On Thursday the Indians made some more roster decisions that clear up things with regard to the opening day roster.
The Indians optioned right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer, left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes, and right-handed pitcher Corey Kluber to Triple-A Columbus. Left-handed pitcher Giovanni Soto was in camp as a non-roster player and was reassigned to minor league camp.
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The moves of Bauer and Kluber bring more clarity to the fifth starter battle as it is now down to left-hander Scott Kazmir and right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The last two spots in the bullpen are now down to left-hander Nick Hagadone, left-hander David Huff, right-hander Matt Albers, and right-hander Bryan Shaw.
Kazmir has had a fantastic camp and has looked like a done deal for the fifth starter spot for a few weeks now. He looks healthy, his stuff has mostly returned, and the power to his fastball is close to what it once was as he has been up to 94 MPH.
Most importantly, Kazmir has performed. In three appearances in big league game action he has thrown eight shutout innings and allowed five hits, one walk, and has eight strikeouts. He has also pitched eight innings in minor league games, and in total between big league and minor league appearances he has thrown 16.0 innings and allowed 16 hits, four runs, three walks, and has 18 strikeouts.
The Indians have yet to officially name Kazmir the winner of the fifth starter derby, but that is only because they do not have to nor should they at this point. He still has two more outings to go which means the possibility of injury exists, so once he makes his final appearance the Indians will probably name him to the opening day roster at that point.
When the Indians name Kazmir to the rotation it does not necessarily mean that Carrasco will be shuttled off to Columbus. The Indians are still trying to work around his six game suspension for throwing at Billy Butler in July of 2011, and they may opt to have him open the season with them for the first week so he can serve his suspension and not have that hanging over their heads any time they want to call him up.
They have talked about having 13 pitchers on the opening day roster, which could be foreshadowing to carrying an extra pitcher not for the fact they play 13 straight games to open the season, but to stash Carrasco on the roster. Assuming the Indians do this to circumvent the suspension issue, once his six games are up they could then option him out to Columbus and bring up an extra player for the bench. All of this is in flux because the Indians are still awaiting word from Major League Baseball how the suspension will be handled.
With a 13 man pitching staff the bench would be short for a week with Lou Marson, Mike Aviles, and Jason Giambi expected to be on the roster. But the first week of the season the bench is rarely used since teams want to get their regulars a lot of playing time early on, and besides, the Indians are super versatile where almost every player on the roster can play more than one position.
Once they move out the extra pitcher and add a position player the feeling is that Ryan Raburn or even Cord Phelps would be brought up from Columbus. Raburn can easily be assigned to Columbus since he is signed to a minor league contract and does not have an opt out, and Phelps has an option remaining. The Indians could even tell one of them their plan to bring them up a week or two into the season when they have their sit down with them next week to tell them they did not make the opening day roster.
The decision to send Barnes down to Columbus also helps clear up the bullpen situation. With Barnes out of the picture, lefty Nick Hagadone looks like he has won a spot as the second lefty in the bullpen. The only thing that would prevent that at this point would be an injury.
Right-handers Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Cody Allen have already made the bullpen. Left-hander Rich Hill has not formally been announced to the bullpen, but his addition to the 40-man roster a few days ago solidified it. Also, with Hagadone expected to now be in the pen, it leaves but one spot for the Indians to make a decision on.
At the moment, right-hander Mitch Albers is the clear favorite for that last spot because he can’t be sent to the minors and he makes a guarantee $1.75 million in 2013. Unless he is traded it means that right-hander Bryan Shaw would be optioned to Columbus and that lefty David Huff would have to be put on waivers since he is out of options.
However, it really looks like the Indians want to open the season with 13 pitchers, so if they don’t carry Carrasco to work around the suspension issue then they could truly go with an eighth bullpen arm.
That would mean Shaw and Huff would be options to make the roster, and at this point Huff’s roster situation and his ability to start and log several innings in long relief should make him the favorite to win it.
All of these roster decisions in regard to the makeup of the bullpen, bench and the fifth starter should become official by this time next week. Unlike past seasons, there will be some good players that do not make the opening day roster. This is bad for the players, but a good sign for the Indians as to the depth they have created.