With 3 'pen spots up for grabs, tough decisions await Guardians

February 28th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Guardians can expect an extra roster battle in the bullpen.

On Wednesday, the club learned that Trevor Stephan will be down for three weeks without throwing due to a deep bone bruise in his right elbow. That means he'd ramp back up during the week of March 20. It's hard to imagine the Guardians would rush him to be ready by Opening Day the following week.

So now, the club has to be ready to make another tough decision. We can still assume Emmanuel Clase, Scott Barlow, Sam Hentges, Eli Morgan and Nick Sandlin will be back in the 'pen. Three spots are up for grabs if Cleveland carries eight relievers to start the year. Let's take a closer look at who could be selected.

Curry did everything he could to prove his worth to the organization last year. He transitioned to the bullpen, ate up innings in a middle relief role, spot-started and even came in for one-frame appearances in high-leverage spots. He was arguably the club's unsung hero and could easily do the same thing again this year. But do the Guardians want him to be in the bullpen out of the gate? Their starting rotation is set, but their depth is thin. If there are any injuries, there aren't many guys who could permanently plug the hole until that starter returns. Curry may be the best of the options available to do just that, which could mean Cleveland wants him to get stretched out in Triple-A to start the year.

Carrasco is in a similar boat to Curry. They'd each be competing for that long-relief/spot starter spot. Carrasco brings experience to the table, which could be tremendously beneficial for this young staff. If he begins the year in the Majors and sits out in the 'pen, the other relievers could learn a lot by watching a game alongside a man who has played since most of them were in middle or high school. If the team finds value in that, he could be a heavy favorite to make the squad.

Herrin, too, has something unique to offer: he'd be the second lefty added to the relief corps (joining Hentges). It's too soon to read into Spring Training stats, but he's given up just one hit in his two Cactus League outings with one walk and one hit batter. He got 23 games of experience in the big leagues last year and could take a leap forward from the foundation he tried to establish. With an extra opening on the roster, Herrin's chances of making it jump exponentially.

Lively may seem like another Carrasco/Curry type pitcher – a starter possibly filling a long-relief role – but maybe the Guardians could find value in his presence even with Carrasco or Curry on the roster. Given Stephen Vogt's quote about Lively the other day, his chances seem favorable to make the roster. I'll let the skipper speak for himself:

"I mean, he gives us length, right?" Vogt said. "He can start, he can long relief and he can come in and throw one inning. So, that versatile role of a long man in the 'pen, slash spot starter, slash starter, kind of whatever we need, he's very valuable because, especially in today's game, you need length in the bullpen and multiple people with length in the bullpen and he provides that opportunity for us."

Add yet another name to the long relief list. Given how many people are already in this bucket, it'd probably make the most sense for the Guardians to have him stretch out in Triple-A so there's some depth in the Minors in case a big league starter gets hurt.

Smith remains the dark horse candidate to make the roster. He's young without any Major League experience, but he was excellent for Double-A Akron last year, owning a 2.86 ERA in 17 appearances, but he ran into a little more trouble when he transitioned to Triple-A Columbus. The Guardians know those types of hiccups come with the territory and the 95 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings over the year keep the interest in his stuff high. If he has a strong showing this spring, he could find a way to steal one of the final three roster spots.