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Inbox: Pitching depth remains priority for Indians

Inbox: Pitching depth remains priority for Indians

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Inbox: Pitching depth remains priority for Indians

Following the signing of John Axford, where do you think the Tribe will focus the majority of its time and resources next? Also, it seems Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and lefty Marc Rzepczynski are locks in the 'pen with Axford. Do any other relievers have a leg up prior to Spring Training?
-- John L., San Diego

The deal with Axford is not yet official, but will likely come to fruition after the pitcher undergoes a physical later this week. Once Axford is in the fold, the Indians will likely continue to hunt for ways to pad their pitching depth, both in the rotation and bullpen. As things stand right now, Cleveland stands to lose a lot of innings to free agency and is counting on a considerable amount of youth for next season.

If Axford steps into the closer's role, as anticipated, Shaw and Allen would then slide into setup jobs. Yes, they would appear to be virtual locks for the bullpen, along with Rzepczynski. Behind that group, right-hander Vinnie Pestano -- one of the American League's top setup men just two seasons ago -- will likely be given every opportunity to reclaim a spot in the relief corps.

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Some of the other in-house bullpen candidates are lefty Nick Hagadone, righty Blake Wood (coming back from elbow surgery), righty Frank Herrmann (also returning from elbow surgery), righty Matt Capps (non-roster invitee) and prospect C.C. Lee, among others.

Two other pitchers to keep in mind are right-handers Carlos Carrasco (out of options) and Josh Tomlin. Both are currently candidates for the starting rotation, but they also have experience in the bullpen. If Carrasco doesn't win a starting role, he will likely shift to the 'pen. Tomlin could start at Triple-A or slide into the Indians' bullpen, if he doesn't earn a spot in the rotation.

I have two questions. First, Axford's numbers last year in a setup role were much better than his recent closer numbers. Is there any chance that his signing is to add to the bullpen depth and not the closer role? Could Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour or Fernando Rodney still be a possibility? Second, I'm surprised at the lack of reported interest in Ubaldo Jimenez. What are the prospects for his return to the Tribe?
-- David A.

Closers such as Benoit, Balfour and Rodney are in a good position to net lucrative multiyear contracts in the current market. Once Axford is officially a member of the Indians' bullpen, it will become extremely unlikely that the team would then add another closer. It isn't an impossible scenario, but it seems like an improbable one at this point.

As for Jimenez, his declining of Cleveland's qualifying offer earlier this winter means his signing team stands to lose a Draft pick. Over the past two winters, players in that situation have generally signed later in the offseason, perhaps as a way to bring the asking price down a bit. The Indians have not closed the door on re-signing Jimenez, but a reunion remains unlikely.

When talking about giving contracts, you've mentioned that "the Indians" are only willing to give "this term" or "this amount." Are you referring to the manager? The GM? President? Owner? All of the above? Who makes the decisions when it comes to giving a contract to a player?
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa

It's an all-of-the-above situation. As with any organization, ideas that have the potential to turn into decisions must be run up the ladder. It takes approval across the board for a signing or trade to go through to completion. It can break down at any point along the way, and I'm sure various moves have been halted at varying points in the command chain.

Is it just me or is the Hot Stove season moving really fast this year? Is it too early to be worried about the lack of moves from the Tribe so far?
-- Tim T., Richmond Heights, Ohio

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement included moving a number of deadlines to earlier dates in the offseason. That has led to some swifter movement by clubs over the past two years. As for the Indians, keep in mind the team added many of its key players from last season (Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Jason Giambi, Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn, among others) after the New Year.

I'm sure you're going to get this question a lot, especially with the interesting (albeit pretty unlikely) Carlos Santana third-base experiment. Granted, these are hypotheticals and not necessarily expectations, but if Francisco Lindor plays well in Spring Training and Lonnie Chisenhall struggles, is there a chance Asdrubal Cabrera moves over to third?
-- Ty B., Brooklyn, Ohio

Lindor is healthy, but he is coming off a back injury and the acclaimed shortstop prospect has no Triple-A experience. The most realistic timetable for his potential rise to Cleveland's everyday shortstop job remains 2015. While I don't think shifting Cabrera to third is the bad concept, the Indians have not discussed that as a possibility, yet. If that did become an option, Mike Aviles would likely handle shortstop. Right now, Cabrera is in the plans as the starting shortstop, and third base will probably be handled by a mixture of players, including Chisenhall.

I am a little confused with the David Murphy signing. The Indians now have Michael Brantley and Bourn filling two outfield spots almost every night. This leaves three guys -- Murphy, Raburn and Drew Stubbs -- battling for the last spot. Do you anticipate a future trade possibility, or do you expect the Tribe to carry all five outfielders? Not to mention, Swisher can play some right field, too.
-- Keaton M., Middlebury, Ind.

A trade is certainly a possibility. If Cleveland can use its surplus of outfield depth to help address the rotation and bullpen needs, the club will probably do so. Otherwise, the Indians have noted that Raburn or Stubbs could team with Murphy for a platoon in right field. And, in a limited role, Stubbs' speed and defensive ability still make him a viable option for the bench. Carrying five outfielders is unlikely, but it's certainly possible.

How do the recent depth signings affect Giambi's chances to make the 25-man roster? It seems like there has to be an odd-man out somewhere?
-- Josh W., Norwalk, Ohio

The amount of versatility built in to Cleveland's roster makes it possible to still include Giambi on the team as a part-time designated hitter and pinch-hitter. The Indians could conceivably have their starting catcher (Yan Gomes) and backup catcher (Santana) in the starting lineup each game. Without a true backup catcher, the bench could possibly include Aviles, Raburn, Stubbs and Giambi, barring a trade.

In closing...

I know this is a pipe dream, but is it remotely feasible and what kind of contract would David Price need to come to the Indians? Would there be any trade bait that Tampa Bay would want from the Indians? Just hoping you could scratch my "Indians pull off a blockbuster deal" itch.
-- Tim C., Anchorage, Alaska

I could see it as a possible match, but I'm also not sure Price would commit to an extension with Cleveland. It would likely require at least seven years and perhaps $140-150 million. If Cleveland knew it could not sign Juston Masterson to an extension, Price is at least under control through 2015. Perhaps Masterson could be dealt for prospects, some of which could be flipped to Tampa Bay to help piece together a package. I'd wager the Rays would want Lindor, but I'm not sure six years of Lindor is worth two of Price, if he wasn't open to a long-term deal. In reality, I just don't see any of this happening. Cleveland has no plans of dealing Masterson this winter, and Lindor is a big part of the Tribe's future.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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