CLEVELAND -- The Indians have more than a week before they need to turn in a postseason roster for the American League Division Series. Not only can a lot happen in that period of time to impact Cleveland's plans, the Tribe also has to wait to learn its first October
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have more than a week before they need to turn in a postseason roster for the American League Division Series. Not only can a lot happen in that period of time to impact Cleveland's plans, the Tribe also has to wait to learn its first October opponent.
• Shop Indians AL Central championship gear
That has not stopped manager Terry Francona from pondering his playoff roster.
"I've got about six of them," Francona said with a laugh.
A year ago, Cleveland went with 14 position players and 11 pitchers for its ALDS pairing with the Red Sox, but that was due to carrying three catchers to protect Yan Gomes (recently back from injury at the time). The Indians also only had three healthy starting pitchers at that point. The Tribe still has some health issues to discuss for this season's ALDS, but the club looks like it will have the flexibility to carry 12 pitchers, if so desired.
Whether Cleveland goes with 11 or 12 arms, there will still be difficult conversations behind the scenes.
"We have a bunch of tough decisions to make," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "It's not going to be fun for some of the guys, and for us to have to explain to them why we're choosing certain things. But the good part is, I think that everybody on our team wants us to win in whatever capacity, and they're going to be happy with whatever decisions we make.
"Of course guys are going to be disappointed, but I think in the end, they'll be sitting there on the bench or wherever, cheering us on, because I think that's the makeup of our team. We've got too many good players. What can you say? That's always a good problem."
Here is a look at the five biggest roster decisions facing the Tribe ahead of the ALDS:
1. Where does Danny Salazar fit?
Francona said over the weekend that the Indians are leaning toward carrying four starters for the ALDS. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are virtual locks for the first three spots, and Mike Clevinger has been moved to the bullpen. That leaves Josh Tomlin and Salazar as the options for the fourth slot. Right now, Tomlin is slated to start the final regular-season game and appears to have the edge for the No. 4 spot. Salazar (starting Wednesday vs. the Twins) is being stretched out to keep Cleveland's options open. If there is a setback with the rotation, Clevinger or Salazar could step in. Otherwise, the Indians will need to weigh whether they want Salazar's electric arm in the ALDS bullpen.
"We do today," said Francona, referring to having good rotation depth. "One day you can feel like, 'Well, we're in good shape.' Two days later, you're like, 'Where'd they go?'"
2. Who will get the last bullpen spots?
Barring something unexpected, the back end of the bullpen will be anchored by closer Cody Allen, lefty relief ace Andrew Miller and setup man Bryan Shaw. Clevinger provides another dynamic multi-inning option, too. If Francona wants a second left-hander, Tyler Olson has won over the trust of the Tribe. That would leave two of three bullpen spots up for grabs, depending on whether Francona goes with seven or eight arms. Veterans Joe Smith and Dan Otero represent front-runners, while Nicholas Goody has earned more leverage opportunities late in the year. That would leave Salazar on the bubble, along with Zach McAllister and lefty Craig Breslow. Lefties Ryan Merritt and Kyle Crockett offer additional depth behind that group.
3. Who will play left field?
This is where some of Cleveland's walking wounded come into play. Left fielder Michael Brantley has been dealing with a right ankle injury since early August and has been shut down from running again until later this week. It's hard to envision Brantley being ready for the ALDS. Lonnie Chisenhall (right calf) has also been sidelined recently, but he might be ready to return to the lineup soon. If Chisenhall is ready in time to play in the Indians' final homestand, that will help his case as an ALDS option. Austin Jackson has been playing admirably in Brantley's place in left, but Chisenhall could offer a lefty-swinging complement, plus depth for center and right.
4. How will center field be handled?
Jason Kipnis has moved to center and has not looked overmatched or overwhelmed by the position in his time out there to date. With Kipnis' bat starting to show signs of life in the past few days, expect him to remain in the plans as the center fielder for the postseason. Since Kipnis' recent return, though, Francona has used a quick hook for center, sending Greg Allen in for defense late in games. Given Allen's plus defense and speed, the rookie might be able to crack the ALDS roster. If not Allen, Francona's backup options for center would be Chisenhall, Abraham Almonte or Tyler Naquin.
5. Who will fill out the bench?
Cleveland will carry two catchers: Gomes and Roberto Perez. The makeup of the rest of the bench will depend on whether Francona goes with 13 or 14 position players. The defensively sound Giovanny Urshela is a third baseman by trade, but he has innings at first base, second base and shortstop in September. He looks like a shoo-in for an ALDS utility job. Urshela might also split time at third with Yandy Diaz. That seemingly puts utility man Erik Gonzalez on the bubble. The comebacks of Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer (he's supposed to test his left wrist with some hitting this week) will also influence how Francona goes about building his outfield options.
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.