The Cleveland Indians have a few major decisions to make this spring, and here, they'll take the form of a to-do list. The Tribe have question marks surrounding third base, how to use Carlos Santana, the fifth spot in the rotation and the long-relief spot in the bullpen.
The decision-making process regarding where to play Santana and who will round out the bullpen are similar in that they will rely significantly on who wins the position battles at third base and in the rotation, respectively.
Though Santana has the chance to win the starting job at third base, a more likely scenario involves the team scraping together at-bats at multiple positions for the 27-year-old.
Similarly, the battle for the final spot in the bullpen will involve some of the players cast off from the competition taking place in the starting rotation.
All in all, the Indians have four major tasks on their to-do list, and we'll get into that right now.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
With uncertainty surrounding Lonnie Chisenhall and his future role with the team, the Tribe opted to work out Carlos Santana at the position during the offseason.
Reports out of the Dominican League signaled that Santana was making great progress, and according to Santana, he's surprised a lot of people, via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Everybody in the Dominican has been surprised with the way I’ve played third base, the only one who wasn’t surprised was me because I have confidence."
If Santana can impress defensively, then he'll have a leg up on Chisenhall due to his outstanding production at the plate.
Chisenhall has struggled mightily since joining the big league club in 2011, averaging a .244/.284/.411 slash line over 682 plate appearances. Conversely, over 2,101 career plate appearances, Santana boasts a strong slash line of .254/.367/.446.
Even so, Chisenhall is going to be given every opportunity to lose the job. The 25-year-old may have disappointed over his first three professional seasons, but he's a former Top 100 prospect, via Baseball America, and has yet to play in over 100 games in an MLB season.
Santana, on the other hand, has the ability to play third base, first base, catcher and DH. So, if the Indians choose to keep Chisenhall as the starting third baseman when they break camp, what happens to Santana?
With Yan Gomes set to take over full-time duties behind the plate, Santana doesn't necessarily have a fall-back option for an on-field position in the Indians' everyday lineup.
This spring, Santana has a chance to win the starting job at third base. However, the 27-year-old hasn't played the position since 2008—he played one game at third in the minors that year, and has played just 58 minor league games at the position since breaking in with the Dodgers back in 2005.
In the event that Chisenhall wins the job, Santana can get some reps at third as a backup. If Chisenhall flops, then they'll be in the perfect position to replace him with an in-house option.
Santana also has experience at first base and can spell Nick Swisher on off days. Ultimately. though, Santana would get most of his at-bats as a DH, and as a backup to Gomes.
The four-year veteran is one of the Indians' most prolific offensive producers, and the team will have to figure out how to get him in the lineup on an everyday basis.
The Indians have some important tasks on their to-do list this offseason, but none carry the same importance of deciding the team's fifth starter.
On top of in-house options Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin, the Indians brought in a slew of players on minor league contracts to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
With everyone accounted for, these are the players who will compete for the final spot in the Tribe's rotation.
|Name||MLB Experience||Career ERA|
|Trevor Bauer||0.025 Years||5.67|
|Carlos Carrasco||2.147 Years||5.29|
|Tyler Cloyd||0.094 Years||5.98|
|Aaron Harang||11.061 Years||4.28|
|Shaun Marcum||7.128 Years||3.88|
|Josh Tomlin||3.069 Years||4.92|
Beyond the fact that there are six pitchers competing for one spot, the decision is complicated further by the fact that none of these six pitchers have a clear-cut advantage.
While Shaun Marcum has the best career numbers of the group, it's important to note that he also has nearly twice the amount of service time as the next-closest player, Josh Tomlin.
Marcum may have the edge in terms of career ERA, but he underwent season-ending surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. On top of the additional injury concerns this surgery brings with it, Marcum has a detailed injury history, and it's unlikely that he'll be able to stay healthy through the 2014 season.
Aaron Harang was brought on via a minor league deal on Feb. 15, and while the 35-year-old was solid last season in his final four starts with the New York Mets, his age looks to be catching up to him, as he posted an ERA+ of 86 over the past four seasons.
Tyler Cloyd is the last of the newcomers. The 26-year-old was once a highly thought of prospect with the Philadelphia Phillies—2.52 ERA between 2011-2012 in the minors—but has since struggled to gain any traction at the big league level.
Bauer, Carrasco and Tomlin are all in-house options, but each have their own distinct set of positives and negatives regarding their joining the starting rotation.
Bauer, a 23-year-old super prospect out of UCLA, has made appearances at the big league level in each of the last two seasons but has failed to secure a starting spot for himself—something many predicted would happen by this point.
However, Bauer has made some major changes to his delivery this offseason, and manager Terry Francona said the difference was, "night and day, night and day," per Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Carrasco, a former Baseball America Top 100 prospect, has disappointed in successive seasons. The 26-year-old showed a lot of promise as a reliever late last season, and should he miss out on the rotation again this spring, the Tribe may be better suited shifting him into a relief role.
The final candidate, Josh Tomlin, has started with the Indians before and experienced moderate levels of success between 2010 and 2011.
I predicted Trevor Bauer to win the final spot, but the mess of players competing for this single spot will need to be sorted out this spring.
The final spot in the Indians' bullpen is also open for competition this spring, and the team has a number of directions it could go.
All in all, the Indians have six candidates for the long-relief spot. Veteran relievers David Aardsma and Scott Atchison will join prospect Chen-Chang Lee and the rotational castoffs, making for a crowded position battle.
The group consists of the following:
- David Aardsma
- Scott Atchison
- Chen-Chang Lee
- Aaron Harang
- Shaun Marcum
- Josh Tomlin
Of the group, Aardsma, Lee and Tomlin have the best chance of earning a spot with the team.
Aardsma, an eight-year veteran, owns a career stat line including a 4.23 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and ratios including 9.0 K/9, 5.0 BB/9, 1.80 K/BB and 8.0 H/9. Last season was Aardsma's first full season following Tommy John surgery in 2011.
If Aardsma can return to his 2009-10 form, then he has a very real chance to join the Indians' bullpen.
Lee has just eight big league appearances on his resume. However, the 27-year-old has an impressive track record in the minors, allowing a 2.94 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while averaging 11.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 3.85 K/BB.
A good spring training, and Lee may be able to make a permanent jump to the major league club.
Tomlin, who is likely to miss out on the team's fifth rotational spot, may present the Tribe with their best option in the bullpen. The 29-year-old has spent most of his career as a starter, so the transition to a long-relief role would come with relative ease.