Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona are at it again, finding ways to turn their 25 man active roster into at least a 30 man. This is something the Indians started doing actively in 2013, but like the use of a shift against every batter, this form of taking advantage has really blown up in 2014. Excluding trips to the DL, paternity list or trades, the Indians have already made 60 separate moves in 94 games, taking advantage of players with options or ones so unwanted they wouldn’t be grabbed off waivers, to mold the roster into its most efficient possible on a game by game basis.
To start, it is necessary to go back a week to July 11th, when T.J. House was sent to AAA. House has made three great starts of his last four and didn’t deserve a demotion, but for the Indians in 2014, being sent to AAA is not necessarily a demotion. Every MLB team got a four man All-Star break this year and House pitched four games before it started. Since he wouldn’t needed for at least four days after the break, the Indians didn’t need him for for at least the ten day minimum for a minor league stay. At that point, the Indians went to a ten man bullpen (it was increased to nine when Justin Masterson went on the DL) with a three man rotation. After one more game, Vinnie Pestano was sent to Columbus in exchange for a spot start from Zach McAllister. McAllister was sent down one day later, but again, this was not because he did something wrong.
The Indians are now taking advantage of another rule, that when a 26th man is added for a double header, it waives the ten day rule. Since the Indians have a double header on Saturday, McAllister can be brought back prior to ten days in AAA and sent back without increasing his minimum time. As far as the schedule goes right now, Trevor Bauer will pitch Friday night on his normal days rest, Corey Kluber on Saturday afternoon (seven days off) with McAllister pitching the Saturday night game and Josh Tomlin throwing Sunday afternoon (on 11 days of rest). On Monday, the Indians will need to add a permanent fourth starter, likely to be House back from AAA. House would be going on 11 days rest as well, but was able to get in a spot start for Mahoning Valley on Thursday. While it was obviously not against the best competition, House at least was able to keep his arm loose over the long lay off. To make this move, another reliever will need to be sent down, bringing the total to eight.
For Tuesday, another move will need to be made, although whether it will be permanent or not is yet to be seen. Most likely, Danny Salazar will finally be given another chance after being sent down on May 16th. After this, the Indians won’t need their fifth starter again until July 25th, far enough in the future that McAllister will be eligible to come back again. This means Salazar could be brought up for a single game, sent down for a reliever the next day, then replaced on the following Friday by McAllister. This would keep McAllister in the rotation, even though he wouldn’t be on the active roster during the games he didn’t pitch.
Francona loves having a giant bullpen, regularly keeping an eight man pen, but going up to ten whenever possible. One reason this is possible is because the Indians have tremendous pitching depth. This does not mean they have seven All-Star quality starters, but have at least seven replacement level starters that they are equally confident in. The relief corps is similar with 13 pitchers currently available for the 25 man shuffle. Since May 20th, the Indians have had two starters (Kluber and Bauer) and six relievers on the roster for every single game with the other twelve moving back and forth as necessary.
The Indians have done a similar thing with position players, although they have had to be more creative. Since May 3rd, the Indians have had at least two offensive players on the DL or paternity list every single day. While this may seem like a negative, the Indians have used the DL on multiple occasions similar to how they have used AAA with the pitching staff. Because the offensive players that they have wanted to send down are out of options, the Indians have had to make use of the DL. Jason Giambi has been the biggest victim of this, recently being moved to the 60 day DL, despite not having any single, significant injury. In addition to Giambi, both Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana have been placed on the DL with injuries that they probably could have waited out. Both players were struggling offensively and the Indians preferred the services of their minor league replacement players at the moment. When the two came back, there was no room on the roster for a pinch hitter, so Giambi was put on the DL again.
This new strategy being employed by the Indians is a very creative and far-seeing one. The Indians are taking advantage of their large quantities of mediocrity to make sure each game has the maximum amount of bench/relief pitchers available, while still providing a quality starting pitcher and nine position players every game. It takes a long, accurate look into the future to make this feasible, using double headers, injuries, births and any other possible situation to shuffle the roster. While there is some risk (the Indians have lost George Kottaras, Blake Wood already), the Indians are not only keeping the 25 man at its most efficient, but they are also reducing the Major League roster time of young players like Salazar, Jesus Aguilar and Jose Ramirez, keeping them under team control for a longer period. This strategy could end once the Indians have legitimate starters at each position and a starting rotation that is out of options, but for now, Chris Antonetti is doing an amazing job staying ahead of the schedule.