With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Indians squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.
CLEVELAND -- The mark of a good team is often a lack of roster competitions during Spring Training. In the Indians' case, they are returning with virtually the same roster that ended last season as the American League champions. A few key additions this winter fortified the group already in place.
With the free-agent signings of slugger Edwin Encarnacion and veteran reliever Boone Logan, the club will only have a few roles up in the air this spring. The Indians will use the preseason to determine the final spot or two in the bullpen and the makeup of the bench. The rotation is seemingly set, the bullpen has six arms entering camp as virtual locks, and the lineup is full, barring any health setbacks this spring.
For the most part, Spring Training will be about identifying the depth behind the Major League roster.
"We feel we have a really good group of guys that can support us," said president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, "not only for the Opening Day roster, but for the balance of the season."
Here is a breakdown of the projected Opening Day roster:
Catchers:Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez
Gomes and Perez endured their share of offensive woes and health setbacks last season, but the duo returns healthy and poised to once again serve as the catching tandem. Gomes, who is signed through 2019 with two team options after that season, is expected to remain the starter. Perez could see more playing time than a traditional backup catcher, though, or even take the job -- as Gomes did a few years back -- if his bat delivers.
First base: Encarnacion, Carlos Santana
Last year, Santana split the first-base and designated-hitter duties with veteran Mike Napoli, who left via free agency. The club moved on from its successful one-year partnership with Napoli and added Encarnacion on a three-year, $60-million contract. Santana and Encarnacion will share first base and DH in '17, though it is not clear yet who will get the bulk of the time in the field.
Second base:Jason Kipnis
There is no doubt about this spot. Kipnis has not only emerged as one of the best second basemen, but as a leader in the clubhouse. Kipnis is coming off a strong year both offensively and defensively, and he is signed through '19 with a club option for '20. Kipnis set career highs last season in home runs (23), slugging percentage (.469) and runs scored (91).
In his first full season in the big leagues, Lindor was named to the AL All-Star team, finished ninth in the AL Most Valuable Player Award voting and earned Gold and Platinum Gloves. The 23-year-old shortstop filled in as the No. 3 hitter while left fielder Michael Brantley was sidelined and showed that his promising '15 rookie showing was no fluke. Lindor is one of baseball's bright young stars.
Third base:Jose Ramirez
Ramirez began the 2016 season as the primary left fielder -- due to Brantley being sidelined -- but eventually found his home at third after Juan Uribe was released. Ramirez settled in at the hot corner and never missed a beat in the batter's box. The switch-hitter was one of the best breakout performers in '16, and he projects to open the '17 season as the starting third baseman.
Starting outfield: Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin
At the moment, Brantley is penciled in as the Opening Day left fielder, but his status remains a big question mark. Brantley underwent surgery on his right biceps in August, but he is currently hitting off a tee and the Tribe is hopeful he will be ready in time for the start of the season. Chisenhall projects to garner the bulk of the playing time in right and Naquin looks like the primary option for center.
Bench:Abraham Almonte, Erik Gonzalez, Brandon Guyer
Guyer is the only virtual lock here. He can play both outfield corners and serves as the right-handed complement to Chisenhall in right field. The club plans on giving him some exposure to center field this spring, too. The switch-hitting Almonte can play all three outfield spots, putting him in a good position to begin the season on the bench. Gonzalez lacks big-league experience, but he can play multiple infield positions, making him a strong contender for a utility role.
Rotation:Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin
A healthy five-man staff that projects as one of baseball's top rotations. Kluber was an AL Cy Young Award finalist last season and Tomlin (the longest-tenured player in the organization) stepped up as a critical arm down the stretch and in the postseason. Carrasco and Salazar missed time in the second half due to injuries, but they are poised for normal Spring Trainings. Bauer is coming off a career year. Right-handers Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger will come to camp stretched out as the main depth options, but they are likely ticketed for Triple-A, unless they fit into the bullpen picture.
Bullpen:Cody Allen, Shawn Armstrong, Logan, Zach McAllister, Andrew Miller, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw
Allen and Miller return as the main late-inning duo, with Allen serving as the primary closer and Miller acting as a high-leverage weapon. Logan signed a one-year deal and will serve as a lefty specialist. Shaw, Otero and McAllister are locks for the 'pen, too. That leaves one job open with a long list of arms in the running. For now, let's pencil in Armstrong, who has nothing left to prove in the Minors. In the last two years at Triple-A combined, the hard-throwing righty averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings and turned in a 2.10 ERA. Righty Perci Garner is also a leading candidate.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.