As Spring Training approaches, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Indians' 2019 roster. This installment focuses on Cleveland's bullpen.The closer: Brad Hand
It looks like Hand will have a more consistent role in the Indians' bullpen in 2019 than he had last season.
As Spring Training approaches, MLB.com will be going around the horn to examine each area of the Indians' 2019 roster. This installment focuses on Cleveland's bullpen.
The closer: Brad Hand
It looks like Hand will have a more consistent role in the Indians' bullpen in 2019 than he had last season. After he was traded to Cleveland from San Diego -- along with Adam Cimber -- last July, the Tribe originally decided to leave Cody Allen in the closer role. However, as Allen continued to struggle on the mound, the roles quickly became undefined. Hand bounced back and forth between setup man and closer in the last few months of the season, and will now have a chance to settle in as the club's official closer.
Hand has become one of most elite back-end arms in baseball, recording sub-3.00 ERAs in his past three seasons. The lefty made the transition to closer in 2017 for the Padres and recorded 21 saves and 104 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings. In his time with San Diego and Cleveland last season, the two-time All-Star logged 32 saves and fanned 106 batters against 28 walks in 69 outings (72 innings).
Other locks: Dan Otero and Oliver Pérez
The Indians are returning two of their most-used relievers from last season. Behind Allen's 70 appearances, Otero pitched in the second-most games (61) and Perez was third with 51. Otero is coming off a down year after two solid seasons with Cleveland in 2016-17. Last year, the right-hander posted a 5.22 ERA with a 1.261 WHIP and struck out 43 batters in 58 2/3 innings. Prior to that, he recorded 1.53 and 2.85 ERAs in his other two seasons with Cleveland. Despite his struggles '18, Otero is definitely expected back in the Indians' bullpen this year.
Perez, who re-signed with the Indians last week, is another veteran arm who will play a large part in the 'pen. The left-hander joined the Tribe in June after being granted his release from the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate and became one of Cleveland's most reliable relief options. In 51 appearances, Perez pitched to a 1.39 ERA, recording 43 strikeouts in 32 1/3 frames.
Likely locks: Tyler Olson, Neil Ramírez and Cimber
These three names will very likely be added to the Indians' Opening Day list of relievers. After working 20 scoreless frames with a 0.950 WHIP for the Indians in 2017, Olson had a tougher season in '18, posting a 4.94 ERA in 43 appearances. Ramirez had similar numbers last year, pitching to a 4.54 ERA in his 47 games (41 2/3 innings). Cimber, acquired prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, logged a 4.05 ERA in his 28 games with Cleveland.
The Indians may have a clear-cut option as a closer, but the role of the setup man isn't as set in stone. Especially after Perez's 2018 campaign, the left-hander could be a solid contender. Although he did not have the same level of success as Hand after the pair joined the Tribe, Cimber may also be a setup candidate throughout Spring Training.
Returning from injury: Nick Goody, Cody Anderson and Danny Salazar
Goody is working his way back from arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. The club said he threw four bullpens in early December and has been completing a normal offseason throwing program without issues. He will likely be ready to go at the start of Spring Training. If all goes well during camp, expect Goody to be another lock in Cleveland's bullpen.
Anderson and Salazar are working their way back from injuries as well. Anderson is further along in his rehab process and is expected to be unrestricted at the start of Spring Training. While he has some starting experience in his short time in the Majors, it's likely the right-hander will contribute out of the Indians' bullpen as he continues to work back from missing the previous two seasons due to Tommy John surgery.
After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in July, Salazar remains a question mark. He is expected to begin throwing bullpens around the start of Spring Training. How he feels during camp will determine his future game activity, but the starter could also be a relief option once he is cleared to play.
Other candidates: Jon Edwards, Adam Plutko, Jefry Rodriguez, A.J. Cole, Chih-Wei Hu, Ben Taylor, Justin Grimm, James Hoyt, Brooks Pounders, Rob Kaminsky, Henry Martinez, Josh D. Smith, Jean Carlos Mejia and R.C. Orlan
Edwards got brought up to the big league club at the beginning of September last season and pitched to a 3.12 ERA in nine appearances. The right-hander has three years of Major League experience under his belt (40 career games) split between Cleveland, San Diego and Texas.
Plutko will compete for a starting spot at Spring Training; however, it's likely Shane Bieber will be the team's fifth starter. In that case, there's a chance that Plutko could be used in relief if the Indians need him. In five appearances as a reliever last year, the right-hander allowed five earned runs on 11 hits (including four homers) in 8 2/3 innings (5.19 ERA).
Cleveland will also have a few new faces to evaluate this spring, including Grimm, Cole, Rodriguez, Hoyt, Hu, Pounders and Smith. Among this group, Grimm has the most big league experience, having played seven seasons. In five years with the Cubs (2013-17), the right-hander recorded a 3.82 ERA with 269 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings. However, Grimm struggled in 2018, when he posted a combined 10.38 ERA between 16 appearances for the Royals and five for the Mariners.
Cole also brings some experience to the group, pitching for Washington in 2015-17 and splitting the '18 season between the Nationals and the Yankees. Last year, he finished with a combined 6.14 ERA in 32 appearances.
Prospect to watch: James Karinchak
Karinchak was Cleveland's No. 28 prospect in 2018 per MLB Pipeline. The right-hander was drafted in '17 and has quickly made his way to Double-A. In 42 games between Class A Lake County, Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Akron in '18, Karinchak recorded a 1.29 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP, striking out 81 batters and allowing 36 walks in 48 2/3 innings. He also logged 14 saves, 13 of which came with Lynchburg.
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.