Barring some unforeseen change, the Indians will go into camp without a predetermined fifth starting pitcher.
As mentioned in the discussion about the rotation, the fifth spot will be decided by a battle between Shaun Marcum, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Tyler Cloyd and Josh Tomlin. At this point, it's anybody's game.
If you put any stock into the team's official depth chart, then Carrasco is the guy to beat.
Additionally, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian believes that Carrasco is the favorite to win the fifth rotation spot this spring. Consider what Terry Francona had to say of the 26-year-old, via Bastian: "I think that's a given, with his stuff and things like that. He made some alterations in his delivery. He's got his arm a little higher to create some deception. I think we'd kind of like to see him take off with that."
Unfortunately, that's about the only thing working in Carrasco's favor. Over 48 appearances—40 starts—he boasts a 5.29 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and ratios including 6.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.98 K/BB and 10.6 H/9.
As a starter, the young right-hander owns a 5.53 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and ratios including 6.1 K/9 and 1.96 K/BB.
His best work as a big leaguer has come while pitching out of the bullpen. In eight relief appearances—13.2 innings pitched—the Venezuela native boasts a 1.32 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and ratios including 7.2 K/9 and 2.20 K/BB.
Carrasco will likely carry these enormous differences through spring training, where he could very well continue to struggle. That's where Trevor Bauer comes in.
After Carrasco, Bauer has the most potential of any candidate for the job. In addition to that, though, newcomer Shaun Marcum—Bauer's next-best competitor—is likely to need additional work following spring training to get his stuff up to par after undergoing surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome in late 2013.
With Marcum out of the picture, the only remaining pitchers able to steal the spot from Bauer are Tyler Cloyd and Josh Tomlin.
Tomlin enters camp looking toward his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery back in 2012. The 29-year-old was never a great starter, but he did a decent job of it in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, allowing a combined 4.34 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 231.1 innings pitched.
He displays elite control, sporting a career BB/9 of 1.7 over 343.2 innings pitched. This will work in his favor, but at 29 years old, his upside—in comparison to Carrasco and Bauer—is severely limited.
Righty Tyler Cloyd signed on with the Indians under a minor league contract this offseason, and though he will technically compete for the fifth spot, he stands little chance. Over 93.1 innings pitched, the 26-year-old boasts a stat line including a 5.98 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and ratios including 6.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.22 K/BB and 11.2 H/9.
Unfortunately for him, his pitch velocities have dipped over his three big league seasons, leaving his cutter, sinker and changeup below the 87 mph mark.
Bauer is left as the Indians' best option. As discussed earlier, he has made some significant strides this offseason in refining his mechanics. The 23-year-old reported increased velocity in his fastball and also increased command and control of his breaking ball.
If these reports are true and Bauer is closer to becoming the highly touted pitcher we saw at UCLA, then he is a shoo-in for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Winner: Trevor Bauer
This offseason, the Indians moved forward with plans to develop catcher Carlos Santana as a a third baseman. In a recent interview with ESPNDeportes.com's Enrique Rojas, Santana indicated that he was preparing to play third base only.
The third base arrangement was discussed again, this time by Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. In the article, general manager Chris Antonetti declined to name Santana the starting third baseman and had this to say of the situation:
We have not made a decision at third base. That’s what spring training is for. But Carlos has gotten a tremendous head start due to the work he’s put in this off-season. It started with him working at our complex in the Dominican Republic with our coaches. And it transitioned into winter ball.
Antonetti also went on to say, "We continue to believe in Lonnie Chisenhall and his potential. And Carlos can only enhance his impact on the team and our goal of becoming a better ball club.”
Though the Indians seem intrigued by the idea of Santana becoming the everyday third baseman—and who wouldn't be?—it's likely that they're just hedging their bets in the event that Chisenhall flops this year.
However, despite the fact that Antonetti feels like Santana has "a tremendous head start" in the battle, it will be Chisenhall who wins the starting gig.
The 25-year-old still has immense potential as an big league regular and will be given every opportunity to actualize that potential this season. Beyond that though, he is a far more polished defender, and the team benefits from being able to have both bats in the lineup at the same time, with Santana splitting time between DH, first base, catcher and third and with Chisenhall at third.
Winner: Lonnie Chisenhall
The Indians have an open spot for a long reliever in the bullpen this season. David Aardsma, Scott Atchison and Chen-Chang Lee and the losers of the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation—presumably Cloyd, Marcum, Carrasco and Tomlin—will be considered for the position.
Aardsma and Atchison have the added benefit of extensive big league experience, with Atchison being the best of the two. Over 255 innings of work, the soon-to-be 38-year-old owns a 3.64 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and ratios including 5.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 2.33 K/BB and 8.9 H/9.
Lee has spent the past five seasons with Cleveland's minor league affiliates, allowing a combined 2.94 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and ratios including 11.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.85 K/BB and 6.9 H/9. He has the added benefit of having worked as a long reliever in the minors, averaging a whopping 1.58 innings per appearance.
Over the length of his career, Marcum has made just 27 relief appearances and only two since the 2007 season. He will likely be designated for assignment if and when he fails to make the rotation, where he will likely opt out of his contract in an attempt to latch on as a starter with another team.
Essentially, this position battle boils down to three competitors: Atchison, Lee and Tomlin.
Though Atchison and Lee have more experience working in relief—Tomlin has made just six relief appearances in his career—Tomlin will win the job out of spring training.
The 29-year-old is a familiar face in the organization, having spent eight seasons with Cleveland. Additionally, his experience as a starter will serve him well as a long reliever.
Tomlin is a control artist, allowing just 1.7 BB/9 over the course of his career, and that should play in his favor as a damage limiter in a long relief role. The work in the bullpen will also help to keep him fresh in the event that Bauer's struggles require a demotion back to the minors, or if an injury hits in the rotation.
Winner: Josh Tomlin