Spring Training Battles: Last Man In

With 20 roster spots more or less known, the competition will be intense for the final five places on the Indians roster. Essentially these will include an infielder of some sort (either a third catcher or corner infielder is most likely), the Indians fifth starter and two relievers with one more spot available. Today we will get into this final roster spot, which could literally be taken by any player in camp.

To shrink the prospects some, based on the Indians 2013 roster decisions, they are most likely to use the position for an eighth man out of the bullpen or pinch hitter. Almost all season last year, the Indians carried an extra pitcher (although some of that was due to Carlos Carrasco's suspensions), giving them an eight man bullpen or six man rotation, however you want to look at it. If the Indians choose this option, they could go many different ways. They could use it to keep an extra starter on the roster, specifically Carrasco, Josh Tomlin or Trevor Bauer, assuming Shaun Marcum is made the fifth starter. Doing this would keep the team ready in case of injury or early inning struggles by the current rotation. With two extremely young players (Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber) and and another often injured starter in Marcum slated to make up the rotation, this option doesn't look unreasonable.

The second type of player that could be used would be a regular reliever. The Indians will have 16 relievers in camp in addition to those expected to make the team (for now this assumes that C.C. Lee and Vinnie Pestano will fill the final two spots). The Tribe could use this extra spot to carry another match-up reliever and have Nick Hagadone, Mike Zagurski and Scott Barnes any one of whom would give the Indians three left handed relievers in their bullpen. As already mentioned in Spring Training Battles: Bottom of the Bullpen, the Central division is right handed heavy, so it would make sense to carry and extra righty instead. Assuming the Indians don't want to carry another rookie (in addition to Lee), the best right handed options are David Aardsma, Frank Herrmann, Blake Wood or JC Ramirez. While there are many other pitchers in camp, this race should already be able to be limited to essentially Hagadone, Zagurski, Aardsma and Herrmann.

If the Indians don't use this final spot for a pitcher, they could use it to make what could be a very inflexible offense much more versatile team. There are too many options to list here, but some of the best would be Jose Ramirez, Jeff Francoeur, David Adams, Bryan LaHair or Ryan Rohlinger. These players would bring varied qualities of speed, power and defensive prowess that would help the team in areas of great weakness (like third base and right field). Of those listed, Ramirez and Francoeur are the most exciting. Ramirez ended 2013 with the Indians and was playing on an almost daily basis after being brought up straight from AA. He brings blazing speed, a decent bat and average defense to the left side of the infield. With Francisco Lindor still in the minors to begin the season, Ramirez would be the Indians best reserve infield option if Mike Aviles were to become a starter.

Of course, all this discussion was likely pointless because it is describing what the Indians should do, not what they will do. Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti seem unmovable in their desire to cripple the roster by adding Jason Giambi. Every single player listed above will almost certainly hit better than Giambi in 2014 and all can actually be used in the field, which is not true about Giambi. For example, over the past two seasons Giambi has WAR of -0.8 while in 15 games last season, Ramirez earned a WAR of 0.1. Unlike Lindor, the clock has already started on Ramirez (he will likely be a free agent after the 2019 season), so there is no reason to keep him in the minors. More than enough has been said about the futility of Giambi on this website, so we won't go into it any more than to say that if he makes the team, he is not only hurting the team, but is stealing money from a young player that needs it far more than he does. Despite his cheating, injuries and general uselessness over the past decade, Giambi has already made $133.5M in his career. Meanwhile, a player who is competing for this spot with Giambi, Tomlin, was just in a fight with the Indians over $100,000. 

While the 25th man is not the most important on the roster, what the Indians do with that spot will say if they feel it matters at all. With 23 Spring Training invitees in camp in addition to the 40 man roster, there will be many players who will be jobless once April roles around. This spot would be a great incentive for those players who are not already guaranteed a position to play hard during Spring, but only if they don't assign it to a player early on. If they don't, things will likely go back and forth a lot this Spring and we won't know who exactly will make the team until the end of March.

Josh Tomlin2Carlos Carrasco2

Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco could use this
roster spot as a back door onto the team.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona.

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