In the last couple of weeks, the Indians made a flurry of moves to fulfill both 25-man and 40-man roster requirements, and to add 3 non-roster players to both the the 25-man and 40-man rosters.These two rosters come into especial scrutiny at the end of Spring Training, as the various rules governing service time, options, Rule 5 draft picks, and non-roster invitees all come into play comes into conflict with the wishes of a club to bring their 25 best players north with them to start the regular season.
Normally the Indians haven't had to go with this many roster gymnastics to set their 25-man roster, but with a relative dearth of injured players, along with several non-roster additions, some tough strategic decisions needed to be made. Here's a summary of this spring's transactions:
3-15-2010: Optioned Kelvin De La Cruz to Akron (AA)
As it turned out, Lord Kelvin will be starting for the K-Tribe, rather than for the Aeros. He only threw 19.2 innings in 2009 because of elbow problems, so perhaps the assignment is meant to give him a bit of confidence. De la Cruz is one of the best starters in the system, even with last year's injury setback, and I'd expect him to spend most of this season with Akron.
3-17-2010: Claimed IF Anderson Hernandez off Waivers from New York Mets
Designated IF Brian Bixler for Assignment
A marginal upgrade of utility infielders, as while Hernandez is much to write home about offensively, he's actually a viable major-league player. Bixler is a good fielder, but hadn't shown any sign of being able to connect with major-league pitching (striking out 26 times in 46 plate appearances last season).He cleared waivers on the 19th, and will be helping Columbus compete for the Presidents Cup.
3-19-2010: Optioned C Carlos Santana, RHP Hector Rondón, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, 1B/OF Jordan Brown, and IF Brian Bixler to Columbus (AAA)
The first three on this list will be in Cleveland at some point this season. Santana is in Columbus just to polish off some receiving skills, and once that's done, he'll supplant Lou Marson as the Indians' starting catcher. If I had to call up a starter from Columbus, in the first couple months of the season, I'd go with Rondón over Carrasco. Hector at this point is a better major-league pitcher than Carrasco, though both pitchers probably still need another half-year in the minors. Gomez could be a viable pitcher in the majors this season if called upon.
3-20-2010: Optioned 1B Wes Hodges and 2B Jason Donald to Columbus (AAA)
Hodges stayed on the 40-man roster, so he still has a shot at the majors if the Indians need a body for a couple of days, but now that's not a third baseman, he's not really a major-league prospect. Donald should be up at some point in Cleveland as a utility infielder at the very least. If Luis Valbuena falters, he could be the Indians' starting second baseman by the end of the season.
3-23-2010: Optioned RHP Jess Todd to Columbus (AAA)
It looks like Todd will be the first reliever called up, and given how Indians bullpens have performed in recent years, that call-up might be before Tax Day. The organizational reliever depth isn't very good, so Todd might stick on the major-league roster once he's up.
3-31-2010: Placed RHP Hector Ambriz on the 15-Day Disabled List (elbow)
The Indians are following a time-honored tradition of utilizing the Disabled List to buy time with a Rule 5 pick. After Ambriz is healthy enough to pitch, the Indians will be allowed to send him to the minors on rehab assignments, so they'll get some extra opportunities to see Ambriz pitch in lower-pressure situations.
Optioned OF Trevor Crowe and Wyatt Toregas to Columbus (AAA)
Crowe was only going to make the club if the Indians wanted Michael Brantley to spend time in the minors. That didn't happen, so he'll go back to Columbus. If he doesn't get an opportunity by the time Russ Branyan is healthy, he might not get one all season.
Outrighted LHP Jeremy Sowers to Columbus (AAA)
Jeremy's arm trouble tipped the scales against him making the club, but he was a marginal candidate even before the injury. He's made 71 starts for the Indians over four seasons, and it's rather obvious by now that his stuff isn't good enough to start in the majors. His career SO/9 ratio is 3.9, not exactly the mark of a future reliever. He cleared waivers, not a good sign for his future prospects, but that will mean that he'll be in Columbus in case the Indians need a rotation filler.
4-1-2010: Optioned RHP Carlos Carrasco to Columbus (AAA)
Carrasco showed some promise this Spring, but probably needs another half-year in AAA before sticking in the majors for good. He's only 22 years, so there's still plenty of time for Carlos to figure things out, and with the Indians in rebuild mode, they can afford to be patient.
4-2-2010: Purchased the Contract of RHP Jamey Wright
The Indians are going to need a lot of innings from the bullpen with a young pitching staff, so they've elected to move Aaron Laffey to relief, as well as go with a former starter as a middle reliever. Wright's thrown at least 77 innings in each of the last three seasons, so the Indians are counting on him to function as a mopup guy if a starter crashes and burns.
4-4-2010: Placed 1B Russell Branyan (back) and RHP Kerry Wood (shoulder) on the 15-Day Disabled List
Wood's injury is to the his right latissimus muscle just under his shoulder, but while his injury is not to the shoulder itself, he'll missed all of April and probably most of May. Chris Perez is the new closer, and that means the rest of the set up guys will take on more important roles.
Branyan's back problems means that the Michael Brantley will make the team as a left fielder, moving Matt LaPorta to first base.
Designated IF Anderson Hernandez and C Wyatt Toregas for Assignment
Both Hernandez and Toregas are useful players, and hopefully they'll clear waivers.
Purchased the Contracts of IF Mark Grudzielanek and OF Austin Kearns
I would have gone with Hernandez over Grudzielanek, but I otherwise I can't quibble much with the roster additions. Kearns is going to be at the very least a good defender on the corners, with the potential for 15-20 home runs as a fourth outfielder.