The Cleveland Indians have a roster move to make on Saturday, and once again, the answer is not a clear one, at least to those of us on the outside of the clubhouse looking in.
When the Indians added several new players to the 25-man and 40-man rosters either during or at the end of spring training (Juan Uribe, Joba Chamberlain, Ross Detwiler, Marlon Byrd), Cleveland lost some of the flexibility that it would have had to send players with options back and forth to Columbus throughout the season. While the additions of the veterans to the lineup card may have made for a better roster to bring to Progressive Field to start the year, it also cost them several young players, including prospects like Tony Wolters, Giovanni Soto, James Ramsey, and Zach Walters.
This has led to several difficult decisions for the organization when looking to clear players from the 15-day disabled list. Now, the Indians are staring down a similar difficult decision as they need to create a 25-man spot for Cody Anderson, who will return from his stint at Triple-A to the Cleveland rotation on Saturday to make the start against the Kansas City Royals.
The problem is that there is once again no clear cut answer as to what roster move to make.
When Lonnie Chisenhall rejoined the Indians from the disabled list in April, it was expected that Cleveland would either cut its eight-man bullpen down to seven or reduce the quantity of outfielders on the roster with the right fielder’s return. The club elected to make the move from the outfield and optioned Collin Cowgill to Columbus.
When Michael Brantley was activated from his DL stay, the answer was easier (but more painful) with the conveniently timed but season-altering left hamstring strain sustained by number two starter Carlos Carrasco.
When Tommy Hunter returned last weekend, a bullpen cut was clearly the right call with a crowded relief corps. Detwiler was designated at that time, a move that would have left the staff without a left-hander had the Indians not added Kyle Crockett to the roster when they optioned Anderson initially.
So who goes now?
Will it be an outfielder?
Will the Indians go with a seven-man bullpen?
Or will unknown injury circumstances land a player on the disabled list, buying the Indians another two weeks to figure out how to juggle a roster with no wiggle room?
Cutting into the eight-man relief staff, a luxury for a team with already strong and capable starting pitching, would seem like a great place to start. The problem with that logic is that the two guys who have performed the worst this season – Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw – are the closer and setup man respectively and are going nowhere.
Crockett could be optioned; he has faced just two batters in two games since his recall. But if they elect to do that, the Indians will sport an entire pitching staff devoid of lefties.
Lesser used guys like Chamberlain and Dan Otero had not given up a run through 13 1/3 combined innings until Thursday night. Chamberlain has worked eight innings in eight games, giving up a pair of walks and three hits with four strikeouts. Two of those hits were surrendered Thursday against his former team and led to one run to push his ERA to 1.13. Otero has been even better, appearing six times for six and one-third innings while issuing one walk and one hit (0.32 WHIP) while striking out six batters.
Neither has done anything to deserve a ticket out of Cleveland.
Hunter just came back and was expected to play a big role in the bullpen this season and is getting paid accordingly. Zach McAllister (four holds) has had some minor walk problems, but has otherwise been solid in eleven innings over 13 games. Jeff Manship (three holds) is once again unscored upon and has struck out three, walked four, and allowed six hits over seven and one-third innings of ten games in the early going.
No one from that bunch deserves to go. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but any move from the ‘pen would be a tough one to digest.
Looking at the crowded outfield at all non-Brantley options, the situation is no more clear.
Rookie Tyler Naquin (.315) leads the team in batting average and has appeared in all but three games this year. While hitting for a surprisingly good average, Naquin has only drawn one walk, but that has been about the only blemish on his stat sheet. Sure, a tandem of Brantley and Rajai Davis (or even Jose Ramirez or Chisenhall, who got two games of work in at center field with Akron while on rehab) could fill his void if he were to be optioned to Triple-A, but that seems unlikely and improbable.
As for Davis, the 35-year-old has been solid, hitting .271 with a team-leading seven stolen bases. He also brings an ability to play all three outfield spots with him and has had some clutch hits, including a two-run single late in Thursday’s win.
Byrd, an extremely late spring addition, is hitting .241 over 19 games this season. Five of his 14 hits have been for extra bases (three doubles, two homers) and he has eight RBI. He, like Uribe, was a late arrival to camp and may have needed some time to kick the rust off of his 38-year-old frame. He is in a 1-for-15 skid at the plate in his last six games, but his numbers over each of the last several years say he could be a valuable right-handed bat for the lineup.
Ramirez can’t go. He is simultaneously filling the role of backup third baseman, backup shortstop, backup second baseman, first pinch-runner off of the bench, and had seen a significant amount of playing time in left when Brantley was out. He’s actually been pretty good.
And finally, there is the difficult subject matter that is Chisenhall. He was supposed to be the team’s starting right fielder, then a platoon option in the corner. He has hits in five of the nine games he has stood in the batter’s box and is now hitting .250 after a 2-for-4 day at the plate on Thursday night, but five of his eight hits this season have come in two games (Thursday night and last Saturday). He could be expendable, but it is really difficult to imagine the Indians cutting bait on a guy who they have allowed parts of six MLB seasons for development, and especially after riding out his injury and only giving him eleven games after little spring activity and a trying rehab process dealing with rain outs and playing for two different minor league affiliates in order to prove himself.
No one answer feels like a decision that could be made in complete confidence. None of the guys that would be on the chopping block are necessarily options that a team should feel comfortable parting with. Each has his own value. Maybe a trade of one of the above becomes the solution.
It’s going to be a tough call, but the Indians will have to make it happen by midday Saturday. It’s not an enviable spot to be in, and it will happen again when Carrasco is healthy enough to return to the rotation. These can be good problems to have, but they are more complex and challenging to make this season than in years past.
Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone