While the primary goal during Spring Training for the players is to prepare for the regular season, the goal of the front office is to determine the initial 25 man roster with contingency plans for the near future. For the fans, it’s also amusing to predict who will probably make the squad based on talent, positional distribution and contractual situations. For the announcers, the purpose of Spring Training is to say how players are in the best shape of their lives and how it’s Spring Training for the umpires to. In any event, with pitchers and catchers reporting in two weeks, here is my initial prediction for the 25 man roster including every player currently on the 40 man roster and those invited to Spring Training.
C Yan Gomes (1)
Options: Francisco Mejia, Perez
Based on veteran respect, Gomes is listed as the starter currently, but Perez has been the better offensive performer over the last few seasons and Mejia is obviously the future at catcher. For what they’re worth, projections already have Mejia being the top offensive performer of the trio, but given the option and contract situation, he is unlikely to start the season with the club. He will likely be the first man up if there is an injury, but the starter for the majority of 2018 will likely be Gomes or Perez.
1B Yonder Alonso (2)
Options: Encarnacion, Diaz, Gonzalez
The Indians biggest off-season addition will directly replace lost free agent Carlos Santana and keep the Indians from having to force somethings that could have been ugly such as Brantley, Encarnacion or Kipnis playing first. Since he has extreme splits, however, it is possible that Encarnacion will play first against some lefties leaving DH for one of the catchers or Diaz.
2B Jason Kipnis (3)
Kipnis is a two time All-Star who has averaged a WAR over 4.0 during every healthy season (and is projected for about 2 wins in 2018), so obviously he has been treated like a bench player with a bad contract this off-season. At the moment, he has been tentatively named the starting second baseman, but any moves at all by the Indians this year would likely see him pushed out of the starting line-up with Ramirez taking over second as he did when Kipnis was injured in 2018. Ramirez’s best position is second, so there is an argument to be made, however Kipnis can’t play anywhere else and the Indians offense is best when both Kipnis and Ramirez are in the line-up.
SS Francisco Lindor (4)
Options: Gonzalez, Rob Refsnyder, Ramirez
Offensively and defensively, the Indians revolve around Lindor. Barring injury, he’s cemented into the short stop role not just in 2018, but as long as he’s on the team and he will likely hit in the top two spots in the line-up. If he is injured, the Indians could go with a short term option like Gonzalez or Refsnyder, or a longer term option by moving Ramirez to short and using Diaz or Urshela at third.
3B Jose Ramirez (5)
Options: Giovanny Urshela, Diaz
This is a point of contention between Indians players, fans, the front office and media. Ramirez is best at second base, but the Indians are best with him at third. It appears the season will start in this formation, but Ramirez will move to second at the first possibility. Of note is the fact that Urshela is out of options and must make the 25 man roster or be lost. Since he’s essentially a glove only player at a single position, that won’t be a huge loss.
LF Michael Brantley (6)
Options: Chisenhall, Guyer, Tyler Naquin, Abraham Almonte, Greg Allen, Kipnis
If healthy, Brantley is the Indians starting left fielder, but the Indians started tempering that idea last fall after he had ankle surgery. If he is the starter, there is a good chance he won’t be quite an every day player, possibly leaving an opening for the return of Naquin or (hopefully) Allen. The worst case scenario would see Kipnis play outfield like he had to in the ALDS.
CF Bradley Zimmer (7)
Options: Naquin, Almonte, Chisenhall, Allen
Zimmer had a solid if not spectacular rookie season in 2017 and will look to build upon his superb defense and base running, while trying to turn his power potential into results. As the older generation of stars leaves the team (Santana and Shaw last year, Allen, Chisenhall and Brantley likely to leave after 2018), it’s important to raise the new generation up and Zimmer (along with Lindor and Ramirez) will be a center point of that new generation.
RF Lonnie Chisenhall (8)
Options: Guyer, Naquin, Almonte, Allen, Zimmer
As it stands, right field will be a platoon of Chisenhall and Guyer as it has been for the last two years when both were healthy. There’s a good chance that the future of the franchise in the outfield will star Zimmer and Allen, however, and the Indians could try to move one of them into right for a full time role by the end of 2018.
DH Edwin Encarnacion (9)
Options: Alonso, Diaz, Kipnis, Mejia, Gomes, Perez
The Indians biggest free agent signing ever doesn’t have to worry about playing defense with Alonso now on the team and will likely play almost exclusively at DH.
C2 Roberto Perez (10)
Options: Mejia, Gomes, Perez, Eric Haase, Jack Murphy
This spot belongs to the catcher who starts fewer times during the week, which will likely be Perez. If Mejia makes the team from the start, it will likely be as the 25th man and he would be used as pinch hitter, third string catcher and potentially extreme situation 3B.
INF Erik Gonzalez (11)
Options: Willi Castro, Eric Stamets, Giovanny Urshela, Refsnyder, Drew Maggi, Yu-Cheng Chang, Diaz, Bobby Bradley, Nellie Rodriguez
With most of the roster set, the pure utility infielder may be the Indians toughest decision. I believe they should go with Gonzalez as he can play all seven standard positions in the field (he hasn’t tried catching or pitching yet) and has some power and speed. He is also out of options and will be lost if he is not on the roster, making him more of a priority than someone like Stamets or Chang (who is probably a year away from serious consideration while Castro is likely two years out). His ability to play decent defense at short and second as well as his base running ability likely place him higher on the depth chart than Diaz as well.
OF Brandon Guyer (12)
Options: Allen, Almonte, Naquin, Melvin Upton, Brandon Barnes, Richie Shaffer
As the roster stands, this spot has to go to Guyer, who is under contract for $2.75M with an option for 2019 and is Chisenhall’s platoon partner in right. Despite some thinking that the artist formerly known as B.J. will be the next Rajai Davis/Austin Jackson, Melvin only played 12 games last year and they were all in AAA. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and hasn’t had a good season since 2012. Instead, if the Indians need to go deeper than Guyer, expect to see Naquin again (he has two options left) or Almonte (who somehow has an option left as well). Allen will make the team at some point in 2018, but probably not to start the season.
IF/OF Yandy Diaz (13)
Options: Anyone listed above who doesn’t otherwise make the team.
More than the performance of the player who will eventually take this final position player roster spot, this position will likely be determined by the health of the roster, particularly Brantley and Kipnis. If Terry Francona and Mike Chernoff decide that outfield is the priority because Brantley can’t run or isn’t ready yet, they could go with Naquin or Upton ahead of Diaz. If Kipnis is not healthy enough, Ramirez would likely slide over to second and Diaz could see himself in the starting lineup. If everyone is fine and ready to go, Diaz makes a nice platoon partner for an extremely left handed line-up.
This is also the only position that could be eliminated entirely in favor of an 8 man bullpen, something the Indians may need to do to protect Merritt, or a three man catcher rotation to get Mejia on the team to start the year.
Ace Corey Kluber (14)
Only two teams in baseball are lucky enough to have the previous year’s Cy Young winner lead the rotation and for the second time in four years the Indians are one of those teams. Kluber deserves to be the Indians ace throughout the rest of his contract (which ends after an option year in 2021) no matter what, but at the moment he is not only the best pitcher on the Indians, but the best in the AL.
SP2 Carlos Carrasco (15)
Just as there is no question to who is the Indians ace, there is no question that number two is Carrasco. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting last year after his first 200 inning season. Unlike the rest of the rotation, he has been both completely dominant and consistent since 2014.
SP3 Trevor Bauer (16)
Options: Salazar, Tomlin, Clevinger, Ryan Merritt
Bauer has been consistent in a way, as he has posted consecutive three win seasons with two 1.5 WAR seasons before that, but game by game he is significantly less reliable. However, because he doesn’t pose the injury risk of Salazar and is more talented than Tomlin, he should be granted this spot in the rotation.
SP4 Danny Salazar (17)
Options: Bauer, Tomlin, Clevinger, Merritt
This is where the speculation begins in the Indians rotation. Almost every team in baseball would be happy to start any of the remaining four pitchers (Salazar, Tomlin, Clevinger and Merritt) in the back end of the rotation, but the Indians will have to pick two with one more likely going to the bullpen and the other off the team. The question is how the Indians want to maximize value. Salazar is the best pitcher of the group, so if he is healthy he will be most valuable in the rotation, but he’d also likely be the best short inning reliever and a potential closer. With Allen a free agent at the end of the year, these are all aspects that need to be considered.
SP5 Josh Tomlin (18)
Options: Salazar, Clevinger, Merritt, Cody Anderson
The final spot in the rotation may be victim to a roster crunch more than maximizing value. Tomlin is under contract and has to make the team in some capacity or the Indians just wasted $3M. Merritt is out of options and will also be lost if he doesn’t make the team. At the same time, Clevinger is the most worthy of this spot, but would likely be more dependable in the bullpen than Tomlin (this is based on theory rather than practice as the opposite has been true so far in limited time). Since Clevinger and Anderson have each have one remaining option, they may end up being the hard luck losers that get stuck in Columbus through no fault of their own. In any event, whoever starts the season in this role probably won’t finish there.
Closer Cody Allen (19)
Make sure to enjoy the final season of the greatest closer in Indians history as Allen hits the free agent market next November.
LH Set Up Andrew Miller (20)
Same as Allen, but change closer to left hander. This pair is cemented into their roles even more than Kluber and Carrasco and it will be near impossible to replace them by next season.
RH Set Up Dan Otero (21)
Options: Goody, McAllister, Clevinger, Salazar, Tomlin
Otero signed a shiny new contract worth $2.5M over two years last year and that, combined with the loss of Shaw, guarantees him a spot on the 2018 roster. As it currently stands, he may be the Indians most reliable pitcher beyond the two stars.
LOOGY Tyler Olson (22)
Options: Merritt, Morimando, Jeff Beliveau, Robert Zarate, R.C. Orlan
Olson didn’t give up a run for the Indians in 22 innings last year between the regular season and the ALDS and that should be enough to earn him this spot in 2018. While he was aided by some luck and strategic use, he could be the Indians LOOGY for a long time with Kyle Crockett gone and Miller expected to leave after 2018.
RP5 Nick Goody (23)
Options: Lisalverto Bonilla, Evan Marshall, Neil Ramirez, Louis Head, Cameron Hill
If the Yankees know anything, it’s how to make a good bullpen, so why not use four former Yankees in the Tribe 2018 pen? Goody wasn’t good for New York, but he was incredible in his first season in Cleveland, striking out 72 to 20 walks in 54.2 innings. The Indians didn’t sign a direct replacement for Shaw this off-season, but they should be able to fill in those innings between Goody and Otero, especially if they use the final pen spot for a long reliever to burn up the early innings that the pair was responsible for in 2017.
RP6 Zach McAllister (24)
Options: All the relievers listed above.
Like him or not, McAllister had an incredible season in 2017, is guaranteed nearly $2.5M in 2018 and will definitely be in this bullpen. Not only that, but given the increase in reliever salaries over the last few years, he could be setting himself up for a fairly lucrative free agent deal at the end of the year if he can produce a fourth straight season with at least 1.0 WAR.
Long Relief Mike Clevinger (25)
Options: Shawn Merriweather, Adam Plutko, Alexi Ogando, Adam Wilk, Josh Martin, Cole Sulser and any other pitcher listed above for the sake of brevity.
When it comes down to it, this is the only spot in either the rotation or bullpen that is really up for grabs. The five players listed as starters will make the team one way or another as will the six relievers listed above. This leaves one spot for everyone else in camp. If it doesn’t go to Merritt, he will be lost and the same is true of many of the Indians spring training invitees.
60 Total Players – As the exhibition season continues, this list will be periodically updated with those players removed listed below.
Removed before the start: Michael Martinez (Torn Achilles: Out six months)