"I know you haven't made your mind up yet"

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
http://www.twitter.com/castrovince

acta4.jpgWe have hit the home stretch here in the first Spring Training camp of the Manny Acta Era, and the Indians still have 38 guys in camp and several jobs undecided.

So, for the sake of clarity…

The last starting spot will go to either David Huff or Carlos Carrasco.

The last two bullpen jobs will go to any two of these three guys: Jensen Lewis, Saul Rivera and Jamey Wright.

The left field job will go to Austin Kearns, Michael Brantley or Trevor Crowe.

The fourth outfielder’s job will go to Kearns or Crowe (Brantley’s going to play every day somewhere).

The utility infield spot will go to Mark Grudzielanek, Anderson Hernandez or Luis Rodriguez.

The other utility infield spot will go to one of those three guys or Andy Marte.

If I had to guess, I’d say your Opening Day roster looks (something) like this:

Starters (5): Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Huff, Mitch Talbot

Relievers (7): Chris Perez, Rafael Perez, Tony Sipp, Aaron Laffey, Joe Smith, Lewis, Wright.

Catchers (2): Lou Marson, Mike Redmond.

Infielders (6): Matt LaPorta, Luis Valbuena, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Marte, Grudzielanek.

Outfielders (4): Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Brantley, Kearns.

Designated Hitter (1): Travis Hafner.

Disabled List (4): Russell Branyan, Jeremy Sowers, Kerry Wood, Anthony Reyes (60-day).

If I’m right, the Indians will have to make roster room for three guys — Wright, Grudzielanek and Kearns. Obviously, they can remove Rule 5 pickup Hector Ambriz. As for the other two spots, well, that’s why Mark Shapiro makes the big bucks.

How accurate are my predictions? We’ll find out Thursday. That’s when Acta is expected to announce the roster.

In the meantime…

EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…

  • Grudzielanek was a late scratch from today’s lineup because of tightness in his right hamstring. It’s not considered serious, and Acta said it shouldn’t affect Grudzielanek’s standing in the battle for a roster spot. It was Acta who had to talk Grudzielanek out of playing, as a precaution. I listed Grudzielanek above, but Acta also speaks highly of Hernandez. Hard to say which one of those guys gets carried. 
  • Carrasco was erratic today, walking six guys in 3 2/3 innings. He was a longshot for a rotation job to begin with, pitched his way into consideration and might have pitched his way back to Columbus with this start. It’s up to David Huff to decide. Huff gets the start Wednesday against the White Sox. Full story on Carrasco.
  • Acta and the coaching and front office staffs will huddle up after Wednesday’s game to make the final roster decisions.
  • Here’s the full story on the Branyan-to-the-DL decision and its implications on the Opening Day roster.
  • marte.jpgYou know who really stands to benefit from the Branyan decision? Marte. The Indians are going to need somebody to not only back up Peralta at third base but also spell LaPorta at first. LaPorta has come a long way from his October surgeries, but he’s not expected to play seven days a week for at least the first two weeks of the season. Enter Marte, who is, as you know, out of Minor League options. “We’ve taken a  long look because he’s out of options,” Acta said. “He brings that above-average defense at first and third. He’s had some good games offensively, too. We’ve seen some progress with him. Now the issue will be whether he can make the adjustment, if he doesn’t make this club as an everyday guy, to sit on the bench for a few games and maintain his hitting approach and give us quality at-bats.”
  • What’s playing out under the surface of the Branyan situation is a tell-tale symbol of small-market reality. The fact is that if a big-market ballclub had an opening in left field and a player of Brantley’s pedigree and performance on-hand, he’d probably be assured of the job by now. Not here, necessarily. As I’ve written several times here and elsewhere, one long-term cost benefit to signing Russell Branyan to a one-year, $2 million contract was the year of contractual control of Brantley that the Branyan signing could buy the Tribe down the line. If the Indians can avoid promoting Brantley from Triple-A Columbus until midseason, they can ensure themselves pre-arbitration contractual control of Brantley through 2013, rather than 2012.
  • brantley.jpgThe Branyan injury might not have much impact here, anyway, as the Indians expect to have him back within the first two weeks of the season, barring further setbacks. We’ll see how that goes, but it’s too early to tell how long the guy playing left field on Opening Day will actually be playing there. Even if it is Brantley, he could be sent down in a matter of weeks.
  • Still, the fact remains that Brantley had a stellar September and has had a stellar camp, coming into today’s game with a .343 average, .457 slugging percentage and .452 on-base percentage. He feels he deserves the job. “I’ve done everything I need to do,” Brantley said. “I feel like I’ve done a great job. I’ve given 110 percent, I’ve prepared my body and I’m really happy with where I’m at.”
  • Brantley was hobbled by a bum ankle for much of 2008 at Double-A Huntsville and 2009 at Columbus. In ’09, he still managed to swipe 46 bags in the Minors and make an immediate impact at the top of the big-league lineup, but he said he played through pain all year. He strengthened the ankle over the winter. “My ankle’s 100 percent,” he said. “I’m so excited about that. I feel I can run again. I always felt I had more to prove. Last year, I was banged up all year. It was a long season and a long grind, but it made me tougher mentally.”
  • That mental toughness could come in handy for Brantley later this week, if he gets sent down. And if that happens, then Kearns is the Opening Day left fielder for your Cleveland Indians. Crowe is more of a fourth-outfielder type who could provide speed off the bench.
  • So, what about Kearns? He’s here as a non-roster invitee, he has an out clause in his Minor League deal if he’s not on the Opening Day club and he’s batting .308 this spring. The odds of sticking are in his favor, as he could be a serviceable fourth outfielder even if he’s not the left field starter. Acta is a big fan, having managed Kearns in Washington the last three years. “I always liked him, because he’s a pro,” Acta said. “He goes hard every single day. He’s a great teammate. He’s one of those guys that can only help you, when he’s healthy. He’s the ultimate pro.”
  • Marson’s status as the starting catcher still hasn’t been officially announced, but that’s coming. marson.jpgWhat’s a little odd is the sporadic playing time Marson has received in spring camp. Today marked just his ninth start behind the plate. He came in with 21 at-bats. (For the sake of comparison, Shelley Duncan missed a week with an elbow injury and was removed from camp a week ago and nonetheless managed to log 21 at-bats.) “It’s been hard to get in a rhythm,” said Marson, who went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI today to improve his spring average from .190 to .240. You’d have to imagine Acta will ramp up Marson’s participation this final week.
  • Talbot and the winner of the battle between Huff and Carrasco for the final rotation spot will not exactly break camp with the club. Both pitchers will remain here in Goodyear to throw against Minor Leaguers on Sunday before joining the Tribe in Chicago.
  • The last available reliever listed on the Indians’ roster card today was “CC Lee.” No, that wasn’t some cruel joke about past Cy Young winners. It was short for farmhand Chen-Chang Lee, who came on in the sixth inning.

~AC

15 Comments

AC, why Lewis over Rivera? And I find it interesting that you went with Brantley even though you later mention his time issue. Do think that’s no longer a concern? Or do you think they’d send him back down when Branyan returns? And wouldn’t that be just a horrible thing to do to a young player, particularly if he’s playing well over those first few weeks? At least with Kearns they can claim they chose him over Brantley because he performed well in spring training and they want his experience in the line-up.

I think the issue with Rivera is it would mean they’d have to make another roster move, while Lewis is already on the 40-man. The only obvious guys to remove are Toregas, Ambriz and Hernandez, and Hernandez would be replaced by Grudz if they don’t go with him, so if they add Kearns and Wright, that probably means Ambriz and Toregas are removed, but if they also added Rivera, they’d have to remove someone else. Probably the only way they take Wright and Rivera would be if they didn’t take Kearns.

I’m guessing Lewis or Rivera because Rivera’s out clause doesn’t kick in until mid-May and, as savagetruth notes, they’d have to clear yet another roster spot for Rivera. They have to do the same for Wright, obviously, but his out clause kicks in if he’s not on the OD roster.

I don’t pretend to know what they’re going to do with Brantley. I just know that if he doesn’t get the LF job, service time will be the biggest factor — not anything he’s done or hasn’t done here in camp. We’ll see what happens Thursday. But if he does make the club, yes, there’s a strong possibility he could be sent right back down once/if Branyan’s healthy.

Props to Marson for hanging in there with ‘you know who’ barreling down into him. Showed so much ‘moxie’ it’d make Eric Wedge blush.

I would love to see Brantley get the nod for left, even if it may complicate his time. I’m eager to see our new style of play, which would be optimal with Brantley’s skill set.

On the Branyan/Brantley thing. How much is that extra year without arbitration worth? More than 2mil?

I still think they should have Brantley start the season in LF… if he does good keep him up here… if he has another good year next year, sign him to a contract like they did with Sizemore, Peralta… and like they want to do with Choo and Asdrubal…and just avoid the arbitration years all together with a long contract…. I don’t think him starting his arbitration a year early should be the reason he goes to AAA… if he’s playing well enough to stay in the bigs then let him stay…

jk and lacf – here’s the thing, Brantley just isn’t a slam-dunk legit-major-leaguer yet. He’s talented, and definitely in the future plans. Why does 100 or so PAs with expanded rosters and ST take precedent over 500 or so in AAA? Brantley finished AAA hitting .267 with very little power. There’s legit reason to believe he still needs some more work. I still think the guy can be a vital piece in the future, but at just 22, he’s not there yet.

You know, I’ve been thinking…I feel bad for guys like Brantley. They have obviously played their hearts out, worked very hard, and as far as stats go, they obviously deserve a job in the big leagues. But, they have a big risk of missing their chance to break camp with the team, and lay down an impressive rookie season, because the front office is balking on paying them a deserved salary in two years. I know it’s business and all, but, man….that sends a rather bad message to a player, I think.

I agree, jk. That’s why I think it will be a bad move to start him in the majors and then send him down when Branyan returns, assuming Brantley performs well enough. If they start him in Columbus and go with Kearns, at least they can make the claim that they wanted another guy with experience in the line-up. Bogus? Yeah, but at least it sounds like a plausible reason. Sending a guy down after a few weeks for no fault of his own just seem like a bad idea.

benuardoplatoon, personally, I’m ignoring what Brantley did in the majors last year. I’m looking at the present. And if you look at the numbers, Brantley won the job in left field. His OBP is 8th on the team; Kearns is 16th! He’s higher in ever stat but RBI, which isn’t what he’d be on the roster for, anyway. If Spring Training is supposed to be a competition for roster spots, Brantley won that competition and he should get it.
But, like I said, I understand the financial reasons (clevelandincolumbus asks a good question, BTW) for not giving him a job he won. And I think they can spin it, given how young the team is and the fact that Kearns is a right handed bat added to a left heavy line-up. These are reasonable, if not entirely believable, reasons to go with Kearns over Brantley.
But starting Brantley and then sending him down in a few weeks just looks really bad and, honestly, would seem to serve no real purpose aside from yanking a young player around.

It’s impossible, at this juncture, to know what Brantley’s arbitration value would be in 2013. That will depend on how Brantley pans out as a Major League player and what comparable players get paid at that time.

But remember, manipulating a player’s arbitration clock is also about the control aspect. If this season doesn’t end up counting toward Brantley’s arbitration eligibility, he wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until 2016 instead of 2015. That’s a significant difference, considering Brantley is one of the players the Indians hope to build around in this “reloading” period.

If it truely is so important not to start Brantley’s arbitration clock, the Indians could revise Mr. Castrovince’s roster as follows, either
1) Use LaPorta in the OF instead of Brantley, and add Hernandez to the IF
or
2) Keep LaPorta in the IF , and use Crowe in the OF.

Since the Indians have historically locked up their young players to contracts well before they were eligible for free agency, I just don’t see why the service time should be much of an issue (not to mention that Brantley might not even be part of their future, never know how he’ll develop, or how other Indians outfield prospects like Weglarz and Abner Abreu will develop) My view would be, is service time something to consider? Yes. Is it something that should trump putting the best team out on the field now? Absolutely not. If they had a healthy Branyan, or if they’d signed Dye to play 1b, then you could make an argument that the team would be better off giving Brantley some more time to develop. And here the service time issue would just support the basic argument that they’re better off signing a veteran and having Brantley start in AAA. With Branyan injured, that’s no longer the case, Brantley’s clearly the best option, he’s outplayed Kearns by a mile. Kearns has whiffed 13 times in 39 ABs, that’s a Branyan-style K-rate without the power, Brantley has 9 BB and 4 Ks, THAT’S what the Indians lineup needs. Given that Branyan is still in rough shape after 8 months off, I sincerely doubt he’ll be able to contribute much of anything this year. They should go with Brantley, Kearns in the outfield would be another slap in the face to the fans, there’s a good chance that his service time will end up being a non-issue anyway

I think the problem with the “they’ll sign him before he’s eligible” argument boils down to guys like Travis Hafner. The Tribe did sign a lot of young guys to contracts, and have since had to waste money on guys who haven’t produced. I would guess it would make them a little hesitant, or at least want to be able to wait as long as possible before committing to a long term deal.

I said it before, the Travis Hafner signing has been a big, unfortunate oopsie and in turn created a scenario whereby the Dolans would be unwilling to commit future dollars like that again. This Brantley situation is the repercussion of such actions

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