With the addition of John Axford, we can start to complete the Indians bullpen picture. More than likely, all of the pieces are there and just need to be put in place by Puzzle Master/Manager Terry Francona. By my count, there are nearly 20 pitchers with a shot at the Opening Day roster: Axford, 14 others currently on the 40-man roster, 3 with invites to training camp but no roster spots, and a Triple-A arm that I think could be a factor.
Below is my guess at the make-up of the pen, dividing the guys into three camps: Locks, Competition, and Long Shots.
Editor's update: The day after this post was written, the Indians acquired reliever Josh Outman from the Colorado Rockies. He's a southpaw, and I'd put him into the "Competition" category, perhaps with a leg up on Hagadone and Hynes for the second southpaw spot. If the FO didn't view Outman as at least as good as those two, I'm not sure why they'd have acquired him. - Jason
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John Axford (RHP) - Closer: My best guess is that Axford will be the closer come April, but it should be noted that the Indians said they were looking for someone with closing experience and (unless I missed something) not a closer, per se. I don't think the job is Axford's, yet (Cody Allen and perhaps Vinnie Pestano may still have a say in that), but I would assume it is his job to lose. The question for Axford is two-fold: 1) can he bring the K's back up to 2009-2012 levels and 2) can he keep the ball in the park? The walks will be high but if he can limit the damage, he could prove a solid acquisition.
Cody Allen (RHP) - 8th Inning: I am not sure everyone quite appreciates how terrific Allen was last year. His K/9 (11.26) was outstanding, he avoided giving up too many HR, he brought his walks down significantly from 2012. All in all, he was exactly what you want from a back-of-the-bullpen arm. He may end up in the 7th rather than the 8th, depending how things shake out, but I can guarantee Allen will one of Francona's go-to arms.
Vinnie Pestano (RHP) - 7th Inning: I may be over-reaching by calling Pestano a lock while he is coming off a two-year decline and his worst season as a professional. In 2011, Pestano was as good as they come (even better than the 2013 vintage of Cody Allen), poised to be a fixture in the pen for quite some time. Instead, I now have to wonder if hoping he'll be our seventh inning guy is overly optimistic. He lost nearly 2 MPH off his fastball since 2010 and induces far fewer swinging strikes, neither of which is a good sign. I'll be watching those factors early to see what we can expect from Pestano moving forward.
Marc Rzepczynski (LHP) - Late Inning Lefty: 2012 was rough for the lefty but 2013 was better and he looked great after Mickey Callaway got his hands on him. You know there will be a lefty in the pen and I am not sure who else is a better bet to take this spot. I fully expect that he breaks camp with the club.
Bryan Shaw (RHP) - Pestano's Back-End Competition: Shaw was very solid for the Indians last year and clearly has a spot on the roster for 2014. He has never been as good as Pestano was and so the upside is higher with Vinnie, but Shaw probably has a more stable floor. I am hopeful Pestano will run with a late inning role, but feel good knowing that Shaw is around.
With five spots claimed, there will be 2-3 more RP who make the cut, and I expect them to come out of the five names below:
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Nick Hagadone (LHP): We can safely assume another lefty will join Rzepczynski in the pen and I expect Hagadone will get the first shot. He struggled last year but has big potential and big minor league numbers.
Colt Hynes (LHP): Hagadone's main competition is old for having barely seen the bigs, but something changed last year and he went from striking out less than 20% of batters faced for most of his minor league career to striking out more than 30% last season. He'll have to show that was for real, but there is more upside than in the lefties on the long-shot list.
Preston Guilmet (RHP): Ignore the five innings in Cleveland and focus on the numbers in Columbus. More than 10 K/9 and less than 2 BB/9? That is exactly what you want in a pitcher.
C.C. Lee (RHP): He was fantastic as he zipped across three minor league levels last year, and the Indians seem to believe he is ready. He was not overmatched in Cleveland, even if it was only 4.1 IP, and I think he has a good shot at a job - he may even belong in the lock category.
Bryan Price (RHP): Somewhat like Hynes, Price was spectacular last season after generally not impressing in previous years. Maybe he just needed a couple years to adjust to relieving, or maybe 2013 was a fluke. He's behind Lee and Guilmet and he's not a lefty, so he might fall into the bucket below.
If I were a gambling man, my money would be on Hagadone and Lee to join the pen, along with a long-man, likely one of the losers of the 5th starter competition (perhaps Carlos Carraco).
The Long Shots
Blake Wood (RHP): Was good the last time he got extended run in the Majors and very good in triple-A.
Frank Herrmann (RHP): Hasn't pitched in a year and really wasn't great when he did pitch.
Scott Barnes (LHP): He was really bad last year. Of course he is a lefty...
Trey Haley (RHP): Was not great in Akron last year and he needs to at least master that level.
Austin Adams (RHP): Struck out a bunch of guys in Akron, and not sure if they plan to stretch him out to start again, but I can't see him skipping triple-A.
J.C. Ramirez (RHP): Must be something that earned him a camp invite, but not sure what.
Mike Zagurski (LHP): He's a lefty and struck out a bunch of guys in the high minors, so you know he'll get a serious look.
Giovanni Soto (LHP): Every lefty gets a look, but he needs more seasoning.