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How the Cleveland Indians could use a 26th roster spot

For better or worse, major league rosters may be expanding to 26 players soon. How would the Indians use it?

Joe Santry/Columbus Clippers

Unless the baseball world comes to a screeching halt in the next week, a collective bargaining agreement should be in place by December 1. And in that new CBA, among other things, may be the expansion of major league rosters to 26 players. If it happens, it would be the first time MLB rosters have permanently expanded since 1914, although a rule to allow 26 players during doubleheaders was introduced in 2013. And if it does happen, what should the Cleveland Indians do?

For those unaware, or for those who completely purge their baseball knowledge after the World Series and hibernate for the winter, 25-man rosters are the group of players that teams can use at any point in a game throughout the season. There are also 15 additional players in the minor leagues that can be called up to the 25-man roster to replace a player who was placed on the disabled list, optioned, or otherwise removed from the 25-man roster. These two groups of players make up the 40-man roster.

Currently, with the outright removal of Michael Martinez from the 40-man roster earlier this week, the Indians 40-man roster sits at 39 players, and their theoretical 25-man roster sits at 24, although they 25-man rosters do not have to finalized until shortly before the regular season begins. So even before any CBA shenanigans, they have an open slot. With the addition of another available body on the major league roster, they would have two.

The boring, and most likely answer is that the Terry Francona will want another reliever to toy with. Tito used a total of 21 relievers in 2016 (22 if you want to count Chris Gimenez, which frankly I do), and he was not afraid to use multiple relievers in the same inning just for the correct matchups. Francona also carried seven relievers through much of the season. He did lean on super reliever Andrew Miller for multiple innings at a time in the playoffs, but we cannot expect that to happen over a full season. Tito loves him some flexibility, and flexibility he will probably get.

Based on the Indians' early transactions and their gameplan from last offseason, expect to see a lot of relievers added to minor league deals with invites to spring training. Because of that, it's hard to tell who exactly would fill out an extra bullpen spot. The Indians have some internal options as well, though. Perci Garner came on late last season and showed potential, while fellow young farmhands Shawn Morimando, Joseph Colon, Ryan Merritt, and Mike Clevinger received extended looks throughout the season. If he can get his walk issues under control, I would assume Shawn Armstrong gets more of a look in 2017 as well.

Bottom line: There are a lot of reliever options. A lot of teams are probably going to go this route of adding a bullpen arm and calling it a day, which is both boring and will likely lead to even more reliever swaps late in games. So let's think about something more interesting instead. What if the Indians want more utility in the field?

If there is one thing Tito likes more than carrying way too many relievers, it's having defensive flexibility. It does not even matter if a player can really play a lot of positions well (*cough* Mike Aviles *cough*) -- give Terry Francona a warm body, tell him he can play several positions, and Tito will be in heaven.

The first, most obvious, potential 26th man is Yandy Diaz. He probably should have been called up when rosters expanded last season -- or, at the very least, after the Columbus Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs. Instead, we were left with Michael Martinez. With an extra roster spot and no Martinez, Diaz is the first player to come to mind for defensive flexibility. He has played multiple positions in both the infield and outfield last season with a bat that could translate well to the majors.

The Indians used a pair of platoons in the outfield last season, resulting in a glut of outfielders on the 25-man rosters. Tyler Naquin still should not bat against lefties, so he will need a partner if he sticks past spring training. And you can count on Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall platooning in right field again. Rajai Davis is not guaranteed to return, but Michael Brantley should be back in left field next season. Add in Abraham Almonte and we are already at five outfielders. That's a fifth of the roster. Yandy Diaz would factor into this as well, given that he spent a lot of time in the outfield for the Clippers last season.

Similar to pitchers, though, the Indians are probably going to add a bunch of low-risk players in the offseason and see what sticks. Daniel Robertson, for instance, was the latest Indians addition and he could be another extra outfielder. Brantley, Chisenhall, and Guyer are all probably locks to get a lot of time in 2016, but Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte are not sure things, neither are whoever the backups will be. Having an outfielder as the 26th man makes a lot of sense, given the state of the Indians' current roster construction.

I realize that saying the Indians could use either a reliever, a utility infielder, or an outfielder for their extra roster spot is not groundbreaking stuff, but the Indians could use just about anything, unlike some teams who will be zeroed in on adding a reliever or an extra outfielder.