Predicting Tribe's 2021 Opening Day roster

March 21st, 2021

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians entered Spring Training with more position battles than they’ve had over the past few years. But with just over one week of camp remaining, there is a little more clarity on where the roster will stand when the team departs for Opening Day in Detroit.

There are some guarantees when it comes to the 26-man roster and a few question marks. Let’s take another look at how the Indians’ 2021 Opening Day roster could shake out:

Catcher (2): Roberto Pérez, Austin Hedges
After two years of battling through injuries, Pérez entered camp in excellent shape, having dropped 25 pounds over the offseason. There’s no question that Pérez will be the club’s primary catcher. What’s left to determine is just how much Hedges will spell Pérez. In a year of trimming payroll, the Indians decided to keep Hedges, who signed a one-year, $2.8 million deal to avoid arbitration. The two are very similar defensively, and could be a solid duo behind the dish.

First base (1):  
The first-base situation is still difficult to predict. The Indians told Josh Naylor to focus on right field, leaving Bauers and Bobby Bradley as the top two candidates for first base. While Bradley has demonstrated his power at the plate this spring and entered camp 35 pounds lighter than he was last year, it’s going to be a difficult task for him to win the job. In the first roster projection of the spring, Bradley was listed as the starter. However, Indians manager Terry Francona recently made it clear that the team isn’t ready to give up on Bauers, and because he doesn’t have any options remaining, it seems like he’ll get the first chance to earn the everyday job.

Second base (1): Cesar Hernandez
There’s no doubt Hernandez, who earned a Gold Glove Award in a strong year at second base in 2020, will be back in that position for the club in 2021. When last season ended, both Hernandez and the Tribe expressed interest in keeping the second baseman in Cleveland, but the Indians weren’t sure if they’d have the financial flexibility to make it happen. But after a handful of offseason moves freed up their budget (even if it was just a little), they were able to ink Hernandez to a one-year, $5 million deal.

Third base (1): José Ramírez
There’s no question when it comes to Ramírez’s position.

Shortstop (1): Andrés Giménez
Francona got as close to naming Giménez the Opening Day starting shortstop as he could without actually saying those words. With the team deciding to try to move Amed Rosario to center field, plus Giménez’s impressive performance this spring, all signs seem to be pointing toward Giménez winning the job.

Designated hitter (1): Franmil Reyes
No surprises here. Reyes’ power has him locked into the Indians’ DH role.

Utility (1):  
The Indians couldn’t hide how much they enjoyed having Mike Freeman on the team over the last two years, but because of the competition they now have in the infield, the club decided it was time to part ways. Freeman was traded to the Reds on Friday, leaving all eyes on Chang. Chang had as hot of a Summer Camp as he could’ve asked for last July, which caused the Tribe to put him on the Opening Day roster. Though he didn’t see much playing time, Chang put in a lot of work over the offseason and came to camp feeling better than he did last year, he said.

Outfield (5): Eddie Rosario, Josh Naylor, Jordan Luplow, Amed Rosario,
There are two guarantees about the outfield: Rosario will man left field and will not be in center. The Tribe has informed Mercado that he will start the season at Triple-A Columbus, leaving center field open for Zimmer or (and eventually Rosario). Assuming Luplow doesn’t have any setbacks with his ankle over the next week, the club will want to make sure his bat is on the roster.

Starting pitchers (5): Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie,
The Tribe’s top three starters are a lock, and assuming McKenzie doesn’t run into any problems with injuries, it seems safe to assume that he proved enough in '20 to secure his place in the rotation. The fifth spot will likely come down to Cal Quantrill and Allen. Quantrill was assumed to be the favorite to win the job, but Allen lost 35 pounds over the winter, revamped his mechanics and has seen so much success this spring that he's put himself in a strong position to win the No. 5 spot.

Relievers (8): James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Nick Wittgren, Phil Maton, Oliver Pérez, Adam Plutko, Bryan Shaw,
Without Brad Hand, Karinchak seems to be the most obvious option to take over as closer. However, the team could use Clase or Wittgren in that role, as well. The one other lock for the bullpen is Stephan, who has earned his way onto the Opening Day roster. On Sunday, Francona informed the Rule 5 Draft pick that he will be making the team. From there, the bullpen could go in a few different directions. But Shaw and Pérez could be the non-roster invitees who break camp with the club.