Versatility permeates Tribe's final roster
Position flexibility offers Wedge options over long haul
HOUSTON -- The Indians' Opening Day roster is set, and place heavy emphasis on the "Opening Day" portion of its title.This is a roster openly expected to evolve. The Indians enter 2009 with concerns about the back end of their rotation and the effectiveness of designated hitter Travis Hafner, flexibility in their bullpen, ample depth at Triple-A Columbus and arguably more versatility and lineup flexibility than they've ever had. With Saturday's final roster moves of the spring -- as expected, right-hander Matt Herges, catcher Damaso Espino and infielders Andy Marte, Wilson Valdez and Tony Graffanino were all reassigned to Columbus -- the 25-man roster reads as follows: Starting pitchers (5): Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano, Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes. Relief pitchers (7): Rafael Betancourt, Zach Jackson, Masa Kobayashi, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Kerry Wood. Catchers (2): Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach Infielders (7): Josh Barfield, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jamey Carroll, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta. Outfielders (4): Shin-Soo Choo, Trevor Crowe, Ben Francisco and Grady Sizemore. The Indians generally stick with 12 pitchers and 13 position players, so that's no surprise. What's different about this group is the fact that four of the infielders (Barfield, Carroll, DeRosa and Garko) could be used in the outfield, and Martinez might be at first base as much as he's behind the plate. "Each series, it's going to be a challenge to put the best team out there," manager Eric Wedge said. "It's not just offense; it's also defense and where each individual is. We've spent a lot of time on it, and we'll continue to spend a lot of time on it." In building this club, general manager Mark Shapiro and his staff didn't deliberately seek to have a unit comprised of guys who play more than one position. "I still would rather have eight guys that Eric can pencil in 162 times a year that are All-Stars," Shapiro said. But the evolution of the game, the realities of the market and the recognition that a 162-game schedule becomes a war of attrition makes versatility an asset. "We're not looking to have guys play four positions," Shapiro said. "But there are realities of injuries, realities of depth, and that versatility ends up being an asset for a team to adapt to the rigors of 162 games. There are unknowns that are going to happen. There are going to be some disappointing performances and some injuries. What the versatility does is allow you to maneuver within that." The Indians had to consider depth and versatility in all three of their roster decisions this spring. Barfield didn't win his job as the 13th man on the bench because he's made significant offensive strides. He got it because he adds some speed off the bench and he proved to the Indians that he can ably handle playing the outfield and third base, in addition to his natural position at second base. Zach Jackson didn't win his job as the seventh reliever in the bullpen because he had a dazzling ERA in Cactus League competition. Rather, Jackson, who had a 6.87 ERA in six appearances, won it because his arm is stretched out to give the Indians length, should one of their starting pitchers get pulled early in a game. But the bullpen composition could change in a hurry. Down in Columbus, veteran Vinnie Chulk, who had a strong camp and has a May 15 out clause in his contract, is on the short list to help out. And though Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes both won jobs in the rotation -- Lewis by outpitching his competition and Reyes by avoiding any setbacks with his right elbow -- the Indians will keep one eye on their other options at Columbus (left-handers David Huff, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey and veteran right-hander Kirk Saarloos) should a need arise quickly. The Indians simply don't know what they're going to get from the back of the rotation, and that of course includes third starter Carl Pavano. So this roster, like Wedge's ever-changing lineups, is not written in stone. It is merely an early foundation upon which the season will be built. By month's end, David Dellucci (strained left calf) might be back to bump Crowe. By the end of the first half, Jake Westbrook (Tommy John elbow surgery) might be in the rotation. By season's end, in addition to the aforementioned Triple-A starters, prospects such as outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, infielders Luis Valbuena and Wes Hodges or reliever Tony Sipp, among others, could be on board. For now, the ride's just beginning. The Indians will work out at the Ballpark in Arlington on Sunday afternoon, then open the regular season Monday against the Rangers.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.