Matsuzaka, Capps still in Indians plans
By Tony Lastoria
The spring training roster at Indians big league camp saw a big reduction in size on Monday as the Indians announced several roster moves.
Shortstop Juan Diaz was optioned to Triple-A Columbus, and they reassigned right-handed pitcher Preston Guilmet, outfielder Cedric Hunter, right-handed pitcher Matt Langwell, and right-handed pitcher Joe Martinez to minor league camp. Remember, "optioning" applies to players on the 40-man roster that have options remaining whereas "reassigning" applies to players not on the 40-man roster who were in camp as non-roster invites and signed to minor league contracts.
But the big news of the day was the announcement that right-handed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and right-handed pitcher Matt Capps were no longer in consideration for the opening day roster. The Indians also informed catcher Brian Jeroloman, catcher Omir Santos, outfielder Matt Carson, and infielder Luis Hernandez that they will stick with the team for the time being but will not make the opening day roster and be reassigned to the minors.
Matsuzaka did not need long to make a decision on whether or not to accept his assignment to Columbus as he informed the team early in the afternoon that he wished to stay. He said the decision was made easy because of how upfront and honest manager Terry Francona and GM Chris Antonetti were with him about not making the team but how they feel he can help them later in the season.
Before Matsuzaka can officially accept the assignment there are some details which first need to be worked out with his agent Scott Boras.
It could also mean that his current minor league deal is ripped up and a new contract is agreed to. Also, as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the Indians will need to pay him a $100,000 retention bonus on March 26th and would have to have him in the majors by June 1st or he can opt out of his minor league deal and become a free agent.
It was clear for a few days now that Matsuzaka was not going to make the opening day roster. The cramping in his calf that limited his last spring start on March 11th did not help, but he also looks a little rusty as he has not been sharp on the mound, so he could use some time in the minors to get himself straight and ready for a big league opportunity later in the season.
Matsuzaka is still coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2011, and it usually takes a full two years before a pitcher gets back to what they once were. With the pressure off with having to make the roster, he can now take his time to build himself back up to where he can frequently go a 100 pitches or more a night, and also work to get his breaking stuff and velocity right as neither have been there so far this spring.
With the June 1st opt out clause it should allow Matsuzaka to get in about eight to ten starts at Columbus, which should be more than enough time for the Indians to make a more accurate assessment as to whether he can help them at the big league level. While he is on call in the minors it would also give them time to see what they have from the likes of Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister, Brett Myers, and even Ubaldo Jimenez. If one of them gets hurt or really underperforms, and Matsuzaka is healthy and performing in Columbus, a change to the rotation could be made by the end of May.
As for Capps, he has yet to accept the assignment and left the complex on Monday to weigh his options. With an off day on Tuesday, an update on his roster status will probably not be known until Wednesday.
In the meantime, Capps and his agent will probably contact other teams about the possibility of making an opening day roster, and if there is no such opportunity elsewhere then it appears that there is a decent shot he accepts the assignment to Columbus. Like with Matsuzaka, the Indians would have to pay him a $100,000 retention bonus and he would have a June 1st opt out of his minor league contract.
The Indians want Capps to stick around, but just don't think he is ready. He only pitched in 30 games last season because of a bothersome right shoulder and is the reason he was signed to a minor league deal in the first place. He looks out of shape both with his body and arm, so he needs some time to get his conditioning in order and his arm strength up to where he could potentially be an option in Cleveland by the end of May. An assignment to Columbus for two months should answer whether he is an option or not.
The moves mean that the fifth starter competition is now down to Scott Kazmir, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber, though it is considered a lock that Kazmir will win the spot provided he does not get hurt in one of his final two outings this spring.
Also, with Capps out of the equation for the bullpen, it means that Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw and David Huff are the remaining competitors for the final spot in the bullpen.
Follow Tony Lastoria on Twitter @TonyIBI