This season the Cleveland Indians bullpen was the anchor of the team, keeping them in the playoff chase while injuries took place all around them. Despite all the Indians trips to the disabled list, the bullpen remained the same seven pitchers most of the season. However, by Opening Day the bullpen could see a shakeup.
Chad Durbin will file for free agency when the World Series ends and the Indians have little interest in his return. Durbin, who signed a one year deal hoping to move to the back of the bullpen, probably has little interest in the Indians too since he remained a struggling long reliever all season. Durbin’s departure will open one spot for sure.
Meanwhile, Rafael Perez is due to make about $1.9 million in arbitration this winter. Perez could be an interesting decision for the Tribe because Perez’s salary figure continues to rise while his production in recent years has dropped. Perez used to be a back end, left handed, match up guy, but in the last two seasons Tony Sipp has taken that role from Raffy Left. Perez has also struggled the last two seasons to strand inherited runners.
Considering Perez’s rising salary and the development of Nick Hagadone, the Indians could elect to go with the younger, cheaper option for their left handed, middle inning pitcher. Perez could have trade value. If he was included in a package, he could help bring help to the roster. Hagadone would also save about $1.4 million on the Indians payroll that could be used elsewhere to help strengthen the team’s 25-man roster.
Frank Herrmann, also pitched in long relief with Durbin much of the season, could be in jeopardy of losing his job in the bullpen. The Harvard Heater was given a chance to work in a middle innings and set up role once the Indians were out of contention in September, but struggled. Scouts have often said his fastball has little movement and is very flat, which makes him susceptible to any big league hitter.
Along with Hagadone, the Indians have several viable candidates to move into the bullpen if they chose to add some new members to the Mafia. Josh Judy was the first call most of the season when the Indians needed an extra pitcher and was the Columbus Clippers closer most of the season. Zach Putnam received opportunity in September with the Tribe to showcase his strengths.
Hector Rondon has rehabilitated himself from Tommy John surgery and will also be a viable option for 2012. Finally, Chen Lee is an Indians prospect who did not crack the 40-man roster this season, but did close the International League Championship and National Championship once Judy and Putnam had advanced to Cleveland.
It would be a surprise to not see Chris Perez, Tony Sipp, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith back holding down the late innings of the Indians bullpen, but the men in front of them could be subject to change.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images