The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in need of a bounce back season after a poor 2013.
Indians relief pitcher Frank Herrmann has had a very up and down career with the Tribe. This year, that will likely stop.
After years of promotions and demotions to and from Triple-A and Tommy John surgery in 2013, Herrmann is healthy this spring and competing for a place in the Indians’ bullpen. It’s likely Herrmann’s competing for more than just a roster spot. He could also be fighting for a place in the Tribe’s organization.
A season ago, Herrmann was injured very early in spring training. After receiving several opinions, he eventually gave in to the realization he would have to have Tommy John surgery. The operation and rehabilitation has forced him to be sidelined for a full calendar year. Just two weeks ago, Herrmann threw live batting practice to hitters for the first time. While Herrmann fights to rebuild his arm and re-establish mechanics, he’ll have to fight for a place in the Tribe’s bullpen at the same time.
This spring the Indians are remaking their bullpen, but several spots are already filled. New closer John Axford and set up men Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski are all certain to earn spots on the Opening Day roster. Vinnie Pestano and Josh Outman are favorites to earn two more spots. Assuming they do earn their roster spots, that leaves only one bullpen role remaining for a plethora of competitors, including Herrmann.
Herrmann will compete with Pestano and Outman, but also Blake Wood, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes and Matt Capps among others. If Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin loses the battle for the fifth starter’s job, they too, could become part of the bullpen battle. It’s a lot of names and possibilities for a limited number of spots. Indians manager Terry Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti have worked to create bullpen depth this winter. That depth will provide many options for the organization, and a tougher chance for each individual to make the team.
One advantage Herrmann may have in the pursuit of a roster spot is his ability to pitch in a long relief role. None of the pitchers assured spots, or favorites to earn a spot, are long relief type pitchers. While his Major League numbers are not fantastic, Herrmann has pitched in 95 games, compiling a 4-1 record, with a 4.26 ERA in 120.1 innings over parts of three different seasons. Herrmann can pitch in a long relief role, eating non-pressure innings, similar to how Matt Albers worked in the Tribe’s bullpen a year ago. That’s a role that not every pitcher has the strength and stamina to perform. It’s also a question as to whether Herrmann can effectively perform that role this spring, less than 18 months from his surgery.
Herrmann turns 30-years old on May 30 this spring, and if he does not make the Opening Day roster, his place in the Indians’ organization could be limited. He’s out of minor league options and would have to clear waivers in order to return to Triple-A Columbus. Since he’s currently on the 40-man roster, he could be a roster casualty to make room for a non-roster invitee that makes the Opening Day roster and has to be added to the 40-man.
Even if Herrmann were to clear waivers, the Indians would have to decide if sending him to Triple-A is in the organization’s best interest. With the long list of contenders for the Tribe’s bullpen, even the Columbus bullpen will fill fast as the Indians make their organizational depth chart this spring. Cleveland has several younger relievers, still with options, that may be better Clippers than Herrmann.
Still, the 2006 non-drafted free agent from Harvard, Herrmann has faced long odds before. If he can assert himself to the top of the class of bullpen contenders, a role suitable for him does exist.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer