Matt Albers was an interesting case in 2013, finishing the year with a 3.14 ERA in 56 games. Despite this perceived success, he was almost never used in significant situations. He came into just 15 games when the Indians were tied or had the lead and just 23 games that were within two runs. Albers was most often brought into the game during the sixth through eighth innings, when he pitched well, but from the eighth inning on, he struggled, allowing a 5.00 ERA in 27 innings.
The questions revolving around the re-signing of Albers, who is a free agent for the second time in his career, involve whether he can continue his success, how much he will be worth on the market and if he is actually different at all from the hundreds of other Major League relief pitchers.
To answer his worth on the market, it isn't very much. While top level relievers are grabbing up illogical long term contracts worth more than $10M a year (illogical because relief pitchers almost never stay consistent over more than a couple years and only pitch around 60 innings a year), middle relievers are a dime a dozen. Albers made $1.75M for his last season, his highest deal to this point. Baseball is backward when awarding contracts, so Albers will probably make more slightly money in 2014, despite the fact that he likely had the best year he will ever have in 2012.
As to whether he can continue his success from 2013, first it has to be seen whether or not he was really that successful. Based solely on ERA, he was the 82nd best reliever who threw at least 40 innings. Seventy-three pitchers held an ERA under 3.00, including two Indians relievers (Joe Smith and Cody Allen), while 15 were under one. The averages work out so that every team should have about two relievers with a sub-3.00 ERA and half the teams should have a reliever with an ERA under 2.00. It seems unfair that 10 of those 15 relievers pitched for either the Red Sox, Royals, Rangers or Braves. Seeing this, it isn't surprising that Albers wasn't used in late relief. Smith and Allen were dominant when they pitched as was Marc Rzepczynski from the left side late in the year. Of course, teams still need pitchers to throw when they are losing or winning by more than four runs, so Albers provided a very useful service, pitching as early as the first inning once and throwing multiple innings whenever asked. Because of the Indians streakiness, he had to throw 27 times with one or less days of rest and six times had to wait more than six days between appearances.
As said, Albers best season was 2012, which is not surprising as most players hit their peak around the age of 28 or 29. At 30 now, he likely has as many as three more years at this level, before his skills really start to diminish. It is possible, however that the past two years have been a fluke and he will return to the 4.00+ ERA pitcher he was during the first six years of his career. Albers doesn't have great "stuff" and had a paltry K/9 of just 5 last season, pitiful compared to what Allen was doing in pressure situations. It is hard to predict relievers fates more than any other player (as shown by Vinnie Pestano's 2013 campaign), but things don't look perfect for Albers future.
Finally, do the Indians have a replacement for Albers within their current system? The answer to this is obvious, but more players will be leaving the bullpen than just Albers, so the real question is "will there be enough room for Albers in the bullpen?" Assuming an eight man bullpen (which the Indians used most of 2013), the Indians will have returning for sure Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano, Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw and C.C. Lee. This leaves three more places for Nick Hagadone, Blake Wood, Preston Guilmet and Carlos Carrasco (and Chris Perez who may or may not be back) who all pitched in the bullpen at the end of the year. Matt Capps was also signed already with a Spring Training invite for 2014. While not all these players will be involved in next year's relief corps, there are plenty of arms available without Albers.
While most of the articles in the "Should the Indians…" series have had an answer like, "if they can get him for less than this amount, then yes, otherwise no," this one is different. The Indians don't need Albers and most of the optional relievers listed will be making the league minimum next year and should be able to provide similar results. The risk that his last three seasons have been an exception and he will return to his 2006 through 2011 form is too great to pay him more than the minimum. With so many exciting, young relievers available, there is no reason for the Indians to consider bringing Albers back for any price.
If things go well, Indians fans won't be seeing this face again.