Forecasting the Indians bullpen for 2019

Cleveland returning plenty of unproven arms

Alex Hooper
October 18, 2018 - 2:33 pm
Sep 29, 2018; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand (33) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 9-4.

© Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Heading into the 2018 season, it seemed a safe bet that the Cleveland Indians would head into 2019 without the services of either Andrew Miller or Cody Allen.

Both set to hit free agency in the winter, the pair had probably priced themselves out of a return to a team that does not have payroll space, and has not spent prior space on relievers. The team dealt for All-Star Brad Hand at the trade deadline not only as a way to bolster their pen for their pennant run, but as a contingency plan for Allen and Miller’s departure.

Whether or not the pair of late-inning arms put themselves back into the Indians’ range with their struggles in 2018 will be seen, but it is still unlikely that either returns.

For now, what was a shaky pen even with Allen and Miller, will return Hand and Dan Otero on guaranteed contracts. Tyler Olson and Adam Cimber are still pre-arbitration, while Nick Goody and Jon Edwards enter their first year of arbitration. Neil Ramirez will enter arbitration for his final year.

Cimber, acquired alongside Hand, was seen as a major contributor going forward for the Indians, and had been pursued by Chris Antonetti and company in Spring Training. After allowing 17 earned over 48 1/3 in San Diego prior to the deadline, the submariner was shaky in his time in Cleveland, allowing 9 earned in just 20 innings.

The righty posted a .610 OPS against when facing righties, but a gaudy 1.062 mark against lefties. When he was dealt to Cleveland, Cimber no long was afforded the opportunities to clear his own jams, being used as a matchup righty.

Even with those struggles, Manager Terry Francona made it clear that Cimber will have an important role going forward.

“I don’t think we saw the best of Adam yet,” the skipper said. “He’s going to help us a ton. I think when he first came, he tried to do a little too much, which young guys can do sometimes. I don’t think that’s the worst trait in somebody. But when it starts next year, he’ll be one of our mainstays.”

Edwards, a September call-up, performed admirably in his return from a worn UCL, allowing three earned over 8 2/3 innings. The 30-year-old boasted career-high velocities with all three of his pitches.

The team thought so highly of the right-hander that they thought about carrying him on the post-season roster, presumably over Otero. Ultimately, he was left off the 25-man to be fair to his future.

“That was a long, convoluted way of saying we really like this kid, and I think, with a normal offseason, he’s going to come back next year and play a huge part in our bullpen,” Francona added.

Righty Cody Anderson began to break out as a bullpen arm in 2016, allowing an .814 OPS out of the bullpen before also falling victim to Tommy John. The 28-year-old began pitching in games again in August and September and is expected to enter Spring Training with no restrictions.

Anderson will also enter his first year of arbitration in 2019.

Then there is Danny Salazar.

The 28-year-old has faced a constantly uphill battle against his right arm, dealing with elbow inflammation and rotator cuff tendonitis before undergoing season-ending arm surgery in early July. The jury, per usual, is still out on the talented righty going forward.

“He's continuing to rehab this offseason, so we'll learn more about his readiness for full participation in spring training as we get closer to November and December,” Antonetti said.

Goody remains weeks away from restarting his throwing program.

Free agency, while unlikely, still remains an option for the Indians.

Other talented relievers who changed hands at the trade deadline will be available at lesser prices than Miller and Allen. David Robertson, Brad Brach and Sergio Romo are examples of older relievers who may be available for team-friendly, one-year deals.

Former All-Star Trevor Rosenthal remains a free agent after undergoing Tommy John and missing the 2018 season. The righty held a showcase for Major League teams on Oct. 3.