Orbiting Cleveland: Gauging the 25-man roster

No matter how you look at it, there’s one constant when it comes to Major League baseball: There’s 25 men going to war each day and playing a key role in making or breaking the season of a Major League team.

From the start of the season through September 1, every MLB team is composed of 25 men who are out there every day competing in an effort to maximize their team’s chances of victory. The members of that 25-man roster may fluctuate over those months as teams are always looking for ways to improve, but the number 25 remains a constant.

While the season is still young, the Cleveland Indians have seen a number of changes to their 25-man roster, mostly because of injuries. It’s hard to really say that any combination has been the perfect recipe for success.

After 19 games, the Indians’ record is 8-11, which is just a half game above the Chicago White Sox for fourth place in the American League Central. If the record weren’t bad enough, a number of other statistics paint an even sadder picture.

The Indians’ team ERA is currently 4.45, which ranks 25th out of 30 Major League clubs. The pitching staff’s struggles have been well-documented, but the offense has been equally ineffective. The Indians have scored a total of 85 runs, which ranks ninth in the American League. That does not seem too awful until you realize that 19 of those 85 runs came in one game against the Houston Astros.

Like almost any problem, the Indians’ woes cannot be fixed overnight. They will likely try to tweak some things to get by and changes could come later in the season by way of trades or minor league promotions.

For now, the Indians seem poised to continue to move forward with slight variations of the current 25-man roster in place. But should they continue with the status quo?

Does the current 25-man roster give them the best chance to win?

It’s an interesting question to ponder and consider. Consider the assets of the entire Indians organization, and ask yourself if the current 25-man roster gives the team the best chance to win?

With that in mind, I decided to take a closer look and offer my own revised 25-man roster. There are four things to note when looking at my selections:

  1. I did not consider minor injuries or suspensions.
  2. I did not consider the prospect of hindering the development of a player who may still be in the minor leagues. I strictly looked at whether a player I chose to add to the 25-man roster has a greater chance of helping the Indians than the player he replaced.
  3. I did not consider things like service time or financial commitment. In other words, it’s irrelevant that the Indians have more than $5 million committed to Ubaldo Jimenez this season.
  4. I am not even necessarily endorsing these moves. Rather, I am simply arguing that this 25-man roster would give the Indians a better chance to win than the current one.

Without further ado, here are the selections.

The starting rotation

1. Justin Masterson stays

This seems to be a very easy pick to justify. Masterson has not been perfect this season, but he’s been darn close. The big right-hander is 4-1 and has a 1.85 ERA in 34 innings and five starts. His strikeouts are also up as he’s now punching out 7.9 batters per nine innings. He may not be an ace on many other teams, but he’s showing once again that he could be a pretty good No. 2.

2. Zach McAllister stays

McAllister has been good, but not great this season. He needs to work on going deeper into games, and he also struggles to pitch around errors. However, he still has a 3.52 ERA in 23 innings, and he is currently striking out 7.8 batters per nine innings. If you’ve read even one of my pieces, you probably know that I am extremely bullish on McAllister, and that remains the case now. He’s overcome the odds countless times as he was viewed as minor league depth in the New York Yankees system, yet he now appears to be well on his way to developing into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He is still out of place as a No. 2 starter, but the reality is that he’s currently the best second option that the Indians have.

3. Carlos Carrasco replaces Corey Kluber

Forget about his poor start a few weeks back. Forget about the fact that he threw at Kevin Youkilis. Forget about the current 8-game suspension. In terms of sheer ability, there is no question that Carrasco should be on this team right now. After coming back from Tommy John surgery, the right-hander has never thrown harder, and he’s currently tearing up the International League for the Columbus Clippers as he’s struck out 16 and allowed seven hits across 14 2/3 shutout innings. Of course, Carrasco’s future could be in jeopardy after he was taken to the hospital Thursday after taking a line drive off his elbow. If Carrasco is alright though, then there he definitely provides an upgrade. Before he got hurt in 2011, Carrasco showed the ability to attack Major League hitters, and there’s no reason to believe that he suddenly lost that skill. At some point, he will join the Indians’ rotation this year, and if he can keep his head on straight, the Indians will be better for it.

4. Trevor Bauer replaces Ubaldo Jimenez

Bauer struggled with command and an argument can be made that he needs more seasoning, but it’s hard to believe he could be any worse than Jimenez. He’s looked solid at Columbus where he’s 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 18 innings. He’s not going to be great overnight, but he would learn on the job and quickly become a superior option to Jimenez. Though that’s also not saying much…

5. Scott Kazmir stays

To be blunt, this is not a good thing. I do not consider Brett Myers’ current injury to be minor, so that is why Kazmir would be in this spot. The Indians unfortunately lack many starting pitching options, so Kazmir kind of gets this spot by default. After not pitching with any regularity in the big leagues since 2010, it’s doubtful to think that he immediately can become a serviceable Major League starter once again. The reality is that this spot could remain a black hole for the Indians unless they explore trades.

Position players

1. Catcher Carlos Santana stays

Does this really need much of an explanation? With a .352/.435/.704 line through his first 15 games, Santana seems to be on his way to finally cementing himself as one of the top offensive backstops in the game. There’s no one in the Indians’ system or the entire Majors that I would take over him.

2. First baseman Nick Swisher stays

Swisher has gotten off to a solid start with his .275 average. His numbers may not be the prototypical big power numbers that you expect from a first baseman, but it’s relatively obvious that the Indians have no superior internal options.

3. Second baseman Jason Kipnis stays

This was a tough one as I was almost tempted to have Mike Aviles replace Kipnis as the everyday second baseman. Kipnis has gone just 9-for-53 this season, and it’s easy to see that he’s visibly frustrated at the plate. Perhaps the hope is that his immense upside will lead to a rebound. Also, the other benefit he does offer is that he provides speed on the base paths as he’s already stolen four bases this year.

4. Mike Aviles replaces Lonnie Chisenhall at third base

This is a tough one as well. Aviles has been solid this year as he has gone 9-for-36 in his limited playing time. While his natural position may be shortstop, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Aviles could make the easy transition to the hot corner. It’d be nice to keep Chisenhall at this spot but he still struggles against left-handers, and he seems to have made minimal progress in the area of plate discipline. So far, he has walked just twice while striking out 15 times.

5. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera stays

He’s caught in a cold spell at the plate, but that will eventually pass. Cabrera can be frustrating at times, but he’s arguably been the team’s most consistent hitter over the past two seasons. It won’t be long before he starts hitting once again.

6. Left fielder Michael Brantley stays

Like Cabrera, Brantley has gotten off to a quiet start as he’s hit .265/.359/.294. Brantley is such a patient hitter though that it’s inevitable that those numbers will rise. There are signs that they may be already be on the rise as the left-handed hitter has now hit in four straight contests. He also provides plus defense in left field, and the benefit of having three center fielders in the outfield is one that I would prefer to keep.

7. Center fielder Michael Bourn stays

Most believe that Bourn is the top center fielder in the game, and it’s easy to see why. He flies all over the outfield, and if the ball stays in the park, there’s a good chance he’s coming down with it. It’d be almost impossible for the Indians to find a more effective center fielder.

8. Right fielder Drew Stubbs stays

Stubbs and his high strikeout totals are going to irritate you. But beyond those obvious woes lies a player who also does a lot of things right. He can steal a few bags at any moment, and like Brantley, it’s nice to have a natural center fielder patrolling one of the outfield corners. If Stubbs does not rebound this season, then there may be some potential replacements, or the Indians could even consider retooling the roster and moving Swisher back out here. However, for now, Stubbs does seem like the best choice.

9. Designated hitter Mark Reynolds stays

Reynolds and his slugging percentage of .698 and OPS of 1.063 are welcome qualities on this team. There are some interesting DH prospects in the minors, but it’s hard to believe that any will ever show the power potential that Reynolds has displayed throughout his career.


1. Scott Barnes replaces Rich Hill

There’s nothing really wrong with Hill. In fact, he’s actually done a solid job this season as he has been effective as evidenced by his 3.86 ERA in 4 2/3 innings. With that being said, I simply believe that Barnes has the higher ceiling and could come in and have a bigger impact than the one we are currently seeing from Hill. Barnes’ deceptive delivery makes it almost impossible for hitters to see the ball coming out of his hand, and along with Nick Hagadone, he really could give the Indians a nice one-two, left-handed reliever punch. My guess is that it will not be too long before the Indians actually decide to go down this route.

2. Nick Hagadone stays

Hagadone has looked dominant so far aside from some minor control hiccups. He seems to be over his little temper issues from last season, and he’s already the team’s top left-handed setup option.

3. Matt Langwell/Giovanni Soto/Preston Guilmet/Rob Bryson replaces Matt Albers

By listing the following relievers above, I am basically saying that I would take any of them over Albers. Now, I understand that only Soto is really considered much of a prospect, but all of the other relievers have done enough at the minor league level to at least warrant a Major League call up. I feel as Albers is a very mediocre reliever and was essentially a throw-in in by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Trevor Bauer trade. While he posted an ERA of 2.39 last season, his FIP of 4.77 proves that luck played a key role. Albers currently has a 5.40 ERA with a FIP of 5.81. It’s still very early, and he’s only pitched five innings, but I have to believe there are some options at Columbus who could have an equal if not better impact.

4. Cody Allen stays

Up until recently, there were some legitimate questions in regard to whether Allen may indeed be ready for the Show. However, after some rough patches to start the season, he’s really come on strong and has a 3.00 ERA in nine innings of work. This is only the beginning for Allen as he’ll likely continue to improve and further grow into his bullpen role this season.

5. Joe Smith stays

Smith has been a focal point of the Indians’ bullpen for the past three seasons. He’s a key cog to the back-of-the-bullpen machine, and is a very valuable member of the team’s 25-man roster.

6. Vinnie Pestano stays

It’s hard to think of a more valuable setup man in the Major Leagues than Pestano. Just try to think of how the team would be if Pestano suddenly were not a part of its 25-man roster. It’s not a pretty thought.

7. Chris Perez stays

While he can be incredibly frustrating, Perez remains one of the best closers in the game. Perez has saved 101 games for the Indians during the past four seasons, and if the team is to have any chance of having success this season then he will likely have to save a bunch more.


1. Yan Gomes replaces Lou Marson

It’s easy to understand the Indians’ philosophy in regard to why they chose to send Gomes back down to Columbus after his recent strong performance. At this point, they feel as if Gomes will be best served by continued development as a catcher, and that seems to make logical sense. However, it’s easy to conclude that the 25-man roster would be better with Gomes on it over Marson. Gomes showed good power in his brief stint in Cleveland while Marson has never been able to consistently show much of anything offensively.

2. Lonnie Chisenhall replaces Mike Aviles

With Aviles taking Chisenhall’s starting third base job, Chisenhall then moves to the bench. This would clearly be an unfortunate move, but it seems necessary until Chisenhall proves he can be even remotely serviceable against left-handed pitching. While it’s an incredibly small sample size, Chisenhall has gone just 2-for-20. That type of percentage just does not cut it for an everyday player who seems almost incapable of taking a free pass. For now, a bench or platoon role might serve him well.

3. Jason Giambi stays

This was a tough decision to make because it’s evident that Giambi is not going to offer a huge statistical boost to the team this year. That does not mean he will not have an impact though. The one problem with baseball and all sports for that matter is that there is no way to statistically measure the impact of intangibles like leadership ability. Giambi seems to have that trait in bunches, and it’s something that will definitely come into play throughout the course of the season.

4. Cord Phelps replaces Ryan Raburn

This is another controversial decision, and is based more on Phelps’ overall body of work in the minor leagues than anything else. Phelps is a career .284/.373/.437 hitter in the minor leagues but it unfortunately has not yet translated to the Majors. He always seems to be pressing too hard at the plate, which leads to easy out and poor swings. In Phelps’ defense, he also never seems to get the opportunity to stay in the Majors for any decent amount of time, which could explain his struggles. I suspect that he can turn still be a quality Major Leaguer, but that he just needs time to settle in. The reason as to why he would replace Raburn is simply nothing more than a gut feeling. Raburn is far from a poor player, but if things pan out, Phelps does seem to have more upside.

So, there you have it. In my opinion, this would be the best 25-man roster that the Indians could put together with all of the current assets that they have. Remember that I am not necessarily endorsing this 25-man roster because of how it could alter the long-term health of the club.

For instance, Bauer would certainly be an upgrade over Jimenez at this point, but the flipside to that is that Bauer’s long-term development could be hindered if he’s called up to the Majors before he’s totally ready.

So, with this revised 25-man roster in mind, what can we conclude? Perhaps the most notable conclusion is that there seems to be minimal upgrades that the Indians can make.

While a handful of players were swapped out, the core of the roster remained the same; there were no moves listed that point to a player being able to come in and immediately spark the club. It’s evident that starting pitching also remains a big concern.

The reality is that the Indians have to move forward with the roster they have and just hopefully escape the current rut that they’re stuck in. The season is just 11.7 percent complete, and there’s plenty of time for the Indians to get out of this rut.

The problem is that the Indians have to hope that this rut is just that— a rut —otherwise it would appear as if the team does indeed have some serious problems.


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