Let’s assume, for the moment, that Brandon Moss is the Indians’ starting right fielder for the bulk of the season. Moss only started 31 games the past two seasons against a left-handed pitcher, so while the A’s may not have considered him strictly a platoon player, they did take the opportunity to rest him only against lefties. If the Indians choose to sit Moss against a left-hander, Ryan Raburn is the obvious platoon partner. Sadly, Raburn’s spring performance has been a continuation of his dismal 2014, which no doubt leaves Terry Francona searching for an alternative.
Enter Jesus Aguilar. With Nick Swisher likely to miss the first few weeks of the season, an opportunity to has arisen for Aguilar to get steady at bats at DH and show the Indians whether he can be part of the long-term solution. Once Swisher is healthy, the Indians will have plenty of options for an extra bat off the bench.
Oh, wait. That’s not how it’s going to happen. Instead, we get another reliever. Meet Austin Adams, the eighth member of the bullpen. Maybe the ninth, if Zach McAllister is available for relief duties between starts. This can hardly be surprising, since Francona would like nothing better than to find relief pitchers at the buffet at Golden Corral. But this is more of a problem than it normally is, for two reasons.
First, there are four scheduled days off in the month of April. With all but three games in AL Central parks, it is safe to assume that there will be a few unscheduled days off, as well. Even at the rate Francona uses relievers, it is hard to imagine that eight relievers will get enough work to stay in rhythm. Let’s hope that if anyone is allowed to get rusty, it Adams or Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak may have a reputation as an innings-eater, but, given his 2014 numbers (.753 OPS, 47 strikeouts in 86 innings), it’s hard to imagine why that is a good thing.
May 19, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Jesus Aguilar (36) hits a sacrifice fly during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The other objection I have to over staffing the bullpen is that it basically means there is no choice but give Ryan Raburn a substantial number of at bats. He will almost assuredly sub for Moss or Murphy anytime a left-hander starts, in addition to anytime an outfielder needs a day off. Given Francona’s history of sticking with players well past the point where they are no longer helping win games, it is likely that Raburn will get at least a hundred at bats regardless of how poorly he plays. Unless he has an unexpected resurgence, this is going to cost the Indians some runs, which means it will cost them games.
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It seems likely it will be at least late April before Swisher returns, at which point a pitcher will probably be sent down. At that point both Murphy and Raburn will be coming off the bench. It’s hard to see where Murphy gets his at bats at that point, with three left-handed outfielders and a switch hitting DH. The bench would have more flexibility if he could be replaced by an outfielder who could be used as a defensive replacement (Tyler Holt?), an extra utility infielder, or a right-handed bat (Holt, Aguilar, or Zach Walters if he is healthy). It will be difficult to move Murphy and awkward to release him, given his salary, but it would be even worse to keep him buried on the bench without a role. Another move that could make sense at that point if Murphy can be moved is to promote Francisco Lindor and move Jose Ramirez to a super sub role. In any event, it is apparent that Chris Antonetti has several tough decisions to make before this roster is a finished product.