With so many great closers on the market, is Cleveland likely to sign a closer or find an in-house solution?
-- Daniel Z., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
The Indians' situation at closer was muddled even before the team released two-time All-Star Chris Perez. With Perez now on the free-agent market, along with setup man Joe Smith, Cleveland's top in-house candidates appear to be right-handers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw.
I think the Indians are prepared to head into Spring Training with Allen and Shaw as the top competitors for the closer's role. There are certainly plenty of experienced closers on the open market -- Grant Balfour, Kevin Gregg, Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney, among others -- but most are in their mid-to-late 30s and could demand pricey contracts.
What seems to make more sense for the Tribe is targeting bullpen depth in general and leaving the closing duties up for grabs with a spring competition (with Allen and Shaw leading the way). I can't see Cleveland overpaying for a free agent to serve as the closer when there are younger, more affordable alternatives already in hand.
The 24-year-old Allen posted a 2.43 ERA in 77 games last season, striking out 88 in 70 1/3 innings with a 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 25-year-old Shaw had a 3.24 ERA in 70 games, but posted a 1.73 ERA (.176 opponents' average) in his last 35 games and went 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA in September (15 1/3 innings). Shaw also was best in high-leverage situations (.494 opponents' OPS), according to baseball-reference.com.
Cleveland will also take a look at right-hander Vinnie Pestano, who was one of baseball's elite setup men just two years ago. Over the 2011-12 campaigns, Pestano put up a 2.45 ERA and a 3.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 132 innings. The Indians are not giving up on him just yet.
One free agent that is intriguing is 29-year-old Edward Mujica, who came up through the Indians' system and pitched for the Tribe from '06-08. The righty has a 1.00 WHIP and 6.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past four years, and posted a 2.78 ERA with 37 saves for the Cardinals this past season. Mujica might command a three-year contract, but that seems fair given his age and consistent performance.
Is there any chance that the Indians would make Danny Salazar their new closer? I think he's got great closer potential.
-- Kathy M., Hubbard, Ohio
Salazar's impressive three-pitch arsenal (fastball, slider and split-change) definitely would make him seem like a strong closing candidate, but the young right-hander also has the potential to be a rotation leader for the Tribe. Cleveland might have a future ace on its hands in Salazar, and the team plans on giving the pitcher every chance at starting next season and for years to come.
Were you as shocked as I was that Michael Brantley did not even merit as a finalist for a Gold Glove in left field this past season? I understand why Kansasy City's Alex Gordon won, but explain to me how Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes and Detroit's Andy Dirks were finalists ahead of Brantley.
-- Ed B., Albany, N.Y.
Shocked? No. But I was surprised enough to look deeper into the defensive metrics. Among the nine American League left fielders with at least 700 innings, Brantley actually finished sixth in UZR/150 (-4.9) and eighth in fangraphs.com's Defense rating (-10.8). While Brantley did have zero errors in 1,293 1/3 innings (only Gordon had more innings in left), the more advanced metrics did not favor him. It was actually more surprising that Texas' David Murphy (first in UZR/150 and Defense, and fourth in innings) was not a finalist over Dirks or Cespedes, who ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in innings in left.
What will the Indians do with outfielder Drew Stubbs? They could move Nick Swisher into right field and play Carlos Santana at first base, allowing Yan Gomes to be the starting catcher. Do you think the Indians will do something like that?
-- Andrew S., Philadelphia
Stubbs still has plenty of value because of his speed, defense and ability to hit left-handed pitching, and he remains under contractual control through 2015. The emergence of Gomes has definitely thrown a wrinkle into the defensive alignment, though. Santana will still catch, but Swisher could indeed be bumped to right field (or designated hitter) more on days that Gomes starts behind the plate. As has been the case for a few years now, Santana will surely see time at first or DH when he isn't catching. With that kind of rotation, Stubbs could be a strong platoon player in right field. The Indians might also explore what kind of market there is for him via trade this winter.
Is it possible some of the money marketed for free agents in the budget could instead go to a long-term extension for Justin Masterson? I'd like to see him fronting this rotation for a long, long time.
-- Jack B., Cleveland
It would be surprising if the Indians were not already exploring an extension for Masterson, who is currently eligible for free agency next winter.
In your previous Inbox, someone mentioned Billy Butler and called him a power hitter and then you said he has averaged 20 home runs over the past five years. Twenty home runs is not a power hitter. Albert Belle and Jim Thome were power hitters. A power hitter hits 35-45 home runs a year.
-- Kevin W., Mansfield, Ohio
Fair enough, Kevin. That said, only three American League hitters hit at least 35 home runs in the 2013 season. I tend to consider someone with 30-homer potential as a "power" hitter. Along those lines, Butler did belt 29 homers just two seasons ago. There were only five Major Leaguers with at least 35 homers and just 14 with at least 30 homers in '13. If you want to redefine it along the lines of slugging percentage, perhaps .500 is the way to go. Only 16 players in the big leagues had a slugging percentage at least that high last season. That group averaged 29.7 homers.
The Indians need a right-handed power hitter in their lineup. Who in their Minor League system can fill that need in time?
-- Stephan D. East Lyme, Conn.
One prospect to keep an eye on is right-handed first baseman Jesus Aguilar. This past season at Double-A, the 23-year-old hit 16 homers with 28 doubles and 105 RBIs. He's averaged 18 homers per season over the past three years, which translates into roughly 20-22 homers over a 162-game schedule. Cleveland's top Draft pick last summer, Clint Frazier, posted a .506 slugging percentage with five homers in 44 games in the Arizona League.
In closing ...
Do you think the Indians will still have Sandy Alomar Jr. as a coach for 2014? I love the fact he is with the Tribe, but just think that he is destined to be a manager.
-- Aaron J., Holland, Ohio
As of this writing, I haven't heard Alomar's name come up as a strong candidate for any managerial openings. His name was floated last month as a possible candidate for the Cubs' job. So, right now, Alomar is in the plans as the Indians' first-base coach for the 2014 season.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.