’t go crazy with their performance to really impress the team. Fedroff is not in consideration at all as any thought about him as an opening day fourth outfielder went out the window when the organization failed to call him up in September. He will go back to Triple-A Columbus and be one of the first reinforcements called upon later in the year when a need arises.

Francisco, Hermida and Raburn all have an outside shot, especially Raburn. Raburn is not a typical fourth outfielder, but then again the Indians do not need a traditional fourth outfielder because they already have Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs on the roster that can handle any outfield position, so in this case the Indians could choose to go with offense for the fourth outfielder role and someone who maybe offers a little more versatility by being able to play the infield as well.

At the outset of camp I think it comes down to Carrera and Raburn for the spot, but Carrera complements the outfield better and would add a much needed speed dynamic to the bench for use late in games. Also, as you will see here in a minute, I think Rayburn has a good chance to make the team anyway as a utility player on the bench.

Corner utility

Candidates: Ben Francisco, Yan Gomes, Jeremy Hermida, Mike McDade, Chris McGuiness, Cord Phelps, Ryan Raburn

Assuming the Indians have Marson, Aviles, and Carrera in three of their five bench roles, it will leave two open spots on the roster to fill the final two bench spots. Remember, I am including five bench players as I expect there to be eight lineup regulars and no permanent designated hitter, so the designated hitter player of the past will now be a fifth bench player.

There are some interesting possibilities here, though there are no for sure things. On one hand you have younger players like McGuiness, Gomes, Phelps and McDade that may be ready for an opportunity, but are unproven and may have limited upside. On the other hand you have Francisco, Hermida, and Raburn, three players that have a lot of Major League experience and some proven performance over the years, but have not exactly played well in recent seasons.

I think the Indians will take one player from the “young” group to fill one of the open spots on the bench. McDade is probably more just a depth option at this point because he does not have enough versatility, and as I noted above while Gomes may fill the bench role well I think he is better served going to Columbus to play catcher every day. That leaves McGuiness and Phelps for the spot.

McGuiness has a leg up on the competition going into camp because he is a Rule 5 pick and has to make the team in order to stay in the organization, but it does not make it a certainty he makes the roster as over 70% of Rule 5 picks are returned to their original teams at the conclusion of spring training. He will need to impress and show he can be a solid left-handed power bat option off the bench that can play first base, some left field, and be the main designated hitter when the Indians are not rotating a regular into the spot. If McGuiness struggles, then Phelps could be the one who slides into the spot as he is a switch hitter with a solid bat, but will need to add some versatility this spring. He can only really play second base, but if the Indians experiment with him some in left field he could be an option on a limited basis at third base and left field to give him that needed versatility.

The “older” group should take up the other spot, and you would have to think Raburn has the best chance of all of them to make the roster. He brings a lot of versatility where he can play corner outfield and second base, but also can play some third base and first base if needed. That versatility is something neither Hermida nor Francisco offer, and he has more recent success as a player. If Raburn has a good camp and is healthy, he should win a bench spot; however, the wildcard in all of this are McGuiness and Phelps as if both have good camps it is possible that both get the nod.

Last three bullpen spots

Candidates: Cody Allen, Scott Barnes, Matt Capps, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, Rich Hill, David Huff, Scott Kazmir, Matt Langwell, Bryan Shaw, Giovanni Soto

As camp opens the bullpen has Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Mitch Albers as locks to make up four of the seven spots in the bullpen. That means there are three spots that are undecided going into camp, but the Indians have several arms more than capable of filling those three roles.

First off, I listed Langwell and Soto simply because they will be given extensive looks this spring as potential options later in the year, but they are not options to make the bullpen at the outset of the season. So that leaves nine players vying for those three spots, and they can probably be broken down into three groups.

The first group is Shaw and Allen. Both of them probably deserve to make the opening day bullpen, but because of the Indians very good depth with right-handed relievers and need for a couple of lefties in the pen, they really only have room for five right-handers. Both are young and have options remaining, and both will probably pitch in the big league bullpen at some point this season, so it is not a critical decision that needs to be made. Whoever pitches better in camp may win that final right-handed spot in the bullpen, but Shaw may have the edge going into camp because he has more proven Major League experience.

The second group is Barnes and Hagadone. The Indians have no established left-hander in the pen, and barring something crazy happening or injuries occurring, one of Barnes or Hagadone will probably fill the Indians’ primary left-handed bullpen need at the start of the season. Hagadone has the more powerful stuff, but Barnes has been more consistent so far in both of their brief Major League careers. This is a battle that should go down all the way until the end of camp as neither one of them appear to have an advantage over the other going into camp and it will come down to who pitches better this spring. Both have roster flexibility with remaining options, so the Indians can simply just take the better pitcher. If I had to make a prediction, I am going to say Barnes wins the spot, but Hagadone will surely get a lot of time in the big leagues this season.

The final group is Capps, Herrmann, Hill, Huff, and Kazmir. One of these pitchers should win the final spot in the bullpen as the long man. Huff and Herrmann have an advantage because both are on the 40-man roster, but Herrmann at this point is just a depth option that is all but certain to open the season at Triple-A Columbus (he has options remaining). As noted above, Kazmir may need more time to prove he is fully healthy so he should go to Columbus, so the favorites for the last spot going into camp look like Capps, Hill, and Huff. If Huff has a good showing this spring, he has a leg up on the others because he is out of options and he could fill a dual role as a long man and second lefty in the pen. Also, it works well to have a left-handed long man when you have an all right-handed rotation.  Capps and Hill could easily just go to Columbus as depth options and be called upon once a need arises.

The wildcard in all of this may be Hill. If he proves to be healthy and pitches well, he could bump both Hagadone and Barnes to Columbus and start the season as the Indians’ primary lefty. Actually, given his experience, if he does in fact pitch well and his stuff looks good, this actually may have a higher likelihood of occurring than I am giving it.

Parting shots

A lot of people keep holding out hope that the Indians sign one or both of outfielder Michael Bourn and right-handed starter Kyle Lohse. I myself have mentioned in the past it may make some sense to take advantage of a unique market for both of them, but that is mostly just wishful thinking as unless they come extremely dirt cheap on a contract, the Indians are not going to sign either of them. They are up against it with their budget, and both are likely still going to end up with multi-year deals that pay them at least $10 million or more a year.

I did not get a chance to mention this last week since I did the inbox for Tribe Happenings, but three former Indians have landed deals with new teams. Omar Vizquel is the new roving infield instructor with the Angels, Travis Hafner signed a one-year $2 million incentive laden deal with the Yankees, and Ryan Garko signed a minor league deal with the Rockies. Vizquel and the Indians did not match up because the Indians already have Travis Fryman in the role, but if he takes to coaching well this season and likes it, I would not be surprised to see the Indians try to bring him into the fold next season now that they know he is interested in coaching.

The Indians have reportedly moved on from their pursuit of free agent Jim Thome. They do not want to commit a roster spot to a player that is only a designated-hitter, though if he can be signed to a minor league deal there may still be some interest.

The Indians inked infielder Mike Aviles to a two-year $6 million contract on Thursday, thus avoiding arbitration for the 22nd year in a row as they last went in 1991 with Greg Swindell and Jerry Browne. Aviles’ deal also includes an option for a third year in 2015, and his three years of club control should provide the Indians some much needed depth and flexibility for their infield, and also keep their options open on trading shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera sometime over the next year.

The Indians recently announced a five-year deal with WTAM to continue to carry Indians games on the radio, and Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus will continue to team up in the broadcast booth. New to the radio this season is 144 games which will be simulcast on 100.7 WMMS.

On Friday the Indians announced the full TV schedule and 161 games in total will air this season. SportsTime Ohio will carry 159 of those games and FOX will air two nationally televised games, leaving just one lone game on Saturday July 13th against the Royals that will not air on TV. Four games will also be simulcast on WKYC, and six spring training games will air on SportsTime Ohio. For complete details of the broadcast schedule go here.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Roger
February 11, 2013 - 7:07 PM EST
tony, Just remember who predicted about the first of the year that scott kazmir and matt la porta would be the surprises of the camp. Matt's story in indians.com about how bad his hips were indicates that even being able to move well enough to take the field was a surprise and doing anything with sore hip is difficult and i may be proven correct. As for Kazmir it is just a hunch that he will return to the kazmir of old. he had his mechanics all out of whack and that contributed to an injury to his arm. Something tells me he is now got his confidence back neither marr nor scott may come to toronto and may have to spend time in columbus but baseball is a marathon and if they can get 22 or the 26 miles in the marathon out of laporta and kazmir that is pretty darned good and both of them in their early 20's were top ten prospects so stranger things have happened. Lets hope i am right one is a lottery ticket the other makes the CC trade even with michael and matt playing major roles and
dh might be good for matt this year while he strengthen his paraformis muscle and you never know reynolds has just the one year contract so lets hope for a huge bananza
Norm
February 11, 2013 - 6:58 AM EST
I believe that Raburn will recover his form and become a versatile utility player and RH DH. Not the best ballplayer in the world but well suited to Indians. Like the signing of of Hill who I suspect will open with Cleveland. Carrera better be on his toes from day 1 since he has to beat out a load of players who are probably better hitters if Raburn makes the team. In any event, we probably win or lose with our starting pitching which does not look overpowering.
Tony
February 10, 2013 - 2:21 PM EST
I don't think Matsuzaka changes much with the rotation competition. It is still Carrasco's spot to lose. Only way I see Matsuzaka making the team is if they have 2-3 injuries to the rotation.

As for Kluber, it boils down to a lack of consistency with his delivery and trouble commanding the fastball. He gets into trouble with it where he elevates it and does not keep it down in the zone. It is just borderline fringe average command, which means you will get inconsistent stuff/outings from him where he looks great one game, but awful the next. That fastball command (and repeating the delivery) is usually the separator for AAA guys in the bigs.
Jwahoo
February 10, 2013 - 2:20 PM EST
Kluber has some competition now with Dice K.

The Tribe now has Giambi as an option for the 5 man bench. Basically, I think he is here in case we send McGuiness back.
Matt
February 10, 2013 - 2:07 PM EST
Tony,
Excellent job as always. I did just have a question about kluber though. He seems to possess a fastball up to 95 and a decent slider but what holds him back from being more than a depth starter in many scouts eyes?command? Just wanted your take
Thanks Matt
MT88 in WI
February 10, 2013 - 1:08 PM EST
MLB trade rumors is announcing that the Tribe has signed Matusaka to a minor league that could become worth 4M. Guess the battle for numbers 4 and 5 in the rotation just changed.

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