Each winter around this time, I start trying to prepare my son for my annual disappearing act for Spring Training. We keep a placemat with a map of the United States at his spot at the kitchen table, so I can show him where an airplane is going to take me this time.
We'll grab a toy plane, set it on Ohio, and I'll ask him to take off and fly me to Arizona. By now, he knows where Phoenix is located. In fact, he pretty much has my life as a baseball beat reporter down pat. I found this out on a recent afternoon.
While my wife and I were in our family room, he shouted something from the other side of our house while playing.
"You'll have to come in here," I shouted back. "We can't hear you."
"I can't!" our son yelled. "I'm far away in Detroit in my hotel. You have to get on the computer to talk to me!"
In a few days, I will be on my computer in my hotel in Goodyear, Ariz., talking to my son from my post for Spring Training. It's hard to believe that another offseason is almost in the books, but the arrival of baseball season is always exciting. Pitchers and catchers report for the Indians on Sunday.
On to this week's Indians Inbox ...
Scott Kazmir has shown great stuff in his career and made two All-Star Games. Do you think that after his injuries and comeback attempts he can possibly get back at least some of what he had in his prime?
-- Garrett B., Cambridge, Ohio
What a godsend that would be for the Indians.
This offseason, Cleveland rolled the dice on Kazmir, who was one of baseball's elite lefties in his prime, but hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2011. It's a low-risk, high-reward move, considering Kazmir signed a Minor League contract and will be in camp with the Tribe as a non-roster invitee.
Kazmir continued his comeback attempt last season with the Sugar Land Skeeters in the Atlantic League, and then pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason. He posted a 4.37 ERA in winter ball, but Kazmir showed promise with 27 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings and a fastball reportedly hitting around 94-95 mph.
Kazmir will join Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and David Huff in the competition for the fifth rotation spot. If the left-hander is showing strong velocity this spring, and limits the traffic on the basepaths, he could have a shot at cracking the Opening Day staff. Kazmir's credentials are certainly strong.
From 2005-08, Kazmir went 45-34 with a 3.51 ERA, averaging 29 starts per season. Over that span, he ranked sixth in baseball with 742 strikeouts and first among qualifying pitchers with a rate of 9.68 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2007, Kazmir paced the American League with 239 strikeouts.
Obviously, that was a while ago, and Kazmir has dealt with injuries, mechanical issues and diminished velocity in the years since that strong stretch. This is why a Minor League contract was the appropriate route for the Indians. Kazmir is still relatively young at 29 years old, and the Tribe is hoping he has something left in the tank. If he does, this would be a steal for the team.
I really like what the Indians did this offseason overall, but am still concerned about the starting pitching. Brett Myers helps, but Bauer and Carrasco are hard to count on in the short term. That begs the question: Might the Indians add another starter in a Major League deal or do you think another Minor League deal, a la Kazmir, is more likely?
-- Brian R., Solon, Ohio
At this point, I think the Indians will head into camp with the rotation options already in the fold. That crop includes Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister, Myers, Bauer, Carrasco, Kazmir, Kluber and Huff. If Cleveland does add another starter or two to the mix, it will likely be on a Minor League contract. There is already a considerable field of candidates for the fifth spot.
What are the odds that Bauer makes the Opening Day roster?
-- Justin Y., Storm Lake, Iowa
Since the day Bauer was acquired in December, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has said that the young pitcher might be in need of further development. That leaves the door open for Bauer to start the season in the Minors. That said, Bauer will be given a chance this spring to prove to the Indians that he deserves to be included in the Opening Day rotation.
If Carrasco makes the starting rotation, will the Tribe put an innings limit on him?
-- Joe C., Mansfield, Ohio
Yes, Carrasco will be facing an innings restriction this season, considering he is returning from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The Indians haven't said what the limit will be, but the starter will likely be held to around 160-170 innings, if Cleveland takes a similar approach as other clubs. It will be interesting to see if Carrasco makes the team out of Spring Training, because the Indians will have better control of his innings if he begins the year in the Minors.
Is 2013 going to be the breakout year for left-hander Scott Barnes? He certainly shined in his late 2012 appearances.
-- Ray G., Gettysburg, Pa.
The Indians are certainly hoping Barnes or Nick Hagadone (or both) will provide strong left-handed relief this year. In their big league stints last year, Barnes held left-handed hitters to a .200 average and Hagadone also held lefties to a .200 average, despite his 6.39 ERA. Another lefty relief possibility will be Huff, who is out of Minor League options. Huff seems better suited for long relief than situational use. Last year, between Triple-A and the Majors, lefties hit .306 against Huff.
Who is the one guy in the organization that people might not know, but could be called up to Cleveland this season?
-- Roman P., Huntsville, Texas
The Indians always seem to have young relievers poised to rise swiftly through the system. Tribe fans saw that last year with right-hander Cody Allen, who started with Class A Advanced Carolina and ended the year in Cleveland's bullpen. This year, two relievers to keep an eye on are hard-throwing right-handers Trey Haley and Shawn Armstrong.
With Spring Training starting soon, it seems a good time to ask: Who are the most promising non-roster invitees this spring?
-- Adam M., Sandusky, Ohio
Kazmir is an intriguing non-roster invitee for all the reasons listed earlier in the Inbox. Another interesting addition is right-hander Matt Capps, who brings plenty of late-inning experience, but will be vying for a middle-relief role in the bullpen. On the position-player side, outfielder Ben Francisco and utility man Ryan Raburn could bring experience and versatility to the bench.
Now that the Tribe has signed a new deal with WTAM-1100 AM, where can I find a current list of the stations in the Indians Radio Network?
-- Tony I., Decatur, Ind.
Indians.com has a list of all the affiliates within the network.