"Looking at the way our roster shook out, we were getting tight on spots," said Indians assistant general manager Derek Falvey, who is on the current road trip with the team. "The guys at the back end of the roster are guys we want to keep. So, given some of the challenges of trying to get guys on the team Sept. 1, we just felt like this was the right move now."
Rosters for each Major League team expand from 25 players to a maximum of 40 on Sept. 1, but Cleveland is currently weighing a group of Minor Leaguers who are not currently on the 40-man roster. A few players who fit that description at Triple-A Columbus include utility man Yandy Diaz, righty Adam Plutko and Cleveland's top prospect, outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
With Columbus heading to the International League playoffs, the Indians are also trying to balance the Minor League playoffs with September promotions. Falvey noted that a group of players will likely join the MLB roster on Sept. 2, with another wave coming at a later date.
Hunter's release gives Cleveland a little more flexibility while discussing which players might come up.
"It allows Tommy to go look [for a job]," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And it also frees us up to use those innings for some of the younger kids, as opposed to maybe keeping a guy all September and not pitching him."
Just a few days ago, Francona noted that the team had informed Hunter that it planned to activate him from the 15-day DL and call him up after rosters expanded. The right-hander had been on a Minor League rehab assignment, while recovering from a back injury that came up over the All-Star break.
"That was intended to be the plan," Falvey said. "As we worked through who those options might be, and who we were going to call up, and where those innings were going to go, we felt like at this point there were opportunities for other guys ahead of him."
Hunter made 21 relief appearances for the Indians this season, going 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. The 30-year-old was on the DL for the second time this season.
Filling Almonte's void in October
One thing the Indians are also balancing at the moment is the fact that outfielder Abraham Almonte will not be eligible for the postseason because of his 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. On the MLB roster, Jose Ramirez can help by shifting between third base and left field, if needed. The Indians also have a similar player at Triple-A in Diaz, who has split his time between the corner-outfield spots and third this year.
In 114 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A, the 25-year-old Diaz has hit .313 with 30 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs, 63 runs and 69 walks. He has hit .320 with an .842 OPS through 88 games for Columbus.
"He's been able to bounce around a little bit," Falvey said. "He's played some third. He's played the corner outfields. As a right-handed bat, the fact that he can play both of those, and play third and some second, it gives us some flexibility right now. Long term? I think we'll sort [through his position] in the offseason and going into next year."