MESA, ARIZ.: Manager Terry Francona has given few hints about who will fill the openings on the Indians’ roster.
“We’re certainly paying attention and talking about it a lot,” Francona said. “But we’re going to let it play itself out. We have some ideas, though.”
Of course, in less than three weeks everyone will know, but it’s more fun to make an educated guess, and many of the positions have been officially awarded already, including all of the everyday jobs.
That means Nick Swisher will play first, Jason Kipnis second, Asdrubal Cabrera shortstop, Lonnie Chisenhall third and Carlos Santana catcher. In the outfield, it will be from left to right, Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs.
How different is that from last year’s Opening Day lineup? Brantley, Cabrera, Santana and Kipnis are the only holdovers. When the Tribe took the field against the Toronto Blue Jays to begin last season, Shin-Soo Choo was in right, Travis Hafner was the designated hitter, Shelley Duncan was in left, Casey Kotchman played first and Jack Hannahan started at third.
The 2013 DH is Mark Reynolds, who was acquired over the winter to play first base. But when General Manager Chris Antonetti signed Bourn, Swisher was moved to first and Reynolds became the semi-everyday DH.
“He’s going to DH more than before because of Bourn,” Francona said. “But we don’t want him to just be a DH.”
Two reserves also have secured jobs: catcher Lou Marson and utility infielder/outfielder Mike Aviles. That leaves two positions to fight over.
As of now, the rotation consists of four starters: Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister and Brett Myers. One spot has yet to be determined.
Closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and seventh-inning specialist Joe Smith are the only relievers certain to make the team. That leaves four jobs to be won.
Altogether, seven positions are in play, and there is no lack of competitors.
All eyes on Carrasco
When spring training began, it seemed clear that the Tribe’s deep thinkers hoped Carlos Carrasco would take the opportunity to make the rotation and run with it after missing all of last season, after elbow reconstruction surgery.
Team officials periodically mentioned that Carrasco was throwing in the mid-90s during winter bullpen sessions. Carrasco has done nothing wrong in spring exhibition games, but being hit in the helmet with a line drive in his last outing didn’t help and, coincidentally or not, he became more hittable after the incident.
But the real obstacle to Carrasco’s return to the rotation is Scott Kazmir, formerly one of the American League’s more lethal pitchers who struggled the past few seasons with nagging injuries and an inability to hold his mechanics.
Apparently, his health currently is excellent, and a few months pitching for an independent league team last year seems to have resolved any issues with his delivery.
Consequently, Kazmir has impressed Francona and the coaching staff with his command and velocity. And when Kazmir thought he needed to work on his slider, he offered to fix the pitch by throwing three innings against minor-leaguers. When he was done, Kazmir announced: mission accomplished.
Daisuke Matsuzaka also is nominally in the running for a berth in the rotation but has not displayed the same kind of arm he showed when Francona managed him with the Boston Red Sox.
Carrasco has options remaining and can be sent back to Triple-A without going through the waiver process. Because he came to spring training on a minor-league deal, Kazmir can opt out of camp March 26. The fifth spot in the rotation will be his.
The bullpen seems overcrowded with candidates jousting for position, but a closer look reveals that there are definite favorites. No. 1 in that regard is Cody Allen, who made his big-league debut last year after climbing three levels of the farm system between April and July.
Despite his youth (24) and inexperience (29 big-league innings), Allen has shown the kind of arm and makeup that could quickly translate into a job at the back end of the bullpen. The Indians don’t need someone to fill that kind of role, and it surely wouldn’t hurt Allen to work his way up the ladder. But he is certain to make the team as a middle reliever.
Lots of lefties
Four left-handers are competing for a job in the bullpen. Francona said he is not wedded to picking a left-hander, but rather pitchers with the best chance of getting batters out.
Scott Barnes and David Huff (if he is switched from starter to reliever) aren’t totally out of the picture, but Nick Hagadone is both the most promising lefty and a guy who looks like he can be consistently effective once he establishes a foothold in the majors. Unlike most left-handers, Hagadone throws hard and can make his secondary pitches do tricks as they approach the strike zone.
Along with the acquisition of Kazmir, Matt Capps might put Antonetti on the FBI’s Most Wanted List as Thief of the Year. Capps signed a minor-league contract, despite compiling a track record as one of the AL’s more reliable closers. After saving 69 games in 2009 and 2010, Capps’ total fell to 29 the next two years, partly because the Minnesota Twins too often weren’t able to get to their closer.
But injuries also played a role in Capps’ decline, and he spent several long months trying to latch on to a job, finally landing with the Indians.
So far, his arm appears to be sound. If it stays that way, he can be at the very least a consistent middle reliever with the capability of moving toward the rear of the bullpen if necessary.
Matt Albers has the requisite experience and knowledge to join the bullpen, and Rich Hill might be able to handle the role of matchup left-hander if Francona were looking for one, which he does not seem to be doing.
The winners of the bullpen derby: Allen, Hagadone, Capps and Albers. Ryan Raburn, who would be hitting his weight if he were an elephant, plays the outfield and second base, giving him the kind of versatility needed to win a job on the bench. He also has been a steady hitter until last year, which might have been a fluke.
Francona has spoken so glowingly of Jason Giambi that the 42-year-old slugger might go directly to the Indians Hall of Fame before he plays a game for the Tribe.
Hint, hint….give roster spots to Raburn and Giambi.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.