Who will claim the final roster spot for the Cleveland Indians?

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Earlier today, the Cleveland Indians made two big roster announcements, the first being that they have optioned OF  Tyler Holt to Triple-A Columbus, and the second that they have informed OF/1B Jerry Sands that he will not be making the big league club.  The latter may come as a mild surprise to some as he was viewed as one of the favorites to grab the final spot on the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.  With today’s news there are now just three guys vying for the final spot on the big league roster:  1B Jesus Aguilar, IF/OF Michael Martinez, and RP Austin Adams.  Each player would bring something different to the club in the early going. So who should get the spot and why?

The Case for Jesus Aguilar

If the fans had their choice, Jesus Aguilar would like be the pick for the last remaining roster spot.  He’s the type of hitter fans have been clamoring to see for years: a Right-Handed Power Bat.  Last season among qualified hitters in the International League (Triple-A level), Aguilar finished 6th in Isolated Power (ISO), 5th in Home Runs, 4th in SLG, 2nd in OPS, and 2nd in wRC+.  For the second year in a row Aguilar held his strikeout rate under 20%, and he also increased his walk rate to a very good 12.8% last year.  Plain and simple, Aguilar had a great offensive year for the Clippers last year.  Aguilar has been just as hot this spring batting .342 with a .857 OPS in 38 at-bats.  There’s really not much more Aguilar can show in Triple-A and it would appear he is very deserving of a big league roster spot.

The Case against Jesus Aguilar

One reason that Aguilar was only able to get 38 big league plate appearances last year is due to the fact that he lacks much versatility on the diamond.  Since the start of the 2010 season, he’s played in exactly two games at a position other than first base (not counting winter leagues).  Problem here is that the Indians have one of the better hitting first basemen in all of baseball in Carlos Santana.  Designated Hitter would obviously be a fit as well but even with Swisher out, guys like David Murphy and Ryan Raburn would appear likely to get at-bats over him in Cleveland.  So while Aguilar could be a nice fit on the bench as a right-handed power bat, the Indians must weigh the benefits of that versus getting him regular playing time at Triple-A.

The Case for Michael Martinez

If you’re a Cleveland Indians fan (and I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this article), you probably don’t need to be told this, but Tito Francona loves versatile players.  He’s a fan of guys like Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and Zach Walters, all guys that can play both the infield and outfield.  He seems particularly fond of Aviles (whom he managed in Boston) as a guy that can not only play third base, second base and shortstop but also all three outfield positions.  Enter Michael Martinez, who despite playing in less than 200 major league games over the past four seasons, has managed to play six positions: 41 at second base, 38 at third base, 30 in centerfield, 24 at shortstop, 12 in left field, and 6 in right field.  He also could provide some speed off the bench as he did manage to steal 20+ bases on more than one occasion in the minors.  With all the injuries the Cleveland Indians have dealt with this spring (Jason Kipnis, David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, etc) it may be wise to use that last roster spot on a player as versatile as Martinez.

Cleveland Indians utility man Michael Martinez could ride a hot spring to a surprise big league roster spot. Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Case against Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez’s value is almost solely in his versatility.  In his four big league seasons he has a putrid .482 OPS, and while that’s in only 440 plate appearances, his minor league numbers don’t provide much hope with the bat. In nearly 3000 minor league plate appearances Martinez has a mere .685 OPS.  And while he did steal 98 bases in the minors he was also caught 52 times.  Further complicating matters is that fact that he is the only one of the three guys vying for the last roster spot that isn’t on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.  The Indians would need to remove someone to add him, and the team may not be ready to risk losing a guy such as Charles Brewer.

The Case for Austin Adams

The only thing that Tito Francona may like more than versatile players is bullpen arms. In 2013, the Cleveland Indians used eight bullpen arms slightly more than the traditional seven, and in 2014 Tito and the Indians went even further using eight bullpen arms for nearly the whole year.  As things stand now the bullpen looks to have “only” seven bullpen arms:  Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett, Nick Hagadone, and Anthony Swarzak.  The Indians did only go with seven at times early on, particularly when Yan Gomes was banged up; however, it would come as no surprise if they kept Adams around.  On the surface, Adams’s numbers don’t look the greatest but he does have nine strikeouts (10.6 K/9) and zero walks in 7.2 innings this spring. He’s got a great arm and if he can manage the walks and show some control could be a weapon for Tito out of the pen.

Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Austin Adams could be the final piece to the Indians bullpen. Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Case against Austin Adams

Plain and simple, Austin Adams did not look good in his short stint with the big league club in 2014.  Now granted he only pitched in 6 games (7.0 innings), he looked lost and overmatched posting a .310 BAA and 1.43 WHIP.  He also only managed four strikeouts and wasn’t fooling many hitters.  Needless to say, not many seemed to peg Adams as a guy that was ready to jump into a big league rotation out of the gate. He’s definitely a guy most expected to help at some point, but some more seasoning at Triple-A sure seemed in order. His spring so far has been up and down. He has managed to limit the walks and has been racking up the strikeouts but he’s allowed 11 hits in those 7.2 innings (.324 BAA).  Spring training stats can be very fickle so the fact that he has allowed a lot of hits may not mean anything.

One other case against Adams is that the Indians may already have an eighth bullpen arm on the roster.  With several off days over the first few weeks of the season, the Indians will only need to use their 5th starting pitcher a couple of times, allowing them to move that pitcher (either Zach McAllister or T.J. House) to the bullpen at times.  Adding Adams would give the Indians nine bullpen arms, and while the Indians actually did this several times last year, in the early going they may decide that arms are still fresh and an extra bat will be more useful.

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So Who’s It Going To Be?

If one was choosing the player that has giving the most reason to be on the Opening Day roster, than Jesus Aguilar would seem to be the obvious choice. He’s played very well this spring and after a great season at Triple-A really has nothing left to prove in the minors.  However, given the makeup of the rest of the big league roster, it’s hard to envision too many opportunities for Aguilar in Cleveland.  With Swisher out the Indians could possibly get him in as a platoon DH with David Murphy; however, they very well could use Ryan Raburn in that spot and let Brandon Moss play every day in rightfield.  What’s best for Aguilar’s future, playing every day in Triple-A or sparingly in Cleveland?

I personally believe that the Indians will decide to go a different route than Aguilar, though he would be my personal choice (if I had one, which of course I do not).  Instead I think the Indians will face a decision on going with the extra bullpen arm in Adams or the versatile bench player in Martinez. Ultimately I think the versatility of Martinez wins out, and he is the 25th man on the Indians roster. Last season the Cleveland Indians kept a similar player in Elliot Johnson on the roster to start the year.  Johnson barely made it to the month of May with the Indians and only played in seven games but his versatility on the bench gave Francona an extra sense of security.  I don’t expect Martinez to last the entire season with the Indians, as there will be countless moves throughout the year; however, I think he will surprise some and end up being the last man to make the club out of spring training.

Next: Are the Cleveland Indians Better Off Without Gavin Floyd in the Rotation?

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