Cuts set stage for Indians' final roster
Asencio, Cunningham, Lopez make club; Spilborghs reassigned
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As Chris Antonetti sat in front of reporters, discussing the Indians' planned Opening Day roster on Sunday morning, the general manager made it crystal clear that the makeup of the ballclub was not set in stone.
The deadline to turn in the Opening Day roster to Major League Baseball is 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and Antonetti plans on continuing to drain his cellphone battery in search of possible upgrades. For now, though, Cleveland has its team established following a handful of final decisions.
"It's still fluid," Antonetti said. "There are still a number of days before the season starts, so there's a possibility for some adjustments. But in terms of our internal decisions, I think we've reached a resolution on all of those."
The latest roster reduction saw outfielder Ryan Spilborghs and reliever Jeremy Accardo -- both in camp as non-roster invitees -- reassigned to Minor League camp. That settled the remaining competitions, paving the way for reliever Jairo Asencio, outfielder Aaron Cunningham and utility infielder Jose Lopez to snag the three remaining jobs.
Indians manager Manny Acta also noted that Shelley Duncan, who already had a place on the roster, would begin the season as Cleveland's starting left fielder. Of course, the outfield and bench situation could change if the Indians find another player to add to the fold in the days leading up to the regular season.
The Tribe recently held a workout in the Dominican Republic to take a look at free agent Vladimir Guerrero, and the team has also been linked to Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu in trade rumors. The Indians do not seem close to acquiring either player, but those developments at least show Cleveland is on the hunt for help.
"Shelley is our left fielder right now," Acta said on Sunday. "It could change, too. He's the starter in left field today."
No matter what happens, the Indians like the group of players they have in place.
"We feel good about the talent that we have on the roster," Antonetti said. "We think we have a team that's capable of contending for the division. Now, it's our job to go out there and do that."
That quest begins on Thursday, when the Tribe hosts the Blue Jays in a 3:05 p.m. ET Opening Day affair at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Sinkerballer Justin Masterson, coming off a breakout showing as a part of the Indians' rotation, will get the nod as Cleveland's Opening Day starter.
Behind Masterson in the rotation will be right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez, Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin and Jeanmar Gomez. The Tribe's bullpen will include closer Chris Perez, as well as left-handers Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez, and right-handers Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Dan Wheeler and Asencio.
Acta and Antonetti both said it was difficult to deliver the news to Accardo that he would not be making the Opening Day bullpen. Accardo posted a 1.00 ERA in eight games for the Indians this spring and looked to be in the driver's seat for a roster spot. That was until Cleveland acquired Asencio in a trade with the Braves on Thursday.
Cleveland's scouts liked Asencio, who is out of Minor League options and on the Tribe's 40-man roster. Acta is also familiar with the right-hander from their experience in the Dominican Winter League. In the end, the Indians chose to go with Acensio in an effort to maintain as much pitching depth as possible.
"Accardo did pitch very well," Acta said. "He was the exception of all those guys that came into camp and really pitched his way onto the team. But we have him. We still have him. A lot had to do with a guy like Asencio being out of options. We want to keep every option available and continue to add depth to our pitching staff.
With Duncan currently the projected starting left field, the rest of the outfield consists of center fielder Michael Brantley and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. Cunningham -- capable of manning all three spots -- is the likely fourth outfielder. Neither he nor Spilborghs had great spring showings, so Cleveland opted for Cunningham, who is on the 40-man roster and out of options.
"A lot of it was business decisions," Acta said.
Cleveland's infield will consist of first baseman Casey Kotchman, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and third baseman Jack Hannahan. Travis Hafner returns as the full-time designated hitter, and Carlos Santana will work as the club's regular catcher.
With Kipnis entering his first full season with the Indians and Kotchman now in the mix after signing a one-year contract as a free agent over the winter, Acta believes the team's offense is in a good position heading into the regular season.
"I do," Acta said. "I think it's a better offense. We always felt that if our guys are healthy, we can go head to head with the teams in our division. And we added a couple of bats to our lineup."
Lopez, who came into camp as a non-roster invitee, will make the team as a right-handed backup option for first, second and third base. Jason Donald will also be on the bench as a reserve for second, shortstop, third and the outfield. Lou Marson will begin this season as the Tribe's backup catcher.
To add Lopez and Wheeler to the ballclub, Cleveland will need to make subsequent transactions to clear room on the 40-man roster. Center fielder Grady Sizemore (lower back) and left-hander David Huff (right hamstring) will likely begin the season on the disabled list.
"I think it has the chance to be a balanced team," Antonetti said. "I think offensively, defensively, the rotation, the bullpen -- all of the different parts of the team are going to have to contribute for us to be the team we want to be.
"We can't rely on any one part of the team, and if any area is not carrying their weight, it's going to be difficult for us to be successful."