July 22, 2014

Some Final Thoughts on the Indians’ Opening Day Roster

Now that the dust has settled on the Indians’ opening day roster, we can finally spend some time combing through the decisions the Indians made this week.  Let’s take a look at the various groups to see if we can divine any of the motivations, upside and consequences of the first iteration of the 2011 25-man roster.

Starting Pitchers: The opening four have been set since sometime in November, with Carlos Carrasco, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot being guaranteed spots in the rotation.  Despite the fact that Carrasco continues to struggle big-time with the long-ball, he seems like a good choice due to his superior strikeout numbers and stinginess with the walk.  Fausto is also something of a no-brainer, considering his contract situation and his bounce-back 2010 campaign.  Masterson would likely not be a starter on a contending team.  But we’re talking about the Indians here, and anyone with his sort of upside needs to be in the rotation: if he can overcome his occasional command trouble and his splits, he could be a solid #2 or #3 starter.  Some have wondered about Talbot’s suitability for the rotation, and I tend to agree that he’s not much more than back-end fodder, but he’s out of options and there’s no way the team is going to give up a cheap and fairly durable pitcher to roll the dice with David Huff or Jeanmar Gomez.  There’s just no reason to let him go to another team at this point, which means he has to stay in the Big Leagues.

Really, the only story here is that Josh Tomlin won the fifth spot.  To that, I say “Meh”.  I’ve written before about Tomlin specifically and fifth starters in general.  In my mind, they don’t end up mattering all that much over the course of a season, but considering the crop we had to choose from, I’d have picked Tomlin as well.

Outfield: Grady will start the season on the DL, which frees up a spot on the 25-man roster (though not the 40-man).  Depending on your perspective, that spot was filled by either Travis Buck or Shelley Duncan, as the team won’t be able to keep both upon Grady’s return.  The opening day lineup will likely feature Choo, Kearns and Brantley, with both Buck and Duncan manning the bench spots.  These are the two guys I wanted us to keep, and though I feel bad for saying it, I’m happy that Trevor Crowe won’t be on the roster, and might even free up a 40-man spot if he were to go on the 60-day DL.  This was the situation I was pulling for most, and I’m fairly happy with the way the club has dealt with it.

Infield: The starting infield will be LaPorta, Cabreras Orlando and Asdrubal, and Jack Hanahan.  The only bench spot will go to Adam Everett, meaning Jayson Nix will be DFA’d and Luis Valbuena will start the season at AAA.

Despite my occasional vituperative attacks on Louie V, I was actually pulling for him to make the opening day roster, if only because he has more potential and versatility than the washed-up Everett.  On the other hand, this might be the organization’s way of working on Valbuena’s defense away from the spotlight of the major leagues.  He was nowhere near good enough defensively last year at any of the three positions he’ll be asked to play in the future, so if he’s used as a super (f)utility player in AAA, perhaps he can develop the skills he’ll need when he makes it back to the Big Leagues as a bench player.  My only concern is that he actually be given at bats in Columbus, which might be somewhat difficult with Kipnis, Chisenhall, Goedert (remember him), and Phelps all needing development time as well.

As for Jayson Nix?  Jeez, what can I say?  He seems like a nice guy, but when you can’t hit and you can’t field, and you don’t have any remaining options, there’s really no reason to keep you around.  The Indians gave him every chance to assert himself last season, but it seemed that by the time Spring Training opened this year, they had resigned themselves to going in a different direction.  I can’t see him having any future role in the organization going forward.

Catcher: The only news here is that the team is sticking with Lou Marson to back up Carlos Santana rather than Paul Philips or Luke Carlin.  This is a good sign to me, suggesting that the organization was not overly influenced by Philips hot spring, and remembered instead that he’s been a pretty lousy hitter for most of his professional career.

Bullpen: No position has seen more flux over the past few weeks than the bullpen.  When camp opened, it looked like only a couple of spots might be up for grabs.  Then Joe Smith got hurt, Jensen Lewis was outrighted to Columbus, and Aaron Laffey was traded to Seattle.  The ‘pen will now boast the likes of Vinnie Pestano, Justin Germano, Frank Herrmann in their stead.  I know it’s not a particularly inspiring set of moves, but the construction of the bullpen indicates to me that the team is trying to assemble the best corps, regardless of contract situation.  While I wish Jensen Lewis nothing but the best, it was the right move to clear him from the 40-man to make room for guys who have a chance to be more effective.  Same goes for one of my favorites: Aaron Laffey was always a good soldier, but it seemed that he wasn’t quite good enough to merit a roster spot, and the front office’s ability to move him for some (albeit slight) value bodes well about their ability to recognize a sunk cost.

Speaking of sunk costs, Travis Hafner will be our designated hitter.  For two more years.

Below is a list of the full 25-man, broken out by position:

Catcher
Carlos Santana
Lou Marson
Infield
Matt LaPorta
Orlando Cabrera
Asdrubal Cabrera
Jack Hanahan
Adam Everett
Outfield
Shin-Soo Choo
Michael Brantley
Austin Kearns
Travis Buck
Shelley Duncan
Designated “Hitter”
Travis Hafner
Starters
Fausto Carmona
Carlos Carrasco
Justin Masterson
Josh Tomlin
Mitch Talbot
Bullpen
Chris Perez (CL)
Rafael Perez
Tony Sipp
Justin Germano
Frank Herrmann
Vinnie Pestano
Chad Durbin
  • Jeremy

    They’re Sh***y!

    Major Leagued

  • Jeremy

    On a serious note, I will definately be interested in this group. I will be rooting for them!!

  • Shamrock

    That is one scary roster! Boston, NY, Chicago and Minnesota must be soiling themselves as we speak. Those young kids in the minors who helped win those titles can’t get to the majors fast enough.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    most of those guys never had a prime…

  • mgbode

    almost opening day :)

  • stin4u

    Designated “Hitter”
    Travis Hafner

    This x 10. But no seriously he’s horrendous.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com DP

    I, for one, like the bullpen. Both Herrmann and Pestano “closed” in AAA, and actually have some mid-to-high-90′s fastball stuff, unlike Jensen Lewis and his perpetual BP fastball. Both Herrmann and Pestano were also lights-out in AAA last year, and have earned the chance to see what they can do. I’ve always liked Tony Sipp’s potential, and of course there’s Pure Rage. Raffy Perez is what he is, which is my way of saying I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT FROM HIM. Still, that’s five or six guys that I legitimately believe belong in our pen, which is a departure from years-past. IMHO, it’s probably the strongest area of the team.

    Which, I know, isn’t say a whole hell of a lot.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “The only news here is that the team is sticking with Lou Marson to back up Carlos Santana rather than Paul Philips or Luke Carlin.”

    Also news: the Indians own the rights to a Paul Philips and a Luke Carlin.

  • Tommy

    Jon,

    I know you don’t care much for the 5th starter based on their relative impact on a team and I agree with that premise. But the reason that I have a lot of interest in the selection of a 5th starter (other than being an obsessive Indians fan) is that often times, the guys who are selected out of ST to be the 5th starter end up being a lot more.

    Sure, at the end of the year the aggregate production the Indians (or any other team) gets out of the 5th starter spot is basically negligible, but we really have no idea who that starter will be. Case in point, the guy who won our “5th starter” spot has already been bumped to the 4th spot in the rotation. And didn’t Liriano start as the Twins “5th starter” at the beginning of last year?

    When you consider that a lot of teams use the “5th spot” as a launching pad for young rookies like Pineda in Seattle this year, I think the 5th spot out of spring training can be very exciting. I for one am very glad that Tomlin won the job, because I think he deserves an uninterrupted shot at maturation as an MLB starter. Just because he doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, doesn’t mean he can’t have a successful career. He has never been a super flashy guy, but has had success at every level when given patience to perform.

    In reality, it is very likely that Huff and Gomez will both get a shot to start at some point this year anyways, but in contrast to Tomlin, Huff’s career has already taken a step (leap?… dive?) back with multiple trips to the minors. Also in contrast to Tomlin, I think that Gomez could actually improve his arsenal with extra time in the minors since he was rushed last year.

    I don’t have much confidence in Talbot, and I look forward to the day that White, Pomeranz or someone else supplant him in the rotation. That leaves 3 guys ahead of Tomlin, and if any of them experience injuries or ineffectiveness this year which is probably likely, I think there a ton of scenarios that have Tomlin finishing as our 3rd best pitcher this year. Sure, that may not say much for the staff as whole, but I think it does serve to show that the winner of the “5th starter” spot out of Spring Training is indeed a lot more important than you let on.

  • http://www.heyhokie.com Vengeful Pat

    I feel surprisingly good about our hitting and defense. I feel pretty good about our bullpen, but that can really be a crapshoot from year to year even with the same people manning it. I feel like our starting pitchers are going to get shelled, and that’ll be the reason that we fail to win 80 games yet again. Still hoping for the best though and ready for some baseball!

  • Karsten

    Designated “Hitter”

    ^Cute. But for real, so stoked for the season to begin and I would give anything for the club to come out swinging to shut up all you pessimists. Nobody thought our starters would even give us a ghost of a chance last year, but it was our offense that failed us time and again. This year we have healthy batters, a solid closer, and a starting rotation that may or may not come to fruition once the games have meaning. Let’s do this!

  • BuckeyeDawg

    My first post on this thread was a joke…obviously.

    Seriously, I think .500 is attainable, as long as the pitching can hold its own. I think the hitting will be fine, particularly in the second half of the year once everyone is totally healthy and the young kids get some reps. If they can break .500, it would go a long way in building confidence for next year…when we could be buying at the trade deadline instead of selling. One can only hope…

  • Jon

    I think most of you know that I kid the Indians and Travis Hafner because I love them. I’m actually a pretty optimistic guy. I promise.

    @Tommy: I hear what you say about fifth starters, but I would say that for every fifth starter who ends up a fourth starter, there are just as many who end up in AAA. It’s a fungible position that, by its very nature, operates as a revolving door. Like I said, I’m glad they chose Tomlin, because I think he was the best of our choices. I also think his upside is pretty low, and he’ll struggle to stick in the Big Leagues long-term. Soon enough, we won’t be relying so heavily on back-end types, but for now, I’m glad we chose him.

    @Vengeful Pat: I feel as good about our offense as I felt last year at this time. Which is to say I think we’ll be above average. The problem with that thinking, of course, is that I’m counting on the team to stay healthy. If we lose Grady, Choo, Santana, or Cabrera for any length of time, we’ll go back to being bad, which is no fun, but certainly part of the deal when you’re a small market team: injuries hurt your chances. As for starting pitching? I think we’re thin and weak–not as bad as the Royals, but pretty darn bad. .500 is a good goal, but I don’t think that the season can be considered a failure if this group gets to 75-78 wins. I’d call that progress, and like Buckeye says, it’ll be something to build on.

    Even though the team won’t say it, this seems to be the year they’ve been looking toward as one to build on. Believe it or not, things got as bad as they could in late 2009, and we’re on the way back up. I just don’t think that’s we’re going to get there in 2011.

  • 5KMD

    I’m pretty sure the only reason they kept Marson on the big club is that he is already on the 40 and they are in a roster crunch. I think they have to move 3 guys off the 40 right now for the bullpen guys. No way at this point could they waste another spot for Carlin or Phillips.