Mailbag: Who'll win open roster spots?

Mailbag: Who's vying for remaining spots?

My ears are still ringing from a rare venture I made into an NBA arena nearly a week ago. The NBA, you see, finds it necessary to auditorily bludgeon its fans with pump-up music and screaming announcers while visually distracting them with t-shirt tosses and dancing girls.

I love this game!

But I will give the NBA -- or, at least, Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers -- credit for one innovation: "The Diff."

For the uninitiated, the Diff is a scoreboard feature that saves fans from the trouble of having to mathematically calculate point differentials. For example, if the Cavs are leading their opponent 97-77, the Diff would be +20.

On this night, the Cavs took care of business against the Warriors, and "The Diff" was perpetually in double-digits. Clearly, that pump-up music had inspired the boys, and, in the words of one particularly impressed fan, "I haven't seen a 'Diff' that large since my first divorce!"

I hope the Diff makes its way to Jacobs Field soon, because figuring out how many runs the Indians have to make up when they're down 3-1 is just too much work for me. Answering your Tribe-related questions, on the other hand, is a labor of love, so let's get to it.

Last week you talked about the final two bullpen spots. What do you see for the final two position-player spots? Will the Tribe go with more infield depth, power or speed?
-- Matt B., Toledo, Ohio

The Indians will definitely be carrying 12 pitchers, which leaves 13 spots open for position players. For now, 11 players are guaranteed to be on the roster -- Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Blake, Josh Barfield, Jhonny Peralta, Andy Marte, David Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Grady Sizemore, Trot Nixon and Travis Hafner.

Hector Luna likely holds the answer to your question, Matt. If Luna can handle playing shortstop effectively, he'll make it easier for the club to carry just one utility infielder, and that would leave a spot open for Ryan Garko's right-handed bat.

Eric Wedge said he would prefer to carry just one utility infielder, and the club is enamored with the versatility and speed Luna brings. That's why I think he's got a good chance of making the Opening Day roster, regardless of how he handles playing short. But as we've discussed before, Luna needs to come to camp in better shape than he was at the end of '06.

If Luna can't play short, that significantly hurts Garko's chances of making the club, because the Indians would then have to carry an extra utility infielder particularly adept at shortstop to back up Peralta.

I realize Fausto Carmona has good "stuff" and has achieved most of his Minor League success as a starter, but doesn't he have more value to this club as a reliever? Seeing as how Brian Slocum could adequately act as the sixth starter for the first three months and guys like Adam Miller, Sean Smith and Aaron Laffey could all be ready by midseason, the only way he really has a shot to make the team is as a reliever. Isn't it time to make a permanent change, rather than shifting him back and forth later on?
-- Erik B., Flanders, N.J.

I definitely see your point about shifting a guy back and forth between roles and how that can be detrimental to his career, but to assume those prospects you mention will all be ready to pitch in the Majors by midseason is probably going out on a long and dangerous limb.

Carmona proved last year that he can have sustained success at the big-league level, but that success certainly didn't come in the most prominent of relief roles. If he were to be in this club's bullpen this year, it would be in a rather unglamorous middle-relief job. The Tribe has no shortage of middle-relief prospects, beginning with Fernando Cabrera and Jason Davis and continuing with Ed Mujica, Tom Mastny, Rafael Perez and Juan Lara.

With Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd both nearing free agency, the Indians are probably going to have at least one rotation spot to fill next season. We saw this winter how ridiculous the market for free-agent starters can be. I believe the Indians are doing the right thing by grooming Carmona as a starter this season, plugging him in where they can and getting him ready to compete for a spot in the rotation in '08.

I believe a great team revolves around its starting pitching. Which of the five guys in the rotation do you believe has to step up his performance so that the Indians can get over the hump?
-- Phil J., Stow, Ohio

Obviously, Byrd needs to improve on his '06 performance, which even he admitted disappointed him. Byrd showed flashes of being that "crafty veteran" the Indians were hoping for, but his was an inconsistent year, to say the least.

But if I had to pick one guy who really needs to, as you say, "step up" this season, I'd go with Cliff Lee. He has ace-type stuff, but he needs to learn to be more efficient so he doesn't burn himself out by the sixth inning, putting a strain on the bullpen.

Have a question about the Indians?
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Question:

I may be a bit behind the news on this, but what is the deal with MLB Extra Innings moving to DirecTV exclusively? I'm a Tribe fan out in Seattle, and I love getting Cleveland games on Comcast. Is there anything the fans can do to stop this, or is it a done deal?
-- Paul S., Seattle

From everything I've heard and read, MLB is close to sealing the deal with DirecTV, and my inbox is already filling up with readers who find this to be a troubling development.

For those unable or unwilling to subscribe to DirecTV, the MLB.TV option would still be available. That doesn't do much for those who like to watch the games on their 63" plasma screens, but it's a way for out-of-market fans to see their team play.

One more semi-related note on this: I get frequent e-mails from Indians fans in Buffalo who are ticked off about not having access to Tribe telecasts on SportsTime Ohio. It seems that Dish Network is the only provider that carries STO in the Buffalo market (which is within the Indians' territorial TV rights), while DirecTV has chosen not to.

For what it's worth, Ed Niemi, the vice president of affiliate relations and distribution for STO, tells me the network is working hard with DirecTV to change this situation, and he hopes to have a resolution by April. Go get 'em, Ed.

What are the Indians planning to do with Tom Mastny? Is he going to be the Triple-A closer for the '07 season, or is there a chance that we will see him in the Indians bullpen?
-- Cory H., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

Barring injury or some unforeseen development in Spring Training, Mastny will begin the year at Triple-A. I can't say for certain whether or not he'd close games for the Bisons, but I suppose that's a possibility.

One can't help but be intrigued by what Mastny did at the big-league level last year, converting his first five save opportunities. But the league caught up with him after that, as evidenced by his 5.51 ERA in 16 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.

Mastny has had just limited exposure to the Triple-A level, so I think beginning the year in Buffalo should be an asset to him. And he's in that mix of young guys the Indians will give a good, hard look at when the inevitable time comes to make a change in the bullpen due to injury or lack of performance.

Do they officially have the jersey numbers figured out for all the new acquisitions?
-- Pete W., Grand Falls-Windsor, Canada

Indeed, they do. Nixon will wear No. 33. The number was picked out by his son, Chase, who originally picked 32 for his dad's age before remembering Trot turns 33 in April.

Speaking of father-son numbering systems, Barfield wore No. 29 with the Padres, because that was the same number his father, Jesse, wore with the Yankees and Blue Jays. Barfield was set to wear 29 again with the Indians, until the club acquired Keith Foulke, who took it over.

Now, Barfield will wear 12 -- the number of his boyhood hero, Roberto Alomar. Interestingly enough, Barfield actually owns a replica of Alomar's jersey with the Indians, so this works out beautifully.

I don't have any fun facts for you regarding the numbers of the other acquisitions, but here they are, regardless: Joe Borowski will wear No. 47, Aaron Fultz 46, Roberto Hernandez 39 and Dellucci 20.

And finally...

Being a frequent reader of your column, I need to bring up this issue. Besides your striking resemblance to Theo Epstein of the Red Sox, I actually feel as though it may be more than just your looks that remind me of Epstein. You need a backup catcher? Get Kelly Shoppach. A quality guy in the clubhouse? Get Nixon. A stud third baseman? Get Andy Marte. You need to drop the code name Anthony Castrovince and tell us your true identity.
-- John W., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Keep it down, John. I'm trying to work on this trade for Tim Wakefield.

On a more serious note, thanks to all of the readers who have kept the Mailbag busy this offseason. As I travel down to Winter Haven next week, the 'bag will be on hiatus, but keep the queries rolling in for the Feb. 19 edition, which I'll be compiling under the Florida sun.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.