Roster Spot Battles Heat Up For Tribe.

Major league baseball will begin its season in less than two weeks, so we are down to the nitty gritty in terms of battles for Opening Day roster spots.

For the sake of this piece, we will assume that Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, and Danny Salazar will all open the season on the disabled list, something that is definite for the latter two, but Brantley has started to hit in minor league games.

We will also figure that Terry Francona will keep 13 pitchers, meaning eight relievers will make the team.  This is the way to keep Ryan Merritt, who is out of options.

The first battle is who will be the Tribe’s utility infielder in Seattle on March 29th.

It was figured going into camp that Erik Gonzalez was the frontrunner, but Giovanny Urshela has made a very strong bid to beat him out.  Urshela has been playing all four infield spots and his bat has been great, as he is 18 for 33 with 3 HR in Arizona.

He has walked just once, but has struck out only three times.

Gonzalez is 6 for 26 without a homer and has walked three times and fanned in seven at bats.  Strike zone judgment has always been an issue for him as his career strikeout to walk ratio is 45:4.

Neither have options remaining, and we would think Gonzalez has more trade value because he’s a natural shortstop and his glove can play as a regular in the majors.

In the outfield, we would pencil in Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall on the team, but who is the primary leftfielder and who is the other right-handed bat considering both Zimmer and Chiz hit left-handed.

What we don’t understand is why Yandy Diaz isn’t getting reps in the outfield, because you could put him in left on an everyday basis, meaning the battle would be between veterans Rajai Davis and Melvin Upton Jr, and Rob Refsnyder.

Tyler Naquin could be in the mix too, but he’s another left handed bat.

Nobody has really taken charge in this battle.  Davis is 7 for 27 with one extra base hit and no walks.  Upton is 6 for 33 with a home run, three walks, and has fanned 11 times, while Refsnyder is 7 for 31 with two homers and six walks.

Again, why not consider Diaz, who is 10 for 28 with a dinger and four walks?

Our guess is Francona will pick Davis and Upton and give them a week or two on the big league roster as an audition.

As for the bullpen, if Merritt is kept, six of the spots have been filled with Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Zack McAllister, and Tyler Olson claiming them.

We think Nick Goody has pitched his way out of a solid spot by giving up 14 hits and 10 runs in seven innings of work.

Matt Belisle, signed at the beginning of camp, probably claims one spot allowing two runs in eight innings, although the 13 hits allowed are troubling.

That leaves Alexi Ogando (one run in eight innings, 12 strikeouts), and Carlos Torres (seven runs, 13 hits in 7-1/3 frames, but really one bad outing) battling with Goody.

We feel you will see Francona using these guys in high leverage situations for the next week and a half to figure out.  We note that Ogando was the second pitcher used yesterday and threw two innings.

In fact, we think you will see all of these players getting a lot of time until the decision is made.  The regulars will get their at bats in minor league contests.

Decision time is coming.  A strong finish by each one of these players could put them in Seattle for game one.




Doesn’t Look Like Tribe Did Enough In Trade Market (At Least For Now)

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went yesterday, and the Cleveland Indians did make one trade, sending two minor leaguers to Toronto for reliever Joe Smith, who will be making his second stint with the Tribe.

Smith, who played for the Indians from 2009-13, compiling a 2.76 ERA and three saves in that period, is a quality relief pitcher.  His lifetime ERA is under 3.00 (2.95), and he is having a great season, with 51 strikeouts in 35 innings this year.

However, being a sidearmer, he is extremely effective against right handed hitters, holding them to an OPS of 588 and a .215 batting average.

Against left-handed hitters, the OPS against is 708, and this year that figure is 749, so he is more like a ROOGY, which will benefit the bullpen, but is that the biggest need for the relief corps.

Our biggest concern, which we discussed in the last post, is the overuse of Andrew Miller, and we don’t see how getting Smith remedies that.

When Smith was a member of Terry Francona’s bullpen in 2013, the only year they were together, he drew the later inning work, with Bryan Shaw working earlier.  Basically, Shaw took Smith’s spot when he departed in free agency following the season.

So, will Francona trust Smith is late inning situations again?

If he does, that will ease the burden on Shaw, Miller, and Cody Allen in the late innings of close games that the Indians are winning.

Francona can say anything he wants, but it is clear there is a pecking order in the bullpen, and when the Tribe has the lead late, he goes to that trio, pretty much on an exclusive basis.

There still is a pressing need for another left-hander, and perhaps Tyler Olson can fill that bill, but do you really think Tito would trust him to get Eric Hosmer out in a key game against Kansas City later this month?

Another factor with Smith is the health of his right arm.  He spent some time on the disabled list earlier in the year with inflammation in his shoulder.

The trust factor is another reason we are surprised GM Mike Chernoff didn’t strengthen the bench as well.

Right now, with Jason Kipnis on the shelf, Francona’s options are Erik Gonzalez, who has a terrible strikeout to walk ratio, or Giovanny Urshela, who is struggling to hit at all.

When Kipnis is back, Gonzalez will return to his utility role, but would the skipper and/or the fans feel comfortable having to put him in to pinch hit if the need was there?

We are all for playing young players, but in a pennant race, wouldn’t you rather have an experienced guy who can hit and can handle the strike zone?

We understand that it takes two to tango, and the Cleveland front office could’ve been eager to make a move, but if other teams were steadfast in wanting Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie, we would have passed as well.

Still, it seems like the organization is putting a lot of faith in the return of Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall.  Unfortunately, Kipnis has struggled all year and quite frankly, we don’t know what he will do when he returns.

They also seem to be putting a lot of faith in Danny Salazar’s last two starts.

You try to eliminate as many of the possible weak spots on your roster when making a playoff run, and we aren’t sure the Indians did that.

Hopefully, there are some moves to come in August.



Early Spring Battles For Tribe

Baseball’s exhibition games have been played for just a little over a week, and the Cleveland Indians are right where they should be record wise.

We have long maintained a .500 record is what every team strives for, so as to not overly encourage or discourage a fan base.

Of course, after your team goes to the seventh game of the World Series the previous year, it should be difficult to temper expectations.

Because of the World Baseball Classic and the number of Indians playing in it, several young players will get a longer look than normal, not only because of the tournament, but also due to a longer spring training.

As we have said previously, there aren’t a lot of open spots on the 25 man roster, barring injuries.  There is one spot open in the bullpen, and the utility man position is also up for grabs.

We also have serious doubts that Michael Brantley will open the season on the active roster, so there is an extra spot open for manager Terry Francona.

The frontrunner for the last spot in the bullpen would seem to be Shawn Armstrong, who has put together three straight scoreless outings to open exhibition play.

The real reason Armstrong should be the leader is his 1.84 ERA at Columbus last year and his 72 strikeouts in 49 innings.

The other contenders are Joe Colon (15.75 ERA in four innings), Perci Garner (3-2/3 innings, allowed 5 hits and 5 walks), Nick Goody ( 3 scoreless innings), and rule 5 draftee Hoby Milner (one horrific outing, but 7 strikeouts in four innings).  Milner has to be offered back to Philadelphia if he doesn’t make the big league roster.

The utility man spot is complicated.  Erik Gonzalez should be the front runner because he is out of options and the organization could lose him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.

Gonzalez is primarily a shortstop and is very good defensively at that spot.  Good enough that he could definitely help another team if they have a chance to get him.

The other primary contender is Michael Martinez, a Tito favorite, and also a guy respected by the clubhouse.

Martinez is solid defensively at several positions, but is also has been one of the worst hitters in the major leagues over his career.

He is also not currently on the 40 man roster, which means someone would have to be removed if he were to make the team.

Our guess is that Gonzalez gets the job with Martinez being the good soldier, starting the season in Columbus where he is just two hours away.

That is, unless both make the team as outfielders replacing Brantley on the roster to open the year.

With Brantley healthy, we would expect the outfielders to be him, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Brandon Guyer.

Assuming Austin Jackson is healthy, he would be the favorite to take Brantley’s spot to start the season.  If he can’t go, you could see both Martinez and Gonzalez open the year on the big league roster, or perhaps Chris Colabello makes the team.

On the other hand, a lot could happen between now and April 3rd, when the Tribe opens up in Texas.

But keep on eye on these players to see how they handle being the frontrunners.