Projecting the Cleveland Indians' 25-Man Roster on Opening Day
The Cleveland Indians shocked the baseball world a year ago.
Improving by 24 wins from 2012, manager Terry Francona led the Tribe to a second-place finish in the AL Central and the team’s first playoff appearance since 2007. The city and its fans welcomed Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn and veteran power hitter Jason Giambi to the team, as the offseason’s free-agent spending spree helped put the team over the top.
Coming into this season, the Tribe are hungry to build upon their success and have their sights set on dethroning the Detroit Tigers for the division crown.
As always, the key to a title lies within a pitching staff. While Cleveland has a number of questions in both its rotation and the bullpen, the Tribe has assembled an exceptional lineup heading into 2014. The following slides depict how that lineup might look come Opening Day against the Oakland Atletics on March 31.
In the Lineup
The Tribe returns a starting lineup that is strikingly similar to the one they fielded in 2013. Right fielder David Murphy, who was acquired via free agency from the Texas Rangers, takes the place of Drew Stubbs, who the Tribe sent to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for left-handed pitcher Josh Outman.
Cleveland will rely heavily on increased production from players like Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Asdrubal Cabrera and continued growth from Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana.
The only major question marks in the lineup surrounds third base: Can Santana play third base every day? Will this finally be the year Lonnie Chisenhall fulfills his potential? or Will Francona have to rely heavily on Mike Aviles to pick up the slack?
As he did last season, Francona will likely shuffle the lineup frequently throughout the season. The lineup above is representative of the Opening Day starters, as an injury to Oakland Athletics ace Jarrod Parker may send left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir to the mound. If that is the case, Francona may opt to assemble his lineup with more right-handed hitters, allowing Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles to get the nod in an ongoing platoon situation.
Goon Squad 2.0
Francona loves bullpens and benches when putting teams together. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Francona invited 20 relievers to camp and a handful of position players who might be able to help the Indians win a game.
Last year, the Tribe’s bench—dubbed the “Goon Squad” by Mike Aviles—was incredibly productive. Aviles, along with Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn and Jason Giambi, are all back this season, but Gomes has made the leap to starting catcher and Giambi will likely begin the season on the disabled list as he recovers from a broken rib suffered when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Edwin Jackson of the Chicago Cubs on March 7.
Aviles and Raburn will likely be relied on in more permanent platoon roles, and the Indians will need one more reserve to have an impact.
Elliot Johnson has been particularly effective this spring, hitting .364 with a 1.079 OPS over 33 at-bats. Johnson is not known for his bat, however, and there would be no expectation for him to hit plus-.300 in the big leagues. His glove could bolster the bench’s versatility, as his ability to play seemingly every position gives him a definite advantage over bench hopefuls Nyjer Morgan and Justin Sellers.
Since Jeff Francoeur was cut on Saturday morning, per CBS Cleveland's T.J. Zuppe, it seems as if Morgan may have the upper hand in earning the final spot on the Tribe’s bench—especially if Michael Bourn (left hamstring) is not ready for Opening Day.
On the Bump
- He's 'come as advertised.'
- He's a 'good teammate.
- He 'doesn't walk anyone.'
- He 'doesn't beat himself.'
Veteran righty Justin Masterson will naturally resume his role as the staff ace. The 28-year-old made 32 appearances—29 starts—last season, allowing a 3.45 ERA while averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He must continue to improve in the way of command, but he is certainly the closest thing to a shutdown starter the Tribe has going into the season.
Danny Salazar, who pitched exceptionally well at the end of last season, was quick to claim one of those spots in the rotation even before he ever took the mound in a spring training game. His rather dominant performance at the end of last season has Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway high on his potential to become a staff ace sooner than expected.
The final spot, however, remains unknown.
With Trevor Bauer continuing to struggle with his command and Carlos Carrasco coming off a terrible outing, Josh Tomlin will likely claim the final spot. The 29-year-old right-hander has been sharp in 14 innings this spring, striking out 14 batters against only two walks and posting a 2.57 earned run average. While he might be the favorite to win the job out of camp, Tomlin will need to have a strong first half to retain that spot throughout the season. If he stumbles out of the gate, look for either Carrasco or Bauer to step in and assume Carrasco’s spot in the rotation.
According to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer, here is what Francona has said about Tomlin:
Either way, starting pitching is a major question mark for the Tribe entering the season. Each of the four young arms (excluding Masterson) must continue their progression this season if the Tribe is to return of the playoffs in 2014.
The bullpen underwent some serious changes this offseason, and it is too early to tell whether those changes will be for better or worse.
The loss of long-time Bullpen Mafia members Chris Perez and Joe Smith leaves a gaping hole that, much like Cody Allen did last season, someone will need to step in and fill. Allen and Bryan Shaw were among the top contributors for the Tribe in 2013, contributing a 2.43 and 3.24 earned run average, respectively, across 145.1 combined innings.
John Axford, who is coming off an inconsistent season with the Milwaukee Brewers, played an integral role in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen. He corrected a number of fundamental miscues and finished the season with a 1.74 earned run average in 10.1 innings with the Cards.
In order to supplement a young rotation, the Tribe is going to need strong performances from all the arms in their bullpen. Carrasco will be on standby as a spot starter and pitch in long relief, a role he proved he could be successful in last season. Vinnie Pestano and Marc Rzepczynski will also have to produce when called upon if the Tribe is to contend in 2014.