The Indians made their first cuts of the spring earlier this week, and there were no surprises. The first 12 players sent back to the minor league camp were players who didn’t figure to make the team anyway.
Today, the club announced that Jason Giambi has a fractured rib and will be out for 3-4 weeks, meaning there is another opening on the bench.
If we assume Lonnie Chisenhall starts at third, Carlos Santana is the DH, and David Murphy will start in RF, and the Tribe will open the regular season with 12 pitchers, then there are four spots on the bench.
Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn, who were both stalwarts in reserve roles for Terry Francona in 2013, will fill two of those spots.
That leaves two spots open with the main candidates being infielders Elliot Johnson and Justin Sellers, picked up from the Dodgers during spring training, and outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nyjer Morgan.
All four players have big league experience.
Of course, that could change if Francona wants to carry another catcher because Santana will be getting more at bats as a DH.
Johnson and Sellers have made a good impression thus far.
The former, 29 years old, has the benefit of being a switch-hitter and can play 2B, 3B, SS and both corner outfield spots. He’s 7 for 19 with a home run in Arizona to date.
The negative that in parts of four big league seasons, he’s a lifetime .219 hitter with a 592 OPS.
Sellers is 27 years old and is considered to be a better option at SS defensively, although he can also play second base and third base.
He’s 6 for 10 thus far in exhibition play, but lifetime has a .199 batting average with a 579 OPS, although in limited playing time (266 plate appearances)
The two outfielders are much more experienced, although they haven’t performed very well thus far in Goodyear.
Francoeur is 30 years old, and has spent time with the Braves, Royals, and Giants in his career, batting .263 (725 OPS) with 140 home runs.
He’s a solid corner outfielder defensively and has a great throwing arm. His problem has been strike zone judgment. He’s allergic to the base on balls.
He does have a solid history vs. southpaws, with a lifetime .285 batting average and 800 OPS.
Morgan has also struggled a bit in camp, hitting just .200 (5 for 25) and left yesterday’s game with some sort of leg problem. He is now 33 years old and has a career .280 batting average (705 OPS).
He also has a strong platoon split, hitting .297 for his career against right-handed pitchers.
If Francona wants a third catcher, he’ll choose between veterans Matt Treanor and Luke Carlin.
Our opinion is that Francouer will claim one of the spots, basically taking Giambi’s spot on the team, and occasionally spelling Murphy in right field with Raburn perhaps at DH.
The other spot will go to Sellers because of his defensive prowess at SS.
Those are the tough decisions for Francona and GM Chris Antonetti, but they are important because of the way the skipper uses his entire roster.
Just one more thing to keep an eye on in the last two weeks of spring training.