GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's been a long wait for Tribe fans since Cleveland's 2018 season came to a close on Oct. 8, but after 127 days, Indians baseball is back.The start of Spring Training is like getting reacquainted with friends on the first day of school after a long summer
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's been a long wait for Tribe fans since Cleveland's 2018 season came to a close on Oct. 8, but after 127 days, Indians baseball is back.
The start of Spring Training is like getting reacquainted with friends on the first day of school after a long summer break. But as pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Tuesday, to be followed by the rest of the team on Saturday, the Indians may start to realize they have a few more transfer students than they've had in the past.
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Because of trades and free agency, the Indians knew they could have new faces at all three outfield spots (with the exception of Leonys Martin's six games with Cleveland last year), first base, catcher and in the bullpen. Jordan Luplow and non-roster invitee Matt Joyce will compete to earn a spot in the grass, while Jake Bauers will get looks at first base and both corner-outfield positions. Kevin Plawecki will try to earn the starting job behind the plate. Relievers Nick Wittgren, Jefry Rodriguez and non-roster invitee Alex Wilson hope to earn a spot in the Indians' bullpen.
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The Tribe has accumulated a good number of new players, and it seemed as though the majority of the offseason work was coming to an end. After Cleveland re-signed free agent Oliver Pérez last month, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said that the focus would be steered away from making any more Major League free-agent signings, but could Francisco Lindor's injury cause that plan to change?
The Indians announced on Friday that Lindor sustained a moderate right calf strain while preparing for Spring Training. He is expected to return to Major League game activity between March 27 and April 10, given that his rehab goes as planned. With Opening Day scheduled for March 28 in Minnesota, the Indians may be without their starting shortstop to begin the 2019 season.
Cleveland has a few in-house options in Max Moroff, Minor Leaguers Yu Chang and Eric Stamets, or Ryan Flaherty, who the club signed to a Minor League deal last week. Due to his seven years of big league experience and versatility, Flaherty could be a top option. But with the financial flexibility the Tribe has given itself by trading players like Yan Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion, Yandy Díaz and Yonder Alonso over the winter, one has to wonder if signing a Major League free agent is back on the table.
A name that pops out on the list of 2018-19 free agents is José Iglesias, who earned 2.5 Wins Above Replacement last season. Iglesias has been in the Majors for seven seasons and was an All-Star with the Tigers in 2015. The 29-year-old has been known for his solid defense and hit .269/.310/.389 with 31 doubles, 48 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for Detroit in '18. He could even be a utility option for the Tribe once its All-Star shortstop returns. Iglesias played last year on a one-year deal worth $6.3 million.
There will be plenty of introductions as the rest of the team continues to report throughout the week. Although the Indians may focus on how their current players perform throughout camp, especially once games begin on Feb. 23 at Goodyear Ballpark against the Reds, there's still a good chance the team will have yet another new face to meet before Spring Training ends.
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.