One of the strengths of the Cleveland Indians the past several years has been their bullpen, but right now it could have a revamped look in 2018.
Sure, the back end of the relief corps is still anchored by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, which means the 8th and 9th innings are taken care of.
The problem right now is the bridge between the starting pitchers and that dynamic duo for the last two innings.
Terry Francona has lost one of his main guys in rubberarmed Bryan Shaw, and another reliever who came aboard at the trade deadline a year ago, Joe Smith, will also not be back.
On a lesser note, Shawn Armstrong, who was kind of the swing guy between the big leagues and AAA a year ago, was traded to Seattle.
Francona said at the end of last season that it may take two pitchers to take the place of Shaw, who appeared in an American League leading 79 games in ’17, and has led the AL in games pitched in three of the last four seasons.
It is hard to see the replacements for Shaw and Smith on the current roster.
Nick Goody, picked up in a minor deal with the Yankees about a year ago, is probably the next hurler on Tito’s pecking order. Goody was 1-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 54-2/3 innings in 2017. He did strikeout 72 hitters last year, so he has swing and miss stuff.
Dan Otero is a guy Francona leans on early in games, so perhaps he could used in the 6th and 7th innings. The righty was 3-0 with a 2.85 ERA in ’17, but he is more of a sinkerballer with only 38 whiffs in 60 innings.
Zack McAllister is another option, but Francona seems to be hesitant to use him in high leverage situations because he’s basically a one pitch pitcher.
Perhaps Danny Salazar, with his electric stuff and durability issues, can be moved to the bullpen, but no one knows how his arm will react to this change in roles, and can he be effective over the long haul.
There doesn’t seem to be any in the minor leagues ready to step in and contribute either, but then again, no one saw Goody as a legitimate option heading into spring training.
We are sure the front office is looking at either a deal or free agent options for the ‘pen too.
Since the current management team has been in place, the Tribe has found guys like Scott Atchison, Otero, and Goody in free agency or in minor deals, and they have provided great help in relief.
We mentioned former Indians’ farmhand Hector Rondon previously as an option. He had closer experience with the Cubs.
However, until the replacements have success when the games count for real in April, you have to wonder about them.
And you have to wonder if and when they gain Tito’s trust. The skipper has a clear pecking order in his bullpen with certain guys pitching when the Tribe has a late lead, and the rest being relegated to pitching when the Indians are behind.
Based on the performance of the front office over the past five seasons, we have trust they will find arms to replace Shaw and Smith.
But there will certainly be a different dynamic in the Cleveland bullpen next season. New relief toys for Terry Francona.