In 2011 the Indians had one of the top five bullpens in franchise history, a group that was largely intact through the 2013 season. As often happens with bullpens, however, they were inconsistent from year to year and, despite a strong 2012, things totally fell apart in 2013. The players that had been great the previous two seasons, mostly Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez, dealt with injuries and struggled with effectiveness. The players who were great were mostly new pitchers like Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.
The 2014 relief corps will be considerably different than even the 2013 squad. Perez and Joe Smith are gone after being together since 2010 and minor role players from 2013 Matt Albers and Rich Hill are also out. This has created some turmoil from within and there are multiple relief roles up for grabs this Spring. To start, there are a few known players to get through first. This will only consider the usual seven man bullpen that most teams use, with a separate post to discuss the 25th man, who could be a reliever. John Axford will close with Shaw and Allen as primary set-up men and Josh Outman and Marc Rzepczynski coming in from the left side. This leaves two (or three with an eight man bullpen) spots open for a number of relievers too large to mention.
While there are many players who could technically win the role, it can be boiled down to a few legitimate options. First, there are the returning relievers from 2013 including Pestano, Scott Barnes, C.C. Lee, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann and Preston Guilmet. After that come the starters, only one of whom can make the roster as the fifth starter. These include Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Shaun Marcum. Finally, there have been many minor league signings and Spring Training invites given to relievers, the most likely to make the team of which are Matt Capps, JC Ramirez, Mike Zagurski, Tyler Cloyd, David Aardsma and Scott Atchison. There are also minor league pitchers who will be in camp like Bryan Price, Trey Haley, T.J. House, Colt Hynes and Blake Wood, but with so much competition, these players will likely stay in AAA.
The competition for the first job should be the easier of the two to figure out. Assuming this will not be starter and will be a veteran, the top contender is Pestano. Other top contenders for this role include Hagadone, Herrmann, Zagurski and Aardsma. A curious note here is that two known members of the bullpen are already left handed and two top contenders, Zagurski and Hagadone also pitch from the left side. In addition, Barnes is also a lefty, giving the Indians far more left handers in camp than they will ever need. The Indians don't play in a particularly left handed heavy division with the best hitters on most other teams (Miguel Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Josh Willingham and Jose Abreu) generally being right handed.
It is hard to see Pestano not winning this spot as long as he is healthy and at least decent during Spring. He has the longest tenure with the Indians and has the greatest raw talent of all players listed above. As listed above, his primary competition should be from the other veterans, especially the most recent pick up, Aardsma, since it is hard to picture the Indians keeping three or more left handed relievers on the roster.
For the final spot, the Indians have almost as many options in strategy as they do in pitchers. If they fear the durability and consistency of the starting rotation on a regular basis, they could carry a veteran starter as a long man, like Tomlin. If they want to just have an extra starter, Bauer or Carrasco could also be an option, although they will likely not want Bauer to pitch irregularly. They could also use this as a way to bring up another young reliever in preparation for a bigger role in the future, including the Indians top relief prospect from last season, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Trey Haley or others. As mentioned before, they could use it to carry an extra left handed reliever or a veteran that signed a minor league deal.
This role is almost impossible to figure out at this point, so there is little reason to go much further into it. Almost certainly, multiple competitors for the job will get injured and some will play themselves out of the job. The youngest of the prospects will be left in AAA to extend their time with the team, with the exception of Lee, who spent some time in Cleveland last season. BurningRiverBaseball will continue to follow this race as it continues this Spring as players will be eliminated a long time before a winner is announced. This will likely be the wildest competition this Spring and could possibly go on until the end of March.
Vinnie Pestano is working hard to regain his top spot.no comments