With Carlos Carrasco being moved to the bullpen, there's an opening in the starting rotation to be filled by someone from the farm. Bringing someone up to fill that vacancy will necessitate also sending someone down to Columbus, making this a twofold decision.
No move needs to be made for a week, because with Zach McAllister scheduled to go on short rest this evening (after throwing only 75 pitches on Saturday), a fifth starter won't be needed until next Wednesday, May 6. That gives Francona and his coaching staff a few days to consider their options, and to see a bit more from each of the guys who might be on the move. Which guys should be on watch?
Who comes up?
This is both more important and less complicated, so let's start there. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin seem like the only possible candidates, but which one is called upon could have as much to do with 2020 as with next week. First, here are some basic Triple-A numbers from for each of them so far:
Bauer: 25.2 innings, 1.40 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 7 walks
Tomlin: 26.0 innings, 2.77 ERA, 18 strikeouts, 9 walks
Both have done well (and Tomlin pitched 8 shutout innings with 8 Ks and 0 BBs in his last start), but Bauer's numbers certainly look better. He also has the higher ceiling, and was already brought up for a spot start during the second week of the season (6 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 8 K, 2 BB), so clearly management has some faith in him. That makes Bauer seem like the clear choice, but things may be a little more complicated than that.
If Bauer has 172 total days of MLB service time (mean he was on the active roster) at the end of the season, he'll have hit what is considered a full season, which means he'd likely remain under team control through 2019, whereas if he's under 172 days, he could remain under team control through 2020. Should six years from now be consideration? Probably not a huge one, but the Indians may not want to completely ignore it either. Bauer has 25 days so far (from the last two years), which means he can have 146 more this year without tipping things. There are 151 calendar days left after today, which means Bauer could theoretically be brought up May 6th and have things work out perfectly (for the team's gaming of his service time). I'm not an expert on service time or free agency though, so it's possible I'm missing something, and Bauer would need to be held down longer (or sent back down for ten days at some point).
I think Bauer will be the guy chosen, but if my math is off and he needs to be kept in Columbus for an extra turn through the rotation, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tomlin next week.
Who is sent down?
The obvious answer is a reliever, because Carrasco is taking over for someone. Including Carrasco though, the Indians will have 8 guys in the bullpen, and Francona has liked having that many options, so I think there's at least some chance it will be one of the bench players.
If it's a reliever, it's almost certainly going to be C.C. Lee, who only came up after Vinnie Pestano struggled at the start of the year, and who hasn't done especially well since being promoted (he's given up a run in 5 of his 8 appearances). If it's a position player, Elliot Johnson seems like the logical choice. He's appeared in only 5 games and has gotten only 13 plate appearances, with just 1 hit. It doesn't seem like he'd be a big loss to the team.
Things could be complicated (or perhaps simplified) a bit by the abdominal injury Jason Kipnis suffered last night, since he might go on the DL. If that happens, a roster spot for Bauer will already be open. Mike Aviles is probably in line to start at second base if Kipnis is out, which would push Johnson into the utility roll Aviles has been filling. Jose Ramirez (who's playing very well for Columbus) might also be in line to get called up if Kipnis is out. On top of all that, at some point in the next week, Yan Gomes is going to miss two or three games for paternity leave. He and Carlos Santana are the only catchers on the 40-man roster, which would require cutting someone loose to bring up a temporary backup, unless Francona is willing to gamble on Santana playing every inning behind the plate, and/or (Francona) was serious about using Johnson as an emergency catcher.
That's a lot of spinning plates.
I think Johnson is the one who gets sent down, so that the team can keep a large bullpen at a time when starters are regularly failing to work deep into games. If Kipnis lands on the DL though, Johnson remains on the roster until his return.