Inbox: Who will be Tribe's Opening Day starter?

Indians beat reporter Mandy Bell answers fans' questions.

March 2nd, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Indians reached their halfway point in Spring Training today. It’s the time of year where the team is transitioning from dusting off the rust from a long offseason to preparing to make roster cuts to find their best 26 players. What questions still remain? Let’s take a look in this week’s inbox:

If someone unexpected makes the Opening Day roster, it’ll likely be a reliever. There are still three weeks of camp remaining, but, at this point, the top unanticipated candidate would probably be . The 25-year-old spent the majority of last season at Triple-A Columbus, posting a 4.74 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 2/3 innings. He has allowed one run in three innings so far in Spring Training.

“He’s looked really good and all the pitching guys love him because he’s got a little edge to him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s not afraid to compete and he’s got a really good arm, got a breaking ball, there’s a lot to like there.”

Francona has yet to decide who the Opening Day starter will be, but it seems like Shane Bieber is currently the frontrunner, now that Mike Clevinger is working his way back from surgery to repair his partially torn meniscus. Carlos Carrasco would’ve been in the running, had he not sustained a minor hip flexor strain, but since won't make his first spring start until Tuesday, Carrasco may not have enough time to build his arm up by March 26. For now, the best assumption is that Carrasco will be bumped toward the back end of the rotation, in order to give him a few extra days to get ready, and Bieber will get the ball on Opening Day.

Before and were added to the Indians’ roster, it was easier to see a path for Bobby Bradley to make the Tribe’s big league squad. But because Santana will likely see a lot of time at DH while is in the outfield, Bradley won’t get regular at-bats just by serving as the backup at first. The Indians will likely try Santana in the lineup, while Bradley starts the year in Triple-A. If Santana doesn’t provide offensively in the way the team is hoping, then Bradley could get another shot up in the Majors.

When the idea of a “hometown discount” was brought up to Francisco Lindor at Tribe Fest on Feb. 1, the All-Star shortstop seemed to be against the idea. The Indians and Lindor have continued to discuss possible figures to keep him in Cleveland beyond 2021, but the two parties have yet to agree on a number. Lindor knows his worth, and he hasn’t been shy in expressing his belief that players should get paid what they deserve, such as when he said both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper should collect every possible penny when those players went through free agency last year.

The Indians could shell out a hefty contract if they wanted to. Then, the issue is whether they have enough financial flexibility to build a championship-level team around him. The hometown discount the Indians provide would have to be extremely minimal to keep Lindor in Cleveland, since the possibility that other teams could offer him a contract worth more than $350 million could be on the table. If the Indians can somehow find a way to pay Lindor that kind of money, plus continue to build the roster around him, then it could happen. But at this point it doesn’t seem likely.

Triston McKenzie said earlier this week that he hasn’t felt any discomfort since camp started. The 22-year-old right-hander missed the entirety of the 2019 season with upper back and pectoral strains, and was expecting the Indians to ease him into Spring Training.

Now that he’s gone through live-batting practice and simulated games, he said he’s ready to get back into game action. No matter how many innings he gets during Spring Training, he’ll still need to spend some time in the Minors this year to build himself back up, given that he hasn’t pitched in a game since August 2018. However, McKenzie could be in consideration to be promoted to the big leagues in the second half of the season, should the Tribe need another starter.

This answer depends on how his bullpen goes today, but for now, the Indians don’t seem too concerned that this will be something that prevents him from being ready on Opening Day. At this point, it’s unlikely that another spot in the bullpen will open up for a younger arm.

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