Over the winter the Cleveland Indians said goodbye to both of their established left-handed relievers, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez. Sipp was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the package to acquire Trevor Bauer, and Perez, who was coming off surgery, was due to receive $2 million in arbitration and was not tendered a contract. These moves left the Indians with only Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone, and David Huff as left handed relievers with major league experience on their 40-man roster.
The hard-throwing Hagadone appeared in 27 games for the Tribe in 2012, working a total of 25.1 innings, posting a 6.39 ERA, a K/9 of 9.2 and a BB/9 of 5.3. His season came to a harsh end when, after being removed from a July 6th game against the Tampa Bay Rays, he broke his arm in what is described as a “self-inflicted” injury. The injury required surgery in which a pin was inserted into his left forearm and wiped out the rest of the season. The Indians placed him on the disqualified list and the Major League Players Association filed a greivance against the Indians which is yet to be resolved. He returned to the mound this winter, pitching in six games for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Domincan Republic allowing seven runs (six earned), and eight strikeouts, and five walks over six innings.
Scott Barnes was off to a nice start as a starting pitcher with the Columbus Clippers in 2011. After 16 games (15 starts) he had compiled a record of 7-4 with a 3.68 ERA and had struck out 90 batters in 88 innings of work but his season came to an end on July 10th when he tore his ACL while fielding an infield grounder. When he returned to the Clippers in 2012 he made three starts before he transitioned to the bullpen. He was promoted to Cleveland and made his major league debut May 30th. His was called up three times during the 2012 season and while his first two cups of coffee were uninspiring he did leave a good impression on the front office by ending the year with nine scoreless appearances allowing five hits, with five strikeouts and no walks in nine innings of work.
David Huff is out of options and will most likely have to earn a spot in the bullpen if he is to continue his big league career with the Indians. Overall in 2012 he worked in six games (four starts) and posted a 3-1 record with a 3.38 ERA. In his two relief appearances he worked six scoreless innings, allowing three hits while striking out eight and walking one.
The Indians have also signed former Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir, who since being released by the Los Angeles Angels in June of 2011 has pitched in the Atlantic League (Independent) with the Sugar Land Skeeters (3-6, 5.34 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 4.6 BB/9) and this winter for Gigantes de Carolina in Puerto Rico (0-2, 4.37, 10.7 K/9, 3.2 BB/9). The most promising news about Kazmir were reports that his fastball velocity had returned to the 92-93 mph range. He could be a candidate in the Indians’ bullpen but he will come to Spring Training looking to earn a starting job and may continue in that role in Columbus rather than being switched to the bullpen.
T.J. House is another left-handed pitcher on the Indians 40-man roster, but in his minor league career he has made 105 appearances and 103 of them have been starts. In 2012, between Akron and Columbus he made 27 starts and compiled a record of 10-5 with an ERA of 3.56. He will more than likely continue his progression as a starting pitcher.
There are only a few left-handed relievers remaining on the free agent market. One of them is former Indians reliever Rafael Perez, but he had shoulder surgery in September to debride the back of his left shoulder. He was due to resume his throwing program after two months of rest and initially it was thought that he’d be ready at the start of Spring Training, but there has been no chatter about his progress and his name has not been linked in any rumors. The Indians could still bring him back on a minor-league contract and hope to have him by mid-May. The remaining left-handed free agents marginal at best. The oft-injured Rich Hill heads the list and it doesn’t get much better from there: Will Ohman, Manny Parra, and J.C. Romero.
The Indians must feel confident in their in-house options for left-handed relievers and they must feel that Joe Smith‘s success against left handed batters is not a mirage. Smith, who used to struggle mightily against left-handed batters, has held them to a .460 OPS in 2011 and a .585 OPS in 2012. The remaining set-up men (Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and Vinnie Pestano) all struggle against LHP.