Albers Brings Consistency, Veteran Presence to Indians
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the 15 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.
By Craig Gifford
Matt Albers could probably be considered a forgotten man. In the end, he is likely ok with that because it means he does not need to sweat out whether or not he will wearing an Indians uniform when the regular season opens.
The veteran right-hander has a job in the bullpen pretty well secured. He gets little attention in Goodyear, Ariz. because the general assumption is he will be a middle reliever who will generally get the job done.
Last season was a breakout year, of sorts, for the 30-year-old hurler. Albers had by far his best season pitching for both Boston and Arizona. After several seasons of inconsistency, the seven-year pro turned it up a notch in 2012. Between the two clubs and two leagues he appeared in 63 games, recording a very good 2.39 ERA. Switching leagues had little affect on him as the ERA was 2.29 with the Red Sox and 2.57 for the Diamondbacks.
When the Tribe made its three-team deal with Reds and Diamondbacks the major players were Shin-Soo Choo going south to Cincinnati, Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs arriving in Cleveland and top shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius going from the Reds to Arizona. Albers and fellow reliever Bryan Shaw were almost afterthoughts in the deal in going to the Indians from the D-backs.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who managed Albers on the Red Sox in 2011, is thrilled that the veteran was a part of the blockbuster deal.
“I had Albers in Boston and liked the fact he’ll take the ball every day,” Francona said. “He could almost survive on one pitch – which is his two-seamer – when it’s good, it has so much life in the zone.”
Albers is one of six pitchers who can feel as though their spot in the Indians bullpen is pretty safe. Obviously closer Chris Perez, set-up man Vinnie Pestano and late-inning ace Joe Smith are going to be there. Lefty Rich Hill was recently added to the 40-man roster meaning his spot is now all-but-guaranteed. It was reported Friday evening that Cody Allen had also earned a spot in the bullpen, leaving just one or two spots remaining.
As for Albers, he has two things going for him. Unlike, Shaw, he is out of options. If the Indians were to want to send Albers to Triple-A he would first have to clear waivers. That is unlikely as teams would surely swoop in on a reliever who has had past success in the majors. The other thing going for Albers is he pitched for Francona in Boston in 2011. Despite a 4.73 ERA that year, Albers was considered a solid contributor to a team that nearly made the postseason. Francona is not worried about a potentially high ERA because of the intangibles Albers brings to a team.
“He’s one of those guys that knows when a staff is struggling, he’ll take the ball,” Francona said. “That’s commendable. You might see a little higher ERA at the end of the year because he took a couple for the team, but he’s always got a job somewhere because people respect that.”
One more lefty will likely be added to the pen between Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone and David Huff. The two that do not make the club will likely be in Columbus. Matt Capps, if he is fully healed after last season’s injury-marred season, and Shaw are the likely other two candidates. Albers should beat them both out if it comes down to a decision.
One issue for Albers is he has struggled in Spring Training. As of Friday, he had a bloated 10.80 ERA in five innings. He has coughed up six runs, walking two and striking out four. Still, it is hard to trust spring stats as he could have been working on lesser pitches when he was hit hard. Should the struggles continue, then he might have to sweat it out. However, a veteran struggling in the spring is different from a rookie who has no track record. Albers has proven he can get outs in the big leagues.
Barring a horrendous final couple weeks in Arizona, Albers will almost surely be with the Tribe when the team breaks camp and heads to Toronto for the season opener. He could be on a short leash if he reverts to the pitcher of 2009-2011 who had ERAs above 4.00 each year. However, the fact his name is rarely coming up only means the time to worry is not now. There seems to be little news around Albers that should jeopardize his place on the Opening Day roster.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer