As I look over the Opening Day roster, I feel that this club is in some respects in transition. One-third of the lineup is one bad month away from losing a job, and unlike past teams, there are actually talented players waiting for a shot.
Depth is a term bandied about every spring, but the Indians actually have it, with some exceptions. They don't have much depth at shortstop, and very little at catcher. But everywhere else, there's one or two pretty good backups at each position.
Here's a depth chart of sorts. It's based on readiness for the majors, not necessarily talent; I'll save that for the prospect lists. Ages are in parentheses.
(1) Ben Perez (29/36)
I've come to think of these two as one player. Ben Perez sounds a bit better to the ear than Eduardo Broussard, but combining each player's platoon splits creates a pretty good first baseman regardless of where you place the patronymic. Broussard is obviously going to get the most at-bats, and it's he whose job will be in jeopardy if the production isn't there.
(2) Ryan Garko (25)
The converted catcher has brought his short-hop skills from behind the plate, but range and footwork is something he'll need to work on. His bat has never been an issue.
(3) Michael Aubrey (24)
It's unlikely the Indians would need Michael for any stretch of time in 2006, but he has the glove, the talent, and the roster spot to place him third on the depth chart. His back is a big concern, enough to keep him away from the cold climes in favor of the Carolina League for the first couple weeks of April.
Others: Stephen Head (22), Ryan Mulhern (25)
(1) Travis Hafner (29)
Pronk and David Ortiz have re-defined the position in recent years. Most teams tend to rotate whoever isn't in the field or to help an ailing player stay in the lineup. Not the Indians or Red Sox; they have two of the best hitters in baseball who also happen to have the DH as their best defensive position. In Hafner's case, his balky elbow has made any time at first base a gamble, but may play some considerable time there in order to create some positional flexibility.
(2) Jason Dubois (27)
Probably no one in Buffalo's lineup will get more scrutiny from me than Dubois, and that's saying something if you look at who's going to be in that lineup. Jason needs to get better plate coverage and much better contact in order to do well against major-league pitching. He's another player who's more valuable as DH than in the field.
Others: Jason Cooper (25), Ryan Mulhern (25)
(1) Ronnie Belliard (31)
It's a contract year, and the Indians are much more prone to consider keeping Belliard even as he enters his decline years now that the Brandon Phillips experiment is over. He's always been adverse to taking a pitch, so his reflexes will play a big part in him continuing his offensive achievments. He may not look good in jeans, but he's a very good second baseman, particularly at the turn.
(2) Ramon Vazquez (29)
He's been a starter before, but that was in 2002. Second is Ramon's best defensive position, but his slap-happy hitting style may provoke the Indians to look elsewhere if Belliard goes down for any appreciable period of time.
(3) Joe Inglett (28)
Inglett's a classic overachiever. He's an 8th round draft pick whose best ability is his plate peskiness. His high-OBP statlines remind me of Craig Counsell minus the defense. If the Indians went with an 11-man pitching staff, he'd be a perfect 25th man.
Others: Lou Merloni (35), Eider Torres (23)
(1) Jhonny Peralta (24)
His 2005 season was the best all-around performance by an Indians shortstop since the 1950s. His strikeout rates prompt some very real concern of a regression in 2006, but he's still a good bet to be one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. His defense certainly isn't flashy, but when you have the kind of bat Peralta has, flashy isn't necessary.
(2) Ramon Vazquez (29)
Ramon also had some time as a starting shortstop, but that was in 2001, in his defensive numbers are appreciably worse there than at second base. Yes, the Indians can get away with him there from time to time, but he's not really an option there beyond that.
(3) Jose Flores (33)
Buffalo's starting shortstop, so by default #3 on the depth chart. Jose has all of 16 major-league at-bats to his credit, so all we have to go on is his minor-league numbers. Last season, he put up a .336/.435/.443 line at Las Vegas, and yes, he walked more times than he struck out. I can't find any kind of report on Jose's defense, so I'll just guess that he's just adequate...otherwise he'd be on somebody's bench by now.
Others: Ivan Ochoa (23)
(1) Aaron Boone (33)
Boone's entering his mid-30s, the twilight zone for third basemen. Andy Marte could be a major-league third baseman right now, so any regression by Boone will be costly.
(2) Andy Marte (22)
The Indians publicly say that Marte needs some polishing in AAA, but that's mostly in deference to Boone; it's bad policy to extend a player and then to release him before the next season. Marte may be right now a better option than Boone, so in this case "depth" isn't the correct term to use in connection with the third base position.
(3) Jake Gautreau (26)
Jake started the 2005 season off well, but his offensive production slipped towards the end. A .253/.322/.454 line isn't going to cut it, and now Jake finds himself a bench player in Buffalo thanks to Marte.
Others: Kevin Kouzmanoff (25), Pat Osborn (25)