Cleveland Indians

Optimizing the Opening Day Roster

In your high school economics course, or perhaps Economics 101, that 8:15 lecture with 95 students, you probably learned about positive versus normative economics. Positive economics is the practice of describing or analyzing existing economic realities. Normative economics are more idyllic, they are focused on notions of equity and how markets and the economy should look.

Constructing an opening day roster is a practice reflective of the above understanding. That is, because of service time manipulation, veteran contracts with opt-out clauses, and managerial proclivities, the opening day roster is constructed on regulation driven inefficiency. Whereas, the Indians best 25 man roster probably will not be deployed until later in the season; often in July or August.

The purpose of this article with just a sampling of spring training statistics that are perfectly inconsequential is to discuss what is the “normative” or optimal 25 man roster currently available versus what is the “positive” or likely roster as of the Indians March 28 opener.

The Locks:

Starting Rotation (5/5): Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber.

That was easy.

Bullpen (6/8): Brad Hand, Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber, Tyler Olson, Alex Wilson, and Dan Otero.

Not a lot of locks and even the Otero inclusion feels soft. Assuming the Indians keep eight relievers is a decision that I expect but do not support.

Catcher (2/2): Roberto Perez, Kevin Plawecki

First Base (1/1): Carlos Santana

Second Base (1/1): Jason Kipnis

Shortstop (1/1): Francisco Lindor*

He probably will not be back for opening day but will soon after; worth just acknowledging he is on the intended opening day roster but it is unlikely.

Third Base (1/1): Jose Ramirez

DH (1/1): Hanley Ramirez

Outfielders (3/4): Jake Bauers, Leonys Martin, and Jordan Luplow

The Indians do not care about tiny spring samples; they view Luplow as a platoon bat in the big leagues and he has nothing left to prove in AAA; I expect him to be in Minnesota on March 28.

Utility Infielder (0/1)

This evaluation leaves the positive versus normative analysis to decide 5 roster roles: 3 bullpen arms, 1 outfielder, and 1 utility infielder.

Positive (Expected): Two Additional Pen Arms Neil Ramirez and Jon Edwards (Tyler Clippard to the disabled list).

With the bullpen as with the rest of the roster relying on Terry Francona’s public statements is a good place to start. Jon Edwards has received glowing praise from Francona; pitched well in his appearances in 2018; and has pitched very well this spring. With all the smoke and praise surrounding Edwards, it would be surprising to see him sent to Columbus.

Ramirez is riff-raff but the Indians relied on him heavily in the second half of 2018 and Francona likes guys he can trust*. Finally, Ramirez is out of options and would have to be designated for assignment; making the Indians more likely to open the season with him.

Finally, Clippard injured his pectoral muscle on March 9, the Indians will do their best to retain him by playing disabled list games and working him back to 100%.

Normative (Optimal): One Additional Pen Arm Nick Goody. (Tyler Clippard to the Disable List)

Goody was phenomenal in 2017 and can dominate right-handed hitters at times. While Goody has an option left he has a real ceiling unlike Neil Ramirez. Further, the Indians rag tag outfield needs more help than a pen that is backing up the best rotation in baseball. Edwards can develop more and Ramirez can move on to a bad team.

Positive (Expected): One Additional Outfielder Matt Joyce

The reality is Matt Joyce has feasted on right-handed pitching his entire career to the tune of an .802 OPS and a 121 wRC+. He feasts on them and pairs well with either Jordan Luplow, Trayce Thompson, or Greg Allen in right field as well as a nice hedge for Hanley Ramirez at designated hitter.

Joyce has struggled this spring but spring samples are outside of a few small indicators irrelevant. It is worth observing what Joyce has left at 34 years old in a larger sample.

Normative (Optimal): Two Additional Outfielders Matt Joyce and Oscar Mercado.

The case for Joyce above is persuasive. Mercado has raked so far this spring with 1.310 OPS in 29 plate appearances. What is more the Indian may view him as more than a fourth outfielder but a long term starter:

Whether Mercado can get to a 100 wRC+ and 20+ stolen bases is unclear but the improved secondary contact indicators would seem to imply that there may be real offensive upside hidden in this young outfielder. 

Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer will have a say but both have two options remaining and Martin will get the first opportunity to hold down center field.

Postive (Expected): One Utility Infielder, Max Moroff

Moroff is out of options and offers the versatility necessary in a backup shortstop-second baseman. There is nothing special about the bat but he has good discipline, decent power, and is certainly better than Michael Martinez. Alas, if it is not Moroff it will be Ryan Flaherty with no discernible skills or upside. Moroff is the better of the expected evils.

Normative (Optimal): One Utility Infielder, Yu Chang

Reportedly, Chang injured his thumb which was one reason why he was sent to minor league camp but Chang simply makes too much sense on this team.

Jason Kipnis is unplayable against left-handed pitching and also has shown significant issues staying healthy. With Lindor recovering from injury and Ramirez having been overplayed in 2018; needing more rest a legitimate utility player with above average power would be a dynamic addition. Kipnis and Chang should be a pure platoon with 30 more starts available at SS/3B.

In the end, the opening day roster has no special meaning, no binding effect, it is simply a moment in time. The roster will change as our lives pass around us.

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