We are less than two weeks away from opening day, and the Indians still have many question marks lingering around the final 25-man roster. Injury timetables and up and down Spring performances have left a lot to still be dissected by GM Chris Antonetti and his staff. Last year in Manny Acta’s first Spring as Indians skipper, he wanted a full week of games where his regulars would play in the spots they would start the season in.
This year is not as simple.
So what is there left to determine?
The last spots in the bullpen. Closer Chris Perez, Lefties Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez, and Righty Chad Durbin are all locks. Reports earlier this week had one time roster cinch Jensen Lewis being placed on waivers. The Indians still have not yet confirmed or denied that report (though tweets from the past 15 minutes have him not in uniform, packing his bags). Joe Smith, who would also be a lock to make the club, is still sidelined with abdominal strain. Smith admitted yesterday that he doesn’t think he will be ready for opening day.
So where the Indians brass once thought they’d have one job open now appears to have three. Rookie Vinnie Pestano, who led AAA Columbus with 14 saves and a 1.55 ERA, has been excellent this Spring and looks to have a leg up on one of the spots. The other two should come from a pool of candidates including non-roster invitee Justin Germano, Jess Todd, and Frank Herrmann.The Tribe could also wait until the final rosters are set and see who becomes available on the waiver wire.
The question is, will Acta chose to keep a long man? He has been quoted as saying he needs someone out in the pen who can go multiple innings, and that give Germano an advantage. Germano, a journeyman right-hander, pitched well with the Indians last year in a similar role, posting a 3.31 ERA in 23 games. He was expected to just come up to save the pen during the Josh Tomlin/Jeanmar Gomez three-days-rest debacle and managed to stay the rest of the season.
Herrmann was recalled with a sparkling AAA ERA, and quickly earned the trust of Acta, being thrust into the set up role. However, once there was a book on him, he began to struggle. The Hermmannator had a 2.81 ERA before the all star break and a 4.71 ERA after. Todd has more of a 4A look to me, but has a 1.59 ERA in 5.2 Innings pitched this Spring.
Extra Outfielders. Its pretty much assumed that Grady Sizemore will start the season on the disabled list. That will put Austin Kearns in left field and Michael Brantley in center, next to Shin-Soo Choo. The Tribe has had three guys battling for the extra outfield job/jobs – Chad Huffman, Travis Buck, and holdover Shelley Duncan.
Huffman and Buck are both intriguing. Huffman, a right-handed hitter, is hitting .357 with two homers and seven RBIs in 30 at bats while playing a solid corner outfield. He has decent speed and with the glut of lefty bats, he could have an advantage over Buck. However, Buck can play all three outfield positions and first base. The former A’s first round pick has battled injuries over the past two years and has come in better than advertised. His .419 batting average, along with a pair of homers and nine RBIs in 43 ABs has caught Acta’s eye.
Duncan as we know is a great clubhouse guy who hits lefties well. He is who he is though, a 4A guy. I for one am a fan of his all out hustle, but the Indians know what they have in him already. My guess is they stick with Duncan and keep Buck.
Third Base/Utility Man. The hand/finger injuries to Jason Donald have reportedly opened the door for the Jack Hannahan experience at third. Our own Jon broke him down yesterday, so no need to go deeper. The real question is will he hit enough or become a black hole/automatic out in the nine hole. Nobody questions his glove, and that is why he will be the guy.
While he was a disaster last year as the every day second baseman under the glare of high expectations, Sweet Luis Valbuena seems more relax this Spring. While his glove failed him last year, reports are he has looked in the field in Goodyear. With the abilities to play second, short, and third, Valbuena seems to be the ideal utility man for 2011. That role should be reserved for Donald in 2012, when prospects Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis should be ready to take over at third and second respectively.
Then there’s Jayson Nix and Adam Everett. If Nix’s could show any sort of affinity for playing the field, he’d probably make the club as an extra. But his glove is so brutal that he seems to be the odd man out. His .125 batting average in 24 ABs hasn’t helped his cause. Everett is 34, hasn’t hit much his entire career, and is now battling a thumb injury which may cause him his shot. He is actually hitting .355 in 31 ABs this Spring, but would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
Expect roster news to come later today out of Goodyear.
AP Photo/Paul Beaty