After last summer's run to the American League Wild Card Game, the Indians are looking forward to getting to work.
"It's nice to be down here," Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "We've got a lot of familiar faces and some new faces. Things ended abruptly last year, but I'd rather it end abruptly in that sense than to not [make the playoffs]. That's right where you want to be. It's a step in the right direction. Again, for us this year, it's building off that momentum and the confidence we gained last year."
Thursday's workout will initiate some of the most intriguing competitions scheduled to take place throughout camp this spring for the Tribe. New closer John Axford joins a bullpen that has a long list of arms vying for a handful of vacancies. Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Shaun Marcum and Trevor Bauer will be the challengers for the final spot in the rotation.
Cleveland will also be handing the reins to young catcher Yan Gomes behind the plate, creating questions about Carlos Santana's place on the field. Santana -- slotted in as the Tribe's No. 2 catcher for now -- worked out at third base during the winter and will continue that potential transition this spring. He could also see time at first base or designated hitter on days he is not catching.
"The team hasn't made a decision yet," Santana said. "But I'm doing whatever they say."
All together, the Indians are slated to have 31 pitchers and seven catchers in camp this spring, and all were scheduled to land in Arizona by Tuesday night.
It will all be sorted out over the course of the next seven weeks, leading up to the Indians' Opening Day clash with the A's on March 31 in Oakland. Most of Cleveland's offense remains unchanged from last summer's Wild Card-clinching club -- with the exception of new right fielder David Murphy -- so expectations are high for a team coming off a 92-win campaign.
"We had a great year," Indians setup man Cody Allen said. "We finished the year on a great note. Obviously, we would've loved to play further than we did, but the month of September was a great month. We've got a lot of good pieces coming back and it's going to be exciting to see how we mesh this spring and when we open up in April."
Last season's success followed a dramatic reshaping of the Tribe's roster and the hiring of manager Terry Francona. Cleveland's swift turnaround from its discouraging 68-win showing in 2012 helped Francona net the American League Manager of the Year Award, and convinced the club that the core in place could contend again this season.
The Indians did not steal many national headlines with this offseason's maneuvering, but the team found a new closer in Axford (one-year contract worth $4.5 million plus incentives) and added to its outfield with Murphy (two-year deal worth $12 million). Cleveland also traded outfielder Drew Stubbs to the Rockies to reel in lefty reliever Josh Outman, and added plenty of depth through non-roster deals.
In the process, the Indians parted ways with former closer Chris Perez (Dodgers), setup man Joe Smith (Angels), right-hander Matt Albers (Astros) and lefty Rich Hill (Red Sox), as each signed elsewhere via free agency. The Tribe also allowed starters Scott Kazmir (A's) and Ubaldo Jimenez (free agent) -- key components within the team's run to the playoffs -- to hit the open market.
"Those are some big losses," Masterson said. "But we have all the confidence in the guys who are coming. ... However it's lined up, I think we've got a lot of good things coming our way."
Barring a late addition, or the re-signing of Jimenez to a short-term contract, the rotation projects to include Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister. Carrasco (out of options), Tomlin (returning from Tommy John elbow surgery), Bauer (prospect) and Marcum (non-roster invitee) are the top candidates for the fifth spot.
Behind Axford, the Indians have Outman and returning bullpen arms in Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski. Former setup man Vinnie Pestano will be aiming to regain his footing within the relief corps, while arms such as Frank Herrmann, Blake Wood, C.C. Lee, Nick Hagadone, Matt Capps, Scott Atchison and David Aardsma, among others, jockey for position in the bullpen race.
Cleveland's position players are scheduled to report by Saturday, prior to another round of physicals on Sunday and the team's first full-squad workout on Monday. That is when key players such as first baseman Nick Swisher, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and center fielder Michael Bourn will be beginning comeback campaigns.
Following a little more than two weeks of workouts, the Indians will open their Cactus League schedule with a 3:05 p.m. ET tilt on Feb. 26 against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark, which is shared by the two clubs. That game will be televised by SportsTime Ohio and aired on WTAM 1100 AM, indians.com and over the Indians Radio Network.
"Everyone's got a smile on their face," All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "And everyone's got that itch back."