Indians spring training preview: The bullpen and bench
Feb 11, 2014 at 11:42a ET
The four best words of winter are here: Pitchers and catchers report.
Players have started filing into the spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., and it's time to find out how the Indians' offseason roster makeover looks on the field.
Cleveland had a pretty quiet offseason in terms of impact moves. But out of the 15 free agents they've signed up to this point, the Indians added a couple of key players and will head into camp with some solid options for bench depth. And per usual, they bought a few lottery tickets - which they've been known to hit on in the past.
Here's a preview of how the bullpen and bench look heading into camp.
Bullpen Mafia 3.0?
We can probably all agree that it's time to scrap the "Bullpen Mafia" moniker. With the departure of Chris Perez and Joe Smith, the only remaining member of the original 2011 mafia is Vinnie Pestano, who will have to earn his roster spot back.
-- Fresh off an uncomfortable salary arbitration hearing, Pestano will have the challenge of bouncing back from a rough, injury-plagued 2013 campaign.
-- Perez, who will be sorely missed, has been replaced by veteran closer John Axford, who comes to Cleveland on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. The 30-year-old notched 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011 but struggled early last season after pitching in the World Baseball Classic and was traded to St. Louis. Axford eventually settled in, posting a 2.92 ERA in his final 71 appearances with the Brewers and Cardinals.
-- Losing Smith might sting a little, but Cody Allen and/or Brian Shaw should be able to step in to the role of set-up man without missing a beat. Plus, Antonetti and co. did a fine job of bringing in guys like Josh Outman, Scott Atchison and David Aardsma for legitimate bullpen depth.
Aardsma and Atchison are both bullpen journeymen and will compete for a spot as the team's long reliever. Outman, who spent the last two seasons with the Rockies, is almost guaranteed to make the team as a middle-relief left-handed specialist.
Return of the 'Goon Squad'
The Indians are in a pretty good spot with their bench heading into camp. Last year's bench players, who were affectionately dubbed the "Goon Squad", were a huge key to the Indians success, especially down the stretch. Most of the "goons" will be back this season, and unless manager Terry Francona decides to break camp with 13 pitchers again, expect to see a couple new names on the final 25-man roster.
-- The only "goon" in question is 43-year-old Jason Giambi, who claims to have enough gas left in the tank for at least one more season. There's no reason to think Papa G can't contribute enough to earn himself a roster spot when camp breaks... Aside from his age.
Battle for a bench spot
The few remaining bench spots are pretty much up for grabs and there will be a small village of spring training invitees competing for those spots.
-- Elliot Johnson, who was brought in on a minor league deal, is the most versatile of the bunch. His ability to switch-hit and play middle infield, third base and both corner outfield spots will likely land him a spot.
-- 30-year-old Jeff Francoeur is a .263 career hitter and former Gold Glove winner. He was signed to a minor league deal as an option for outfield depth. Though he's often injured and unable to hit for power, his veteran status could work in his favor as the roster is trimmed.
With so many guys vying for the remaining bench spots, the battle will probably come down to the final days of spring training.
In part two of our spring training preview, we'll take a look at the starting rotation, the outfield and possible lineup projections.
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