Roster puzzle trickier with setbacks to Maile, Karinchak

March 26th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Guardians’ roster was already a giant jigsaw puzzle with a handful of missing pieces prior to Saturday's 9-2 victory over the A's at Goodyear Ballpark -- and then the team learned that both righty (right arm stiffness) and backup catcher (left hamstring tightness) will have to miss some time due to injuries. This situation will only complicate matters further.

What to do to replace Maile?
In any other year, an injury to a backup catcher wouldn't be especially drastic. Austin Hedges will handle the majority of the catching duties in his absence, and it would be simple to add an experienced veteran like Sandy León (a non-roster invitee this spring) to the 40-man roster to bridge the gap until Maile is healthy enough to return. But because the Guardians decided to protect 11 prospects from the Rule 5 Draft (which has since been canceled for this year) in November, the front office will have to get creative to find roster spots.

The team is not willing to designate any of its recently added prospects for assignment, and there are hardly enough pitchers to fill the entire bullpen on the 40-man roster as it is. That leaves very few options to clear space for someone like León to be added to the roster.

As of now, Cleveland is projecting Maile to miss three to four weeks of Major League game activity, which could mean he’d be back by the end of April. If the club learns that he could be out longer than that time frame, an easy move would be putting Maile on the 60-day injured list to clear a 40-man spot. But if he’ll only need to miss the first two or three weeks of the regular season, it may not be worth sidelining him for longer. In the meantime, the only other backstop would be Bryan Lavastida.

“Some of this may depend on how long Maile is potentially gonna be out,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Certainly try to get a better read on that in the next week to 10 days.”

How will the Guardians fill their bullpen?
There's a chance Karinchak’s downtime won’t be as long as Maile’s, considering he’s only expected to be shut down from throwing for seven to 10 days at this point. But even his quickest return will have to be after Opening Day, to allow himself to ramp back up on the mound after taking this time off.

“Anytime somebody is going to miss time, I don’t know if you jump for joy,” Francona said. “But I think in the grand scheme of things, 7-to-10 days is a heck of a lot better than 7-to-10 weeks. So he’ll be no-throw for 7-to-10 days. He’ll do his stuff with the training staff, and hopefully then we can ramp him back up and he will be good to go and that’ll be the last of it. Just don’t think anyone wants this thing hanging around or to make it worse.”

Teams are expected to be able to carry 28 players on their active rosters for the month of April to make up for the shortened spring. It’d seem safe to assume that those two extra spots would belong to hurlers to help the arms get through the first month of the season, however, the only other available option on the 40-man roster would be Konnor Pilkington, who has yet to reach Triple-A.

This would force the club to have to designate at least one player for assignment prior to Opening Day if it would choose to use both of the extra roster spots for pitchers. Non-roster invitees like Alex Young, Justin Garza, Jake Jewell, Ian Gibaut or Enyel De Los Santos would be among the names that would fill the vacancies once they become available.

But if Cleveland decided against using both of the extra roster spots on pitchers, it could carry Owen Miller, Ernie Clement and Yu Chang as infield/outfield utility players instead of just two of the three.

With so much left to figure out in so little time before Opening Day, the only thing that’s clear is that the Guardians have a lot of pieces to try to find in order for this puzzle to come together by April 7.