The Angels have signed Joe Smith to a 3-year, $15.75 million deal. That's in line with what I predicted when I ranked Smith among the ten best free agent relief pitchers this offseason. As I said at the time, the Indians shouldn't be handing out that kind of contract to a middle reliever, it's just too much of the budget for too many years for a player who'll throw too few innings and stands a good chance of becoming ineffective by then.
Chris Perez is also a free agent, as are Matt Albers and Rich Hill. None of those three are anything special, but when combined with Smith, they represent 218.2 innings pitched for the Indians in 2013. That's more than 40% of the team's total relief innings that will likely (it's possible one or more of them still return) need to be covered by someone else in 2014.
There are six relief pitchers currently under team control and on the 25-man roster: Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, Vinnie Pestano, Marc Rzepczynski, Bryan Shaw, and Blake Wood. Carlos Carrasco also served as a reliever near the end of 2013, and if he doesn't win a spot in the starting rotation, the team could decide to keep him in the bullpen.
Here are the ones with 10+ relief innings for the Indians in 2013*:
*All figures courtesy of FanGraphs
The bullpen had 8 arms in it for most of 2013, and for now I expect that same number in 2014.
Allen and Shaw are considered the favorites to open 2014 as the team's closer. Each of them will certainly be in the bullpen and counted on in late-inning situations. Neither of them is tremendous, but the truth is most teams don't have a tremendous pitcher as closer. They have a good pitcher, who gets a lot of saves because just about any MLB arm will convert far more save opportunities than they blow, and those saves give them the aura of being a great pitcher. Bother pitchers have numbers comparable to your average MLB closer, and seem capable of besting Chris Perez's 2012-2013 numbers. I like Allen's strikeout rate, and he would be my choice to begin the year.
Hagadone and Rzepczysnki are the lefties in the chart above. There's also Scott Barnes, who's spent most of the last three years in Columbus, but has also thrown 27.2 fairly nondescript innings with the Indians, and Colt Hynes, who the Tribe acquired from the Padres for cash considerations three weeks ago is the other southpaw on the 40-man roster. Hynes struck out 58 hitters in 47.1 minor league innings last season with only 2 walks (!), but those figures were a less impressive 13 Ks and 9 BBs in 17 innings with the Padres, his first taste of Major League hitters. Rzepczysnki is a lock for the pen, the other two lefties will likely fight for one spot. I'm not a big Hagadone or Barnes fan, so I'd rather Hynes get a shot, given his steller walk rate from Triple-A over the last couple years.
If Pestano returns to form, he will certainly be among the eight names that make the cut (he could even end up as the closer, as that was his presumed future role until injuries derailed him in 2013). I don't have a lot of faith that he will bounce back though, and I think Carrasco should be given one more season to try and make himself a proper starting pitcher (in Columbus, not Cleveland). If those two are out, it means four more of next season's Opening Day relievers aren't on the 25-man roster right now.
There's Matt Capps, who was an effective closer in 2010 and is signed to a minor league deal. He hasn't been a good MLB player since that year either, so he's low on my list. There are a number of other potential relievers on the 40-man roster too: Frank Herrmann and Blake Wood are the ones with real MLB experience. Hermann missed all of 2013 after having Tommy John surgery. He's always posted low strikeout rates, which tends to make me wary. Wood also had Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss 2012 and half of 2013. He had better velocity after his return than he ever had before, giving me a bit more optimism about him.
Beyond those guys there are four other names on the 40-man roster: Austin Adams, Preston Guilmet, C.C. Lee, and Bryan Price. None of them has much in the way of an MLB track record. Adams (27 years old) struck out 12.54 per 9 innings in 2013 (in Double-A) and has always had very low home run rates in the minors. Guilmet (26) struck out 10.04 per 9 in 2013 (in Triple-A), with good walk and home run rates too. Lee (27) struck out 11.2 per 9 in 2013 (with time in Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB). Pryce (27) struck out 11.0 per 9 (mostly in Triple-A). None of those strikeout rates are going to stay that high in MLB (and there's obviously more to success than striking guys out), but they've all got live arms and look a lot like many 6th and 7th inning MLB relievers looked in the minors.
The Indians probably need more one solid reliever in order to feel confident they've got a workable bullpen, but things aren't as bad as they sound when someone says "We're losing three of our best relievers." There isn't a Craig Kimbrell in the bunch, but there was last year either. The innings that need to be replaced range from good (Smith), to okay (Albers), to poor (Perez and Hill). It's not a Herculean task, and the Indians shouldn't spend much to do it.
I don't have any particular minor targets in mind, but you can find the available names here, if you want to float a suggestion or two in the comments. Trading Drew Stubbs for someone would be another option.