CLEVELAND -- Continuity has been a trademark of the Indians' bullpen since Terry Francona came on board as manager five seasons ago. Every year, Francona could pick up the phone in the late innings and call upon either Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw. Things will be different now.
Allen is still in the fold, as is relief ace Andrew Miller, but Shaw departed for the Rockies in free agency and left a big hole in Cleveland's bullpen. That will likely lead to more mixing and matching in 2018 for Francona, whose bullpen paced the Majors in ERA (2.89) last year. The manager is quick to point out that even with Shaw gone, the bulk of the Tribe 'pen remains intact.
"We have some good guys in place," Francona said during the Winter Meetings last month. "We've got Cody and Andrew that have done it and have been terrific, and guys like [Dan] Otero that are sort of under the radar, Zach McAllister. We have guys that can do it."
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MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Indians might stack up:
BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Cody Allen (closer)
Allen and Miller are unquestionably one of the best late-innings duos in baseball. Over the past five seasons, Allen has posted a 2.59 ERA with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings and 122 saves in 359 appearances for the Indians. Over that same span, Miller has a 1.82 ERA with 14.2 strikeouts per nine in 297 outings. In a season and a half with Cleveland, Miller has a 1.47 ERA in 83 regular-season games. The rest of the 'pen will have a slightly different look, but Allen and Miller will continue to anchor the relief corps.
During the past five seasons under Francona, Shaw averaged 72 innings and 76 appearances as Allen's primary setup man. Francona has quipped a few times this offseason that it might take two pitchers to carry the load that Shaw did for the Indians. How the manager will handle his absence (along with the departure of Joe Smith in free agency) will be under the microscope early in the season. Most likely, there will be more high-leverage exposure for Otero, McAllister, Goody and Olson.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
As noted in Tuesday's examination of the rotation, one of the Tribe's starters may wind up in the 'pen. If Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin make the Opening Day rotation, Clevinger could open the season as a reliever. The same goes for one of the other two, if Clevinger cracks the initial starting staff. There is also a chance that the Indians dangle Salazar in trade discussions in an effort to strengthen another aspect of the roster. Cleveland might also look to acquire a more experienced reliever before the season begins, creating a ripple effect for the rest of the bullpen.
Cleveland is also facing a tricky situation with lefty Ryan Merritt, who is seventh on the rotation depth chart. Merritt is heading into Spring Training with no Minor League options. If the rotation avoids injuries this spring and no transactions impact its order, Merritt would either be a candidate for the bullpen or a trade. It's also worth noting that Francona has carried an eight-man bullpen multiple times over the past few years, and that Cleveland will have a handful of non-roster relievers vying for a job during Spring Training.