It is not sexy. It is not a needle moving addition. But the Indians got better yesterday. A surplus of right field options has spawned a plugging of another hole. A bullpen gutted by free agent turnover looks as though it has been completely remade. But will this group come together and be as good as they look on paper?
The addition of David Murphy made last year’s regular right fielder Drew Stubbs expendable. While Stubbs proved to be nothing special and had his issues against right-handed pitching, he still had value thanks to his speed and defense. He is a solid fourth outfielder. The only problem for GM Chris Antonetti was that with the signing of Murphy to platoon with Ryan Raburn, every other team knew that Stubbs was going to be traded. There was little leverage there for Kid Chris. So he did the best he could do and was able to add what could be a key piece to the bullpen puzzle. I present to you left-handed reliever Josh Outman.
I am not going to inflate who Outman is. He is a left-handed reliever who the Indians were linked to at the trade deadline last summer. Antonetti admitted as much on his media conference call yesterday. Instead, the Tribe turned to St. Louis and acquired Marc Rzepcynski, who became a solid matchup lefty and a key member of the pen down the stretch. Fast forward five months and Antonetti now has both. Sounds just a tad better than the Rich Hill/Scott Barnes or Nick Hagadone situation to me.
Outman’s numbers show him to be very proficient in neutralizing left-handed batters. Lefties have hit just .189 (.523 OPS) against Josh during his career. The 29-year old spent 2013 becoming a full season specialist. Many a failed starter have become quality relievers and that seems to be the route Outman is taking. Antonetti likes his relievers young and controllable in years. He now has a pen full of options that will be around for years to come should they choose to keep the group together. Outman is arbitration eligible and can’t be a free agent for two more seasons. His 2013 salary should save the Indians about $2.5 million compared to what Stubbs would have grabbed in arbitration.
With Outman and expected new closer John Axford in the fold, the Tribe bullpen makeover looks complete and deep with options. Out are Chris Perez (free agent), Joe Smith (signed with Los Angeles Angels), Matt Albers (signed with Houston), and everyone’s favorite lefty Hill (free agent). In a perfect world, Axford would look great in camp and break as the closer. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will be the late inning right-handed set up men. Both were terrific down the stretch and were ridden hard by manager Terry Francona. Rzepcynski will most likely get the first crack at being the matchup lefty, but Outman should be close behind. The last two or three spots will be battles between Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee, Blake Wood, Hagadone, and Josh Tomlin, should he not make the club as the fifth starter. Another name to remember is Carlos Carrasco, who is out of options and will be on the team one way or another. He will get his first crack though at being a starter.
“Our job is trying to piece together the best bullpen we can, and we feel we’ve had some progress,” Antonetti said. “We’ll continue to look to improve if we can. I feel good about the group that we have and I feel as though we’re improved from where we were at the start of the offseason.”
The best laid plans rarely work out. Think about where the Tribe’s pen sat at this time a year ago. Everyone expected the three-headed monster of Perez, Pestano, and Smith to continue their run of dominance. Hagadone was thought to be the guy who would become the late inning lefty. Scott Barnes would also be getting a look. Allen was a wild card after showing nice stuff at the end of 2012. Nobody really knew what to make of Shaw and Albers. Other than the big three, the other roles were far from being defined. By the end of the season, Perez was out as closer, Pestano was a complete non-factor, and Smith, Allen, Shaw, and Rzepcynski seemingly had to pitch every day down the stretch.
I really like how Antonetti put this pen together in front of Axford. But the closer spot is easily the biggest concern. Which Axford will show up in Cleveland? The 2011 dominant version or the guy who struggled so badly between the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 that the Milwaukee Brewers dealt him to St. Louis?