Opening Day roster taking shape

TitoCAThis can be a tense time during Spring Training. On most days, the clubhouse is buzzing with conversations, card games and music. This week, the room has been noticeably quiet. These are the days when the tap on the shoulder arrives, followed by the walk to the manager’s office.

You’ll see some subtle handshakes or slaps on the back — signs that Player X just received some good news. But, the celebrations in the clubhouse are always subdued, because good news for one player usually means bad news for another. And that player might be sitting at his locker, calling his family or agent to figure out his future.

On Monday morning, the locker room was a little more lively again, as the bulk of Cleveland’s Opening Day roster has come into focus. Most, if not all, of the players know their fate by now, even if the news hasn’t been made public.

Indians manager Terry Francona went through a few of the team’s decisions with reporters. Let’s walk through where the team stands with a week left until Opening Day.

What we already knew…

First basemen Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Juan Uribe will make up the infield. Jose Ramirez will make the team as a utility man, backing up second, short, third, left and center. Catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez are on the team, along with outfielders Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin.

The rotation will include Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are on the team in some capacity. Closer Cody Allen will be joined in the bullpen by Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship, Joba Chamberlain and Ross Detwiler.

Despite his efforts to get ready for Opening Day, left fielder Michael Brantley will open the season on the 15-day disabled list. That was the expectation months ago, so — aside from a brief period of optimism when he appeared in games — this really isn’t a surprise. The Indians need him strong for as long as possible, so it’d make zero sense to rush him back.

What we learned Monday…

Right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall will open on the 15-day DL…

And it won’t be due to the right forearm tightness that’s bothered him off and on this spring. No, Francona said Chisenhall is now dealing with a left wrist issue (the team described it as an impingement) that may be the result of compensating for the forearm while swinging. Either way, Chisenhall was short on spring at-bats and struggling at the plate. This decision buys him time to get more at-bats and get back to full strength. It also make sense given that the Indians open with series against the Red Sox and White Sox, who both feature a bunch of lefties. Chisenhall would’ve likely been on the bench for most of those games.

Collin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd win Opening Day jobs…

They both might have earned spots even without the Chisenhall development, but that news secured their place on the roster. The Indians like Cowgill, because he can provide depth at all three spots and offer a decent bat against lefties. He can also be disruptive on the basepaths. Byrd offers power and has shown this spring in limited at-bats that his swing is doing just fine. He can play right field while Chisenhall is out and, while he performs better against lefties, he can play against right-handers, too.

This means the Indians can conceivably carry an extra pitcher…

Intrigue! Francona said that, yes, the Chisenhall news might open the door for an extra pitcher. Prior to today, it looked like a five-man rotation and seven-man bullpen was pretty much locked in. What does this mean? Well, looking at the pitcher left in camp, it seems as though Josh Tomlin AND Cody Anderson could make the Opening Day roster. That is, of course, unless Cleveland has something else up its sleeve.

Dan Otero will be in the bullpen, while Kyle Crockett goes to Triple-A…

This one sort of rounds out the relief corps. In a seven-man scenario, Otero (without options) is the last man in. Crockett (with options) heads to Triple-A. That move maintains a layer of depth to start the season and also allowed Crockett to get regular work in the Minors. Francona pointed to all the April off-days and said Crockett could benefit from a more predictable schedule in the Minors before rejoining the big league bullpen.

The Indians aren’t ready to name their fifth starter…

Given the roster moves and decisions, it sure looks like Tomlin and Anderson can both be carried come Opening Day. Maybe Anderson gets the fifth spot and Tomlin heads to the ‘pen as a long man? I also asked Francona if Bauer — the presumed No. 4 arm — might actually be the fifth starter. The manager sidestepped the question, saying it was a good question to ask, but quickly adding that Cleveland is not ready to reveal the final makeup of its staff. Could this also potentially mean Bauer might be an option for the bullpen?

A big reason for Francona’s hesitation to announce anything is the nature of Tuesday’s schedule. Cleveland has an afternoon game in Tempe (Bauer is starting) and a night game in Goodyear (Tomlin is starting). Francona wants to get through that complicated day before setting anything in stone. But, if Cleveland believes Anderson or Tomlin give the team a better chance to win, I could see Bauer opening as the fifth, or even in the ‘pen.

We might not have real clarity on this one until Wednesday morning.

Robbie Grossman will not make the team…

The Indians liked Grossman a lot and hope to keep him in the Minor Leagues. Francona called this decision “one of the toughest” among the position players. Grossman, who can opt out of his Minor League contract on Tuesday, has been given the chance to explore other opportunities by Cleveland.

Lefty Tom Gorzelanny will stay with the team…

Francona said Cleveland was “thrilled” that Gorzelanny has agreed to stay in the Minors. The lefty pitcher will received a $100,000 retention bonus and will have a June 1 opt-out clause, if he isn’t in the Majors by then. The Indians explained to Gorzelanny that just because he isn’t on the Opening Day roster doesn’t mean he won’t be in the Majors at some point. The most recent example is Manship. He was coming off a horrid 2014, signed a Minors deal with the Tribe, went to the Minors and then earned his way to the Majors and is now locked into the bullpen for ’16.

What will need to happen…

The Indians are currently at capacity with their 40-man roster, but have informed three non-roster players (Byrd, Chamberlain and Detwiler) that they will be on the Opening Day roster. That means three roster spots need to be cleared, and there will be some tough decisions to make along those lines. I’m not sure if Tommy Hunter is a 60-day DL candidate, given his return date has been estimated at May. It would stun me if Brantley went on the 60-day DL, given the progress he made until the recent setback. That means three players could have a tough phone call coming from Cleveland.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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