Tribe faces hard choices as battles tighten
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians entered Spring Training with more uncertainty about their roster than they’ve had over the last few years. The Tribe has had three weeks of Cactus League games to get an idea of who the top candidates may be. But now, it’s crunch time.
“We even talked to the guys this morning a little bit and said, ‘Hey, I know this is the time of spring when the anxiety starts to ramp up,’” Indians manager Terry Francona said on Monday. “At the same time, we’re trying to kick it in gear a little bit because we’re at the point in spring where everyone should have the soreness in their legs and their arms gone and try to get more to game speed.”
In order to gather together as a team while following COVID-19 protocols, the Indians have to utilize Zoom. Francona said that he expects there to be a team meeting on Wednesday, and maybe also Thursday, to continue to communicate throughout the decision-making process.
“I have a feeling when we end up talking to a couple guys,” Francona said, “we're going to have just to tell them, 'Hey, this is our decision and we understand it may not be completely fair.'”
Who are some of the players who could receive that message? Let’s take a look at where the Indians’ position battles stand with just over two weeks remaining in camp:
Battle: Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez
The Indians still have plenty of decisions to iron out over the last two weeks, but one choice they seem to have already made is that Giménez will be the Opening Day shortstop.
Although Giménez and Rosario both have had strong spring campaigns thus far, Giménez found a way to jump out as the clear-cut favorite putting his bat, defense, speed and arm strength on full display. While the team could still turn to Rosario, it became more evident that Giménez had the lead in the race when the Indians said Rosario will start to get some reps in center field.
Battle: Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado
Entering Spring Training, the assumption was that Mercado, despite his rocky 2020, would be given the first chance to reclaim his territory in center. However, now that he’s gotten off to a slower start in Cactus League play, the battle between him and Zimmer (and now Rosario, too) has gotten much closer.
Francona is always the first to note that the stats sheet in Spring Training doesn’t give all the answers of who will make the Opening Day roster. However, Zimmer hit .353 with a .774 OPS in his first seven games, while Mercado batted .222 with a .541 OPS in his first seven contests. That’s certainly not how the club will determine who wins the job, but it was telling about how the team has viewed Mercado this spring when the Indians chose to bat him in the team’s "B" game on Sunday -- the Tribe’s off-day -- and push his off-day back to later in the week.
Battle: Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill and Logan Allen
This will very likely come down to Quantrill and Allen. McKenzie has probably displayed enough over the past few months to be given the first chance to earn a permanent spot in the Indians' rotation. While Quantrill was the favorite to win the fifth spot entering camp, Allen quickly made it a difficult decision by showing up to camp in better shape and having altered his mechanics, which has led to tremendous success this spring. And now that Quantrill has struggled to find his footing so far, Allen has absolutely made this one of the tightest position battles of the spring.
Battle: Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley
If there’s any decision more difficult than the rotation, it’s probably first base. While the Indians have said they’re ready to see what Bradley can do on a more consistent basis at the big league level, the team also wants to see what Bauers, who’s only 25 years old, can do. While Bauers struggled in 2019 for the Tribe, the club will likely want to give him another chance to settle in (especially now that he’s at his primary position instead of the outfield) before turning to Bradley. If the Indians named Bradley the Opening Day first baseman, they’d have to designate Bauers for assignment since he’s out of options, and that doesn’t seem like a move the team is ready to make.