What the Indians Need This Winter: Bullpen

Overall, there aren't a ton of exiting free agents this season for the Indians and most have internal replacements that played at least some during 2013. The bullpen is a little different story, however. The Indians top reliever for the past four years, Joe Smith, is a free agent and could easily out-price himself out of an Indians return. Rich Hill is also a free agent and shouldn't even be allowed back into the city of Cleveland let alone the Indians' locker room. In addition, Matt Albers is a free agent as well and may or may not return while Chris Perez has already been released.

With four players possibly leaving, it would seem the Indians have some serious work to do to in replenishing the ranks, but that is not entirely the case. Injuries and September call-ups allowed the Indians to use far more than their standard eight man bullpen during 2013. The Indians used 19 different pitchers out of the bullpen that weren't regular starters (or Ryan Raburn), 12 of which are still under team control.

As of now, the expected returning relievers for the Indians will be Vinnie Pestano, Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw. Of those other eight, there are a few different types of players. Scott Barnes and Nick Hagadone are young left handed specialists that may or may not have a job after the advent of Rzepczynski. Both struggled in 2013, but still have time to turn things around. Especially if the Indians don't use a left handed starter in the rotation, they may decide to keep two left handers in the bullpen, meaning one of those two will likely make the team.

The second level of possible replacement are the super young, unproven prospects including C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet and Blake Wood. None pitched much in 2013, but all seem as ready as they'll ever be for the big time. Lee especially looks to be something special and the Indians will likely push him ahead in hopes of finding the next Cody Allen. Wood is older than the other two, but has had his progress delayed by injury. He will be eligible for his first year of arbitration next year and deserves a chance after rehabbing through the entire 2013 season. There are also a slew of young pitchers that will likely make a debut of some sorts in 2014 including T.J. House, Tyler Sturdevant, Trey Haley, Paolo Espino and Giovanni Soto.

Finally, there are two other players that need discussing. Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin were both in the bullpen at the end of 2013 and both pitched well. With a few players possibly leaving the starting rotation, one or both of these former starters could be reintroduced into the rotation. Most likely, this will be the case for Tomlin, but Carrasco has proven over and over again that he cannot control himself enough as a starter pitcher, but can be dominant in a relief role. If the Indians go with the eight man bullpen or want a really long reliever, Carrasco would be a great choice.

In addition to those already with the team, the Indians have already given Spring Training invites to Matt Capps and J.C. Ramirez, although both pitchers are far past their prime. Since they were unable to contribute in 2013, it is unlikely they will be productive next season, but it doesn't hurt to take a few low price risks.

Looking to replace each pitcher that is leaving on an individual level, Carrasco could replace Albers, Rzepczynski could replace Hill, and Lee, Smith. Any of the other players mentioned would be acceptable additions as well and would likely perform as well as any Chad Durbin, Brett Myers, Keith Foulke type aging free agent the Indians could, and likely will, sign during the offseason. Here is a basic look of the bullpen without Perez:

CP Allen
SU1 Pestano
SU2 Shaw
LHRP Rzepczynski
LHRP Hagadone
Long Carrasco

This is obviously an early look, but it shows that the Indians do not need any more outside help to refill their roster. If the Indians were able to sign Smith, things would become that much stronger and the Indians could remove either Hagadone or Carrasco in favor of one of the greatest closers in Indians history. This is a long shot however and the Indians will have to try to move on with what they already have.

Even with four players possibly leaving before 2014, the Indians actually don't have any needs in the bullpen this offseason. This is a great opportunity for the Indians to save some money and keep things in house. For a team that often complains about money, they have a bad tendency to waste between $2 and $10 million every year on washed up relievers when there are far better options already with the team. This year, that seems less necessary than ever before.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB