Each positional battle will affect the next and this battle for the normal reserve catcher spot will be greatly affected by the fight for starting third base, DH and right field. Depending on who wins those roles, there could be at least 20 different players competing for this single roster spot. To reduce the confusion and number of options, we will assume that Lonnie Chisenhall will be the starting third baseman, Carlos Santana the starting DH and Mike Aviles the utility infielder. While none of these are guarantees by any means, all three should make the team in some capacity, so they shouldn't effect this position. Santana himself is the reason why there is so much confusion here. The Indians have yet to announce whether or not they will be making use of a third catcher, but if they don't it could save a valuable roster spot for an extra bat, defensive replacement or pinch runner.
Just to get them out of the way, there are a lot of players who will be in camp who really have no chance to make the team. Chun Chen, Carlos Moncrief, Luke Carlin, Jake Lowery, Tony Wolters, Roberto Perez, Chris Wallace, Erik Gonzalez, Tyler Naquin and Joe Wendle are mostly minor league players on the 40 man roster or minor league invites. With the depth of competition for this role, these guys don't have a chance, but could be kept around in AAA as depth options.
The first discussion has to be whether or not the Indians should carry a third catcher. Yan Gomes will be catching the majority of games with Santana either DHing, playing first or third on those days. Gomes off days are in question, but the easiest solution would be for the Indians to use Santana at catcher and Aviles or Ryan Raburn somewhere in the field with another starter at DH to give two players a day off at once, without hurting the offense. Helping to make this choice is the fact that there is really only one MLB option at catcher, Matt Treanor. Treanor looked like he might turn in to something special back when he started out with the Marlins, but never played more than 82 games in a season and missed 2013 entirely. Even though none of the players up for this job are super stars, many of them stand far above Treanor.
The Indians have made it very clear that they want to give this job to Jason Giambi, despite the fact that he has amassed an incredible WAR of -0.8 over the past two seasons, essentially marking him as less valuable than the average AAA hitter. There is no other example in recent memory of a team signing such a terrible 43 year old player even when loyalty is taken into account. Generally, the Indians have been very intelligent in making roster decisions, but it looks like they may make the same mistake they made last year all over again.
If the Indians come to their senses and leave Giambi to pasture, they could use this roster position in a couple different ways. It could be used for a pinch hitter (that will bat over .200 and be able to play in the field), a pinch-runner, a defensive replacement or someone who can be all three. The top hitting choices are prospect Jesus Aguilar and David Cooper, the top runners are Matt Carson and Jose Ramirez and the best defensive replacements would be Francisco Lindor and Nyjer Morgan. There is one player in camp that can do all three, however, and could possibly do them better than all the other players listed. Jeff Francoeur.
Francoeur is the best chance for the Indians to pull of another Raburn from 2013. He is in camp with the same deal as Raburn and Scott Kazmir from last season (minor league, $1M MLB contract if he makes the 25 man roster) a far distance from the $7.5M he made last season. While his 2013 campaign was very disappointing, he hit 20 home runs in a season just two years ago and is only 30 years old. Not only does he have 140 career home runs, but he also has decent speed (22 steals in 2011) and is a fantastic defensive outfielder. Every year except 2013 he came in first or second in the Majors in assists right field and he is the active career leader. While there is always the risk his career is over, the fact that he was recently great means that he has a much better chance of turning things around than Giambi, who hasn't been great since 2008 or Treanor, who hasn't been great ever.
Of course, short sighted Indians fans would really love to see the job go to one of the younger players, particularly Lindor with Aguilar and Naquin as other options. There are two major issues with this. First, if a rookie starts at the beginning of the season, rather than coming up in July or later, it essentially removes a full season of team control, wasting it at the wrong time in his career. It boils down to whether the Indians would prefer six months of Lindor at 20 now or a full season later at 28. Even not considering the financial reasons, the Indians would prefer all three players listed above stay in AAA, where they can play every day, instead of being relegated to just pinch running and late inning defensive work. With Asdrubal Cabrera still on the roster, there is no way Lindor would start, if he is even ready already.
This position will likely boil down to three players and the decision will have little to do with production during Spring if it is anything like last year. If Terry Francona decides he needs another catcher, it will almost certainly be Treanor as Wolters and Roberto Perez are nowhere near ready. If they want the best player available, it will be Francoeur, who can hit for power and a better average than most of the roster while playing fantastic defense. Of course, if the Indians want to waste this spot and give it to Giambi, no one can stop them, but it really would be a waste. Not only would it cost the Indians outs during the season, it would also hurt their versatility as he is completely incapable from playing in the field or running the bases. Finally, to help this former steroid using 43 year old make it to 20 seasons, it would cost the come back attempts of all those veterans in camp, including Francoeur, who has a real chance to return to the Major Leagues.
If the Indians decide they have too much versatility,
they could give the job to this aging utility man.