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Roster has Tribe primed for another playoff run

Santana, Bruce and Shaw gone, but rotation intact and lineup are solid
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The makeup of an Opening Day roster can change a few days into the regular season, so trying to predict the initial alignment of a team's cast is tricky nearly two months in advance. Trades, signings, injuries or other developments can quickly alter a club's construction.

For the Indians, much of the same group that won 102 games and cruised to the American League Central crown last year returns for the 2018 campaign. There have been a handful of losses this offseason -- Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Bryan Shaw among them -- but the rotation remains intact and the lineup consists of many of the same names from last summer's run to the playoffs.

CLEVELAND -- The makeup of an Opening Day roster can change a few days into the regular season, so trying to predict the initial alignment of a team's cast is tricky nearly two months in advance. Trades, signings, injuries or other developments can quickly alter a club's construction.

For the Indians, much of the same group that won 102 games and cruised to the American League Central crown last year returns for the 2018 campaign. There have been a handful of losses this offseason -- Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Bryan Shaw among them -- but the rotation remains intact and the lineup consists of many of the same names from last summer's run to the playoffs.

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Cleveland might not be done with its offseason maneuvering, either.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with somebody else," Indians manager Terry Francona said recently. "If we don't, go play. I like our team a lot."

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The Tribe's biggest offseason addition was signing free-agent first baseman Yonder Alonso to a two-year contract. He will join a lineup that is awaiting word as to whether left fielder Michael Brantley (right ankle surgery) will be ready come Opening Day. Brantley's status could impact how the Opening Day roster shakes out, as the Indians will also have competition for rotation jobs, bullpen roles and bench spots.

As things stand today, here is an early prediction for how the Tribe's Opening Day 25-man roster might look:

Catcher: Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez

The Indians have a 1A and 1B situation with their two catchers. The only question right now is which of Gomes or Perez will log the higher percentage of innings behind the plate. Behind them, Cleveland has top prospect Francisco Mejia waiting for his window of opportunity.

First base: Alonso

Coming off a career year, Alonso signed a two-year contract worth $16 million, and has a $9 million team option for 2020 included in the deal. The first baseman hit 28 home runs and posted a .501 slugging percentage and .866 OPS last year with the A's and Mariners.

Video: Alonso discusses playing defense and joining Tribe

Second base: Jose Ramirez

Francona has noted that Jason Kipnis will likely be the Opening Day second baseman, but that could be influenced by Brantley's situation. If Brantley isn't ready for the start of the year, Ramirez may slide back to second, opening up some different possibilities for third base and the outfield.

Shortstop: Francisco Lindor

Write this one in pen. Lindor is coming off an impressive season in which he launched 33 home runs and won a Silver Slugger Award. Ramirez (29 homers, 56 doubles and a .957 OPS) and Lindor finished third and fifth, respectively, in voting for the AL MVP Award last year.

Third base: Yandy Diaz

This spot might also be contingent on Brantley's status. If Ramirez moves to second, that could pave the way for Diaz to work his way into the Opening Day picture for the second straight year. If Ramirez remains at third, Diaz would still be in the mix for a bench job.

Designated hitter: Edwin Encarnacion

The signing of Alonso allows Encarnacion (38 homers and 107 RBIs in '17) to stay mostly in the DH role for Cleveland. Encarnacion could see time at first on days that Alonso gets a break. Brantley and Diaz might also be candidates to get some at-bats as a DH this year, if Encarnacion is out of the lineup or at first.

Video: Outlook: Encarnacion likely to hit 30 home runs

Outfield: Lonnie Chisenhall, Kipnis, Bradley Zimmer

Until there is clarity with Brantley's comeback, there will be a chance that Kipnis opens the year in left field. Zimmer looks like a shoo-in to start the season in center, with Chisenhall over in right. Now, Chisenhall did play some left last year as well, so he could switch corners, which would give Cleveland the ability to consider other scenarios for right.

Bench: Abraham Almonte, Erik Gonzalez, Melvin Upton Jr.

Like Brantley, outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist) is questionable for Opening Day. If Guyer is not ready, that would pave the way for the right-handed-hitting Upton (signed to a Minor League contract) to crack the Opening Day roster. Almonte's ability to switch hit and play all three outfield spots makes him a strong bench candidate, too. Gonzalez and Giovanny Urshela (both out of Minor League options) will be in the mix for a utility job.

Rotation: Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin

The rotation is the backbone of Cleveland's roster and returns with the same cast. Kluber, who won the AL Cy Young Award, will head the staff with Carrasco and Bauer behind him. Mike Clevinger, Salazar and Tomlin are the main candidates for the two remaining rotation jobs. Lefty Ryan Merritt (out of options) is next on the depth chart. The race is too close to call.

Video: Corey Kluber is the No. 2 starting pitcher right now

Bullpen: Cody Allen, Clevinger, Nick Goody, Zach McAllister, Andrew Miller, Tyler Olson, Dan Otero

This is an area the Indians may still look to upgrade before Opening Day arrives. In the meantime, Clevinger would be an option for a relief role if he does not make the cut for the rotation. Allen and Miller return as the main late-inning weapons, and Francona may mix and match in leverage spots with McAllister, Otero, Goody and Olson to make up for the loss of Shaw.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

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