Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta has earmarked Thursday as the day he will end all position battles and decide on a 25-man roster.
It will coincide with the April 1 exhibition game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where Fausto Carmona will take the mound for the Tribe in his final tune-up before the season.
Acta will be expected to roll out his Opening Day lineup, or some semblance of it, as he continues to ramp up the play of his regulars in the final days of spring training. That leaves just a few days for players competing for roster spots to stake one final claim.
Wednesday will be the last start for starter David Huff as he tries to beat out Carlos Carrasco for the final rotation spot.
Backup infielder Mark Grudzielanek is trying to shake off a late hamstring injury that could derail his chances of making the squad, and Jensen Lewis is trying his best to not do anything that may force him to be sent to Columbus.
Here is how I see the final roster shaping up and the corresponding moves that will have to be made to make it happen.
Anderson Hernandez wins backup role, Mark Grudzielanek accepts minor league assignment.
The battle between Mark Grudzielanek, Brian Bixler, and Luis Hernandez took an interesting turn when the Indians out-righted Bixler off the roster and added former National Anderson Hernandez, another of Acta's former players.
The job of backup middle infielder pretty much slipped away from there.
Grudzielanek hasn't had the greatest spring at the plate, but he could provide key veteran leadership for a young club.
The team likes Hernandez though, or else they wouldn't have put a claim in on him to acquire his services. Acta has familiarity, and Hernandez can handle shortstop better than Grudzielanek.
Not to mention the past few games, Hernandez has found his stroke, hitting well and stating a case that he can come off the bench and not be offensively challenged.
While Grudzielanek is not on the 40-man roster and Hernandez is, that shouldn't impact the decision as the Indians would simply outright designate Hernandez to make room for Grudzielanek.
I would pick the elder veteran with loads of experience over the waiver claim.
However, I feel like the Indians are going to pick Hernandez, making Grudzielanek pick between retirement, the minor leagues, or opting out and trying to find a major league job elsewhere.
I think he'd pick Triple-A Columbus, where he would be the first man up the minute the club feels Hernandez isn't getting the job done. Or the Tribe could straight-out release Grudzielanek and not revisit the possibility again.
The grizzled veteran believes his playing days are not over and he can still start at the major league level. Not making the roster won't stop him for pressing for the second base job in Cleveland or somewhere else.
David Huff wins rotation spot, Carlos Carrasco optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
While David Huff doesn't pitch until Wednesday, I have confidence that regardless of the outcome, Carlos Carrasco did too much to damage his case on Sunday.
Carrasco went out and walked six hitters and gave up five runs in his final audition against the Angels. That isn't the way to impress a coaching staff that has constantly preached throwing strikes all spring.
Most are shocked Carrasco is even in this position, as he wasn't until two glowing performances earlier this spring. But the club gave him the opportunity and he responded by going out and laying an egg.
The young right-hander even admitted he was pressing a little too much, and it perhaps got the best of him.
Huff hasn't had the sharpest spring, but he's shown flashes and for the most part, he's executed the desires of his pitching coach, Tim Belcher.
Huff won 11 games as a rookie last season with a troubling ERA.
But he came on strong to end the season and shows a lot of promise for a young pitcher. He would also be the only left-handed starter in the rotation if he were to make it.
Jensen Lewis and Jamey Wright win the final bullpen spots.
The battle for the bullpen got really interesting after the injury to Kerry Wood.
Instead of just two spots being open, a third was for the taking—and with veteran Jason Grilli sidelined, the race became wide open for anyone.
At the time of the Wood injury, there were really only four contenders for three spots: Jensen Lewis, Hector Ambriz, Saul Rivera, and Jamey Wright.
But the Indians made a decision to put Aaron Laffey into the bullpen and give Mitch Talbot a spot in the rotation.
Laffey was up for consideration in the rotation and probably would have beaten out Huff, but the club considers him the most versatile of the three starters that were up for rotation spots.
So just as quickly as one spot opened, it closed back up.
Hector Ambriz never really had a shot after the Wood injury, as he had been battling an elbow issue that restricted him from Cactus League action.
Expect the former starter who was claimed from Arizona in the Rule V Draft to be offered back to his old club within the coming days.
Jensen Lewis hasn't had the greatest spring, but he's shown effectiveness and has 40-man status. I think that will be enough for the team to put him in the bullpen to start the year.
That means the final spot comes down to Jamey Wright and Saul Rivera, two non-roster invitees. Both have pretty much mirrored each other this spring in terms of performance, so there may be other circumstances that come into play.
Rivera has an out-clause in his contract that says he can ask for his release if he isn't on the major league club by May 15. Jamey Wright has that same clause; only his is days away from kicking in.
I think that means the club will be more apt to give Wright the initial shot and have Rivera on stand-by in Columbus. Both will get their shot, but Wright just may get the first one.
He would take the 40-man roster spot of Ambriz, after the Indians either offer him back to Arizona, or work out some sort of deal to keep him.
Austin Kearns and Trevor Crowe beat out Michael Brantley for opening day nods.
Michael Brantley is going to play every day.
He is too valuable to sit on the bench and not collect experience. So he'll either be the Indians' everyday left fielder or Columbus' everyday center fielder.
The Indians wouldn't have signed Russell Branyan if they didn't want a short-term reason to keep Michael Brantley in the minor leagues so he doesn't rack up service time.
So why would they make him the opening day starter when they expect Branyan to be activated off the disabled list in a matter of a few weeks?
Austin Kearns is going to win the left field job, because he's a temporary fill until Branyan is healthy and ready to push LaPorta back into the outfield. That means Crowe will win the final outfield spot so Brantley can play every day in the minors.
Now the Indians could give the spot to Brantley and if he comes out like gangbusters, put themselves in a nice dilemma of having to decide what to do with him.
Or he could turn out to be bad and service time has been wasted, going against the Indians original plans.
I've got Kearns winning the job because it is only temporary. Brantley isn't going to get the job so the Indians can send him back down in two weeks.
Now we've got to clear up a 40-man spot for Kearns, where will it come from?
Lou Marson wins starting catching job, Wyatt Toregas out-righted off 40-man roster.
This hasn't been much of a position battle, but not because one side has dominated the other or anything like that.
It was pretty much assumed from the start of this "competition" that Marson was going to be the starter. Toregas had his "opportunity" and he'll go from competing for the starter's spot in Cleveland to backing up Carlos Santana in Columbus.
What really matters here is that Toregas is the only logical 40-man occupant that can be booted to make room for Austin Kearns.
The chances of Toregas making it past waivers are high, given the roster crunch that other teams may be making at this point in the season.
But even if the Indians lose Toregas, he isn't a huge part of the future plans and they could always call on Chris Gimenez if there is an injury early to Marson or Mike Redmond.
Final Roster Outlook
C: Lou Marson, Mike Redmond
IF: Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, Anderson Hernandez
OF: Austin Kearns, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Crowe
DH: Travis Hafner
SP : Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Mitch Talbot, David Huff
RP: Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Aaron Laffey, Jensen Lewis, Jamey Wright
15DL: Russell Branyan, Jeremy Sowers, Kerry Wood
60DL: Anthony Reyes
Hernandez ends up backing up second base and shortstop while Marte is the primary backup at first base and third base.
Crowe is the fourth outfielder only until Russell Branyan comes off the disabled list. That will force LaPorta into left and Kearns to the bench.
Jeremy Sowers will start the year on the disabled list as he didn't get enough time to be stretched out to start games. He'll use the rehab assignment to do that and hopefully by then the Indians can make a decision on what they'll do with him.
He is out of options, so they cannot send him down to the minor leagues without having to put him through waivers.
Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, and Joe Smith are the primary late inning relievers with Lewis and Wright mixed in. Aaron Laffey will be the long-man, but could also see regular work.
It wasn't quite the picture that many saw when they envisioned the 25-man roster at the start of spring training, but things never turn out the way you thought they would.
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