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Tribe Happenings: The bullpen is starting to come together

Tribe Happenings: The bullpen is starting to come together
March 17, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Happy St. Patty’s Day Tribe fans! I’m out in Goodyear now, so expect tons of stuff this week on the site and also look for some of my stuff that will appear exclusively at www.FoxSportsOhio.com.

Hill and Allen make opening day bullpen

The cloudy bullpen situation is starting to become clearer for the Indians.

Earlier in the week closer Chris Perez started his return to throw program and on Saturday threw 15 pitches in a bullpen session. Barring any setbacks, he should be ready to go for the start of the season. The Indians also added left-hander Rich Hill to the 40-man roster which means unless he gets hurt he is on the opening day roster, and on Friday manager Terry Francona officially tabbed right-hander Cody Allen as part of his opening day pen.

With Hill and Allen added to a bullpen that already includes Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith, that means depending on whether the Indians go with a 12 or 13 man pitching staff to open the season only two or three spots remain open in the bullpen. The remaining candidates include Matt AlbersScott BarnesMatt CappsNick HagadoneDavid Huff, and Bryan Shaw. Diasuke Matsuzaka is not considered to be part of the bullpen mix and is still only viewed as a starter.

The Indians have not formally announced Hill as part of the opening day bullpen, but his addition to the 40-man roster pretty much makes it so. Had they not rostered him they could have easily sent him to the minors as he was signed to a minor league deal, but by rostering him he would now have to clear waivers AND accept an assignment to the minors for him to go to Triple-A Columbus. Given how he has pitched so far this spring, he’d either be snatched up on waivers or he’d decline the assignment and sign a Major League deal with someone else. He’s shown he is ready to pitch in the big leagues and might be the Indians primary lefty out of the pen to start the season.

As to why the Indians added Hill so early in spring training remains a mystery. Typically, teams don’t add non-roster invitees to the Major League roster until they absolutely have to - which is usually right at the end of spring training. Just speculation here, but it is possible that Hill had a clause in his contract that called for him to be added to the roster by March 11th or he could request his release. I only speculate on this because not only was he added this date, but it is the same date that outfielder Ben Francisco requested and was granted his release from the Indians. That can’t be a coincidence, and perhaps he had the same clause in his minor league deal with the Indians.

Allen’s addition to the bullpen is a welcomed sight. He was one of the best stories of the year last season for the Indians as he catapulted his way to the Major League’s in record time flying through three levels in the minors and getting to Cleveland in three months. There was some belief the Indians would have him open the season in Columbus to refine his fastball command as he was a little wild last year. It was also thought that they might give an opportunity to someone else who was maybe in a roster crunch, but that is not the case as Francona and the front office clearly made the decision on talent rather than trying to makeshift the roster to take a lesser player to start the season.

As for what is going to happen with the other two spots in the bullpen, the possibilities are endless.

Albers obviously has the inside track to one spot and is a near lock given the fact he cannot be sent to the minors and he is set to make a guaranteed $1.75 million this season. That said, with all of the right-handed pitching depth the Indians have and so many teams looking for cheap right-handed bullpen arms to round out their bullpens, it is very possible that the Indians are looking to trade him before the season starts. I always felt when the Indians acquired him in the Bauer-Choo trade that he would be flipped at some point before the season to fill a need in the minors, and I still feel that way, maybe stronger than ever.

If Albers makes the opening day roster, then it makes it academic as to who wins the final spot as it will likely go to a second left-hander in the pen, one of Hagadone or Barnes. Both are very deserving for the opening day opportunity, but Hagadone has been impressive in camp and has more electric stuff, so at this point probably has a decided leg up on that last spot.

If Albers does not make the opening day bullpen, then it means that one of Shaw, Capps, or Huff will make it. Capps can easily be sent to the minors since he is signed to a minor league deal (so long as he does not have an early April opt out). Shaw has options remaining, so the Indians are free to do with him as they please. Huff is out of options, so the Indians will either have to put him on the opening day roster, trade him, or designate him for assignment.  It is possible that if the Indians go with a 13th pitcher to open the season that two of these pitchers could make the opening day roster, but I still believe the talk of adding a 13th pitcher for the start of the season is the Indians solution to circumventing the six-game suspension for right-hander Carlos Carrasco.

So, the options for the final spot in the pen boil down to this: go with the mediocre but consistent Albers or trade him and go with the young, steady Shaw, the proven veteran Capps, or get one final look at Huff before letting him go. I still side with keeping Huff around simply because - of all the options - he can best fill a long man role which will be needed with the Indians playing 13 straight days to open the season, not to mention when it is close I just take the lefty.

Those questions and more should become much clearer over the next seven to ten days as the Indians make more roster cuts and decisions for their opening day roster.

Gomes should open in Columbus

Indians catcher and versatile player Yan Gomes has made a good first impression this spring. He passed on the opportunity to play for his home country Brazil in the World Baseball Classic in order to concentrate his efforts on making the Indians’ opening day roster. To date he has impressed with the bat hitting .385 with 1 HR, 6 RBI and 1.141 OPS in 26 at bats so far this spring.

Gomes, 25, knew going into spring training that his chances of making the roster were slim, so the focus has not necessarily been on making the roster, it has been to show Terry Francona and the rest of the decision makers what he can do so that when the time comes to make a roster decision later in the year, they will have a full spring to look back on with him in making such a decision.  So the decision to stick around is mostly just that: to make a name for himself so the team has no fear of calling him up when needed. Even if he does not make the opening day roster his mission has definitely been accomplished.

At this point, barring something surprising happening or some injuries occurring, Gomes is going to open the season as the everyday catcher at Triple-A Columbus. It is one of the worst kept secrets around the team, and even he probably already knows and understands that. He most definitely is deserving of a Major League opportunity, but at the outset of the season the Indians are very likely to go with the veteran Ryan Raburn as their primary versatile right-handed corner bat off the bench. With Lou MarsonMike Aviles, and then one of Jason Giambi or a 13th pitcher expected to round out the bench, there is no room to give Gomes the playing time he still needs to develop.

Gomes needs to play every day in Columbus and not rot on the bench like he would in Cleveland. His defensive skills behind the plate are still questionable, so he needs to show more polish and consistency to his defense behind the plate before he can ever be considered a replacement to Marson as the backup catcher. He can’t develop as a catcher sitting on the bench in Cleveland; it has to be in Columbus.

The way things set up, with Marson earning $1 million this season and likely to get more next season if he remains in the organization, the Indians need to find a suitable long term option at the backup catcher position this season. This is why it is so important to be patient and use the time to try and finish off Gomes at Columbus rather than force him onto the roster in Cleveland. By giving him a few months, or possibly the whole season in Columbus, he might be ready to take over backup catching duties for Marson by the end of the season, if not sooner.

Also, if Raburn struggles and hits a wall, the Indians won’t waste any time to replace him on the roster by late May or early June. If that time comes, and they are comfortable with bringing Gomes up at that time, that is when we could see Gomes get his shot and make a more permanent transition to the big leagues. Obviously, that shot could come sooner if Marson or Carlos Santana get hurt, but Gomes looks like he will be in Columbus for at least the first two months and then reassess things with him and the roster at that time.

If Gomes shows strides with the consistency of his defense, and he also continues to perform offensively showing that last season was not a mirage at Las Vegas, then he will be a valuable midseason addition to the lineup or down the stretch run. Most of all, he could be set to take the reins from Marson as the full time caddy to Santana by the end of the year.

Herrmann out for the year

Up until this week the Indians were able to avoid any major bad news in camp, which is what everyone in the organization and the fans hold their breath about in spring training. When it comes to spring training the only thing that matters is getting players ramped up to play a 162-game season and breaking camp as healthy as humanly possible.

Unfortunately, the Indians got some bad news on Tuesday as right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann visited Dr. David Altchek in New York to get a second opinion on his ailing right elbow, and it was determined that Tommy John surgery was needed. He had surgery the next day with Dr. Altcheck and is expected to be out for 12-18 months while he recovers and rehabs from the surgery. His 2013 season is now over before it even began.

Herrmann, 28, last pitched on February 25th versus the Oakland A’s in Phoenix and in two appearances this spring totaled 2.0 innings and allowed four runs (all earned) on five hits, a homer and no walks or strikeouts.  Last season he made 15 total appearances with the Indians and went 0-0 with a 2.33 ERA, and in 19.1 innings allowed 12 hits, 4 walks, and had 14 strikeouts. In 95 career big league appearances he is 4-1 with a 4.26 ERA, and in 120.1 innings has allowed 131 hits, 14 home runs, 29 walks and has 72 strikeouts.

While the injury is unfortunate for Herrmann and it hurts the Indians from a depth standpoint in the bullpen, the Indians thankfully have a plethora of right-handed relief options at their disposal to fill the void Herrmann’s injury has created. New opportunities could come for veteran Matt Capps who signed a minor league deal with the Indians this offseason, or even minor league invitee Matt Langwell who has impressed in camp.

With Herrmann out for the season he will likely at some point between now and the start of the season be placed on the 60-day disabled list to create a spot on the 40-man roster so the Indians can add non-roster players Scott Kazmir or Ryan Raburn onto the opening day roster.

Something else to consider with Herrmann is if he is placed on the 60-day disabled list and stays on it all year he will accrue an entire year of service time without throwing a pitch this season. That means his service time would bump up from the 1 year, 147 days he has right now to 2 years, 147 days at the end of the season.

Why is this noteworthy? Well, it should put him into the Super 2 class for players eligible for arbitration that are just below the three year requirement. With the prospects of him possibly being out for the first few months of next season, his value as just a depth bullpen option, and the Indians possible need for his roster spot to add someone of more importance to the roster, he could find his way off the 40-man roster sometime in the offseason.

We are a long way from any of that and anything can happen between now and then, but it is something to consider going forward as the Indians maneuver around roster issues throughout the season and in the offseason. For now, the focus is about getting Herrmann healthy and ready to pitch next season. The business side of the game will take care of itself in due time.

Handicapping the other position battles

With just 15 days left until the start of the season, the 25-man opening day roster is going to really start to come into focus over the next several days. The bullpen was already broken down at length above, but here is how I see the other option positions as of now:

5th starter: Scott Kazmir. This is about as much a lock and sure thing as there is at this point, and the only reason he has not been officially named to the post is because he still has two or three appearances left this spring. That means he could easily get nicked up and have to open the season on the disabled list, and of course, there is a psychological game in play with the other candidates Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber where you want them to believe they were in it until the very end.

Bench: Mike Aviles, Lou Marson, Ryan Raburn, and Jason Giambi. The bench looks all but a lock at this point as Raburn has earned a spot on the team because of his versatility and experience. Giambi is a question mark only because if they carry 13 pitchers to start the season then he would not make the opening day roster, but he would probably stick around and be added a week into the season. He really seems to have taken on the Dave Winfieldrole a la 1995 for this team that is here as a leader first and player second.

2013 IBI Book availability

Just a quick update on the availability of the new 2013 Indians Baseball Insider: The Top 100 Prospects & More book.

I recently confirmed several other outlets where the book will be available. Here are the options you have to get a copy of the book:

  • The best way to get it is through my publisher's e-store as linked with the photo of the book at the bottom of the book page. The link to the store is right here.
  • The team shops for the Cleveland Indians, Columbus Clippers, Akron Aeros, Carolina Mudcats and Lake County Captains will all have the book in there at the start of the season.
  • The book is available for sale at Amazon.com and can be purchased at this link.
  • A Kindle version of the book can also be purchased through Amazon. It retails for $9.99 and is a stripped down version of the book without any stats, graphs, or pictures, but has all 204 scouting reports. To purchase it go to the Kindle store.
  • A signed copy of the book can also be purchased directly through me. To make arrangements to receive a signed copy from me please contact me (the form is sent right to my personal email address). Note that I will not be able to mail out any orders until March 28th since I am in Arizona for spring training.

Parting shots

On Monday outfielder Ben Francisco was given his release at his request, and quickly signed with the Yankees. … Over the course of the past week the Indians have optioned Tim FedroffT.J. HouseTrey Haley, Chen-Chang Lee,Mike McDade, and Danny Salazar to the minors, and have reassigned Matt LaPortaFernando NieveRoberto Perez and Nate Spears to minor league camp. … Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera is hitting .250 (8-for-32) this spring with 8 stolen bases and a .708 OPS. He is not expected to make the opening day roster, which means since he is out of options the Indians will probably have to look at trading him or hope he clears waivers so they can assign him to Columbus as depth. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis is having a forgettable camp as he is hitting .162 (6-for-37) with 1 HR, 3 RBI, 9 strikeouts and .470 OPS. The regular season can’t start soon enough for him.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

troy
March 25, 2013 - 9:47 PM EDT
Who cares about a crappy pitcher like Frank Hermann? The guy sucks balls! I have no idea why this forum is so infatuated with this POS? Personally i couldnt care less about how cool the guy is. Bottom line he sucks as a MLB pitcher!
jwahoo
March 17, 2013 - 3:37 PM EDT
Interesting, I thought they might give Allen a little more time to develop with the crowded bullpen situation but its not difficult to understand why they added him to the 25 man. He could be an impact type arm in the bullpen. One of the best middle relief pitchers in the AL.

I think there is only 1 more open bullpen slot. Nick Hagadone almost has to be a lock at this point. He is young, under team control and is a true power lefty. I think he has the stuff to be pitch to both RH and LF and will join Pestano and Smith as a three man set up team for Closer Chirs Perez.

Hill is the LOOGY and Cody Allen in the middle relief go to guy. Thats just one open spot left.

Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, Scott Barnes, David Huff and Matt Capps are the options. Albers has the spot at the moment but will be traded if someone is willing to give us a resonable return.

I like Matt Capps for the slot unless he can be stored at AAA with no problems. With Capps you get a vet who can bring an almost Closer like quality to the middle innings. Alot of times the turning point of the game happens in those innings and haveing a guy who can work out of a jam or provide a bridge from the starter to the back of the bullpen could be a real advantage on a team with a questionable rotation. I think Capps will pitch here at some point but it does not have to be at Opening Day if we can keep him on a minor league contract.

Bryan Shaw and Scott Barnes are to me both future cogs in our bullpen. Just maybe not right away this year. Both have options and can be stashed away at AAA to further develop their skill set and provide depth to the bullpen.

So, if Albers is traded and Capps goes to AAA that just leaves one guy. David Huff. You never want to give away a talented young lefty and Huff has shown promise during his time with the org. Perhaps a move to the bullpen will allow him to hone his craft and play to his abilities better. I have seen many young lefties who take awhile to figure it out. David Huff could be the "utilty pitcher" really pitching all over the bullpen but his primary role will be as the "Long Man". It makes sense to have one with a underwhelming rotation and since most of our starters are RH it makes sense that most opposing teams will structure their lineups with as many LH bats as possible. This could put Huff in a good sitatuation to come in and help stabalize the game and give us a chance to get back into the ballgame. I know his splits are not anything special but with a move to the pen it will be interesting to see how he responds. This gives us one last chance to see what the talented young lefty has got.

If anything goes south (as it always does) Bryan Shaw, Matt Capps and Scott Barnes will be a short road trip away. The Tribe also has TONS of other depth options for the pen that could prime themselves for a spot later in the year.

I mean Langwell, Armstrong, Bryson, Stowell and others. Blake Wood could be ready by mid season. I think Trey Haley, Austin Adams, Danny Salazar, Gio Soto and even Corey Kluber could all find their true callings in the back end of a bullpen. Tons of talent and depth when it comes to the bullpen. We need to be proactive this season and say "hey we might not have a stellar rotation but we have 7 stellar arms in our bullpen". Who knows what Chen Lee will pitch like when he returns from TJ. He has always been my favorite of the young bullpen arms, he already had dominate stuff and if TJ can add a MPH or two to his fastball watch out. Having all this depth helps make up for the rotation and gives us steady supply of prospects to use as trade bait to fill small holes on the team.

Sorry, its so long I am really excited about our bullpen not only this year but in the future as well.

P.S @ Shy, how does "Vinny have to find himself"?

I still think Lou Marson has potential. He calls a good game, had a really good arm in 2011, showed good plate discipline last year and if he could add some power we could be looking at one of the best back up catchers in the game. I think Yan Gomes could be more than just the back up catcher and spend time next year behind the plate as well as DH, 1B, 3B and LF and RF.
Quinton
March 17, 2013 - 12:41 PM EDT
Indians are 10/1 odds to win the AL Central in Vegas
Matthew
March 17, 2013 - 12:32 PM EDT
I have to say, it's great to see the 25-man all but finalized with 2 weeks left in camp. It seems like in past years, we were still trying to figure out which washed up hack would be our everyday 3B, LF, etc., at this point in camp.

Personally, I'd prefer to see the bullpen shape up with Hagadone and Huff getting the remaining 2 spots. If Huff can't thrive in the long man role, then we move on knowing we gave him every possible opportunity to be a contributor.

Making a small deal for Albers just makes so much sense. $1.75M is too much to pay for the last guy in a bullpen, and we have much higher-upside options also vying for a spot. I know we wouldn't get much of a return, but I'd take a low-minors lottery ticket for him and be thrilled.
shy
March 17, 2013 - 12:31 PM EDT
Hmmm I get what you're saying about Gomes needing to catch everyday and improve his behind the plate skills and I agree it would be nice to give him the opp in Columbus to do that. But before I pack the Dungeness , let me be the first to report that the Giants are looking at Lou Marson as a possible back-up to Buster Posey. Hector Sanchez came into camp out of shape and is headed to the DL. A deal for Marson of course would change everything. I like what Gomes brings to the table immediately as a DH/pinch-hitter/ and occasional 1B/catcher. I am ok with him working on the side w Alomar. I like Giambi as a coach but I'm not at all sure he can catch up to real speed pitching anymore, I don't think you burn a roster spot with him at this point. The way Chisenhall is playing against both righties and lefties I don't see Reynolds getting a lot of time at 3rd and it remains to be seen if he can keep his timing in shape w limited reps at first and the low contact rate is a little scary at DH. I also don't think they need 13 pitchers more than half of whom are mediocre. I certainly haven't seen anything from Capps or Albers that tells the Indians need them in the bullpen. Shaw has pitched pretty well and I think they need him if Perez has a slow start and Vinnie doesn't find himself- Vinnie had some meltdowns end of the season last year and they continued in the WBC- I'm a little concerned there isn't some physical issue. Barnes and Hagadone both looking good, but I think Barnes goes to Columbus or gets traded. TIming and feel is really important for him because of his arm-slot, he needs to pitch regularly. Meanwhile, the Royals are looking like this could be their breakout year. I'd pick the Indians as the dark horse if the Royals were playing in a different division. I guess they're both dark horses, and Jim Leyland's boys aren't going down either without a fight. It should be fun. Good stuff as always Tony. The site is growing and developing very nicely.

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