I must admit that I don’t put a lot of thought into the composition of the Indians’ 40-man roster when the 25-man roster of players who can actually appear in games is far more important. There’s generally a pitcher or two and maybe a couple of position players who are worthy of attention because they are prospects or will likely be the first guy called up in case of slump or injury. The rest of these guys I see in Columbus when I go to Clippers games, but if I took the time it would take to figure out if T.J. House is better than Danny Salazar I would most likely be divorced.
However, there have been several moves by the Indians on the 40-man roster of the past couple of weeks that make me feel like I should pay more attention.
The Indians have signed three major free agents recently: Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Brett Myers. In order to make space for them, they have had to remove three players from the 40-man roster. Generally these types of moves involve players whom the casual fan has never heard of, but each of the three players cut by the Indians appeared in the major leagues last year and seemed to have a decent shot at making the Opening Day roster in 2013. So it is worthwhile to analyze whether these moves were represent optimal roster management.
I was surprised by the removal of Jeanmar Gomez from the roster, because he was mentioned as a contender for the final spot in the rotation in every article I read, but in retrospect it seems like the right thing to do. Gomez has made 38 major league starts over the last three seasons and has struck out fewer than five batters per nine innings while posting a 1.51 WHIP and a K/BB ratio of 1.58. These numbers have been fairly consistent from year to year; the number of pitchers who develop into successful major leaguers while posting numbers like these is miniscule. Gomez is 25 years old—no longer young enough to be considered a prospect—and the results we have seen thus far scream out “replacement level,” which by definition means that we can find someone just as good without much effort.
Thomas Neal was cut when Swisher was added to the roster. Based on the numbers Neal put up at Akron last year, it is somewhat surprising he was never promoted to Columbus. At 25 years old, it seemed like he had proven all he could at Double-A, and it would have been interesting to see if he could hit International League pitching. The strangeness of his handling became even stranger when he was then promoted to Cleveland in September ahead of several players who had spent significant time in Columbus, such as Tim Fedroff. Neal was then listed ahead of Fedroff on the Indians’ website as a backup outfielder during the offseason.
Given Neal’s broad range of skills and the dearth of outfielders in the Indians’ system, cutting him seems like a strange move. We have to assume that the front office deemed Ezequiel Carrera and Fedroff to be stronger prospects than Neal, and they certainly have more information to work with than we do, but the overall lack of outfield depth on the 40-man roster has to be a concern, and getting rid of Neal makes that situation worse.
The most recent cut, when Myers joined the roster, was Russ Canzler. This one I don’t get at all. Of the guys who have the potential to spend time at designated hitter next year, I felt that Canzler was the best option. With 500 at-bats, I feel that Canzler would hit .270 with 15 home runs. Given his low salary, this is a better investment than, say, giving Travis Hafner $3 million dollars, an idea that is now being floated. Canzler also plays a decent outfield, another advantage over Hafner and a pressing need on this team. Anyone who doubts Canzler’s potential need only look at the fact that, both times he was cut by the Indians in the last month, he was picked up within hours by teams that have legitimate playoff aspirations.
I understand that tough decisions need to be made in situations like this, but a look at the 40-man roster shows a distinct imbalance, with 23 pitchers and just five outfielders. This means there are almost twice as many pitchers as will ever be on the 25-man roster. Again, I don’t know how many of these pitchers will ever appear in a major league game, but it seems unlikely that all of them are legitimate prospects.
The other issue I see is that Canzler was picked ahead of Cord Phelps. I have always liked Phelps, but the Tribe’s handling of him indicates that they do not. He has been leapfrogged by Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, and last year the Indians used several other players, including the woeful Jason Donald, when they had an opportunity to promote Phelps. This indicates that they do not view Phelps as a guy who can help them. If that is the case, why would he be kept on the roster ahead of Canzler?
These roster management moves generally fall beneath the radar, but every once in a while they come back and bite you. Brandon Phillips is a perfect example, if in different circumstances. I hope that the Indians have a plan that will not cause them to miss these players at some point this year, but at this point there are holes in the roster that still need to be addressed.