Indians and Allen Avoid Arbitration with One Year Agreement

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Reliever Cody Allen and the Cleveland Indians avoided arbitration on Wednesday when the two sides agreed to a one-year, $10.575 million contract for the 2018 season.

The deal, reported first by Tom Withers of the Associated Press, has not yet been formally announced by the Indians.

The right-hander Allen, who turned 29 in November, has been a key cog in the Indians bullpen dating back to the 2012 season, when he came up midseason and never looked back. In the five years since his debut effort, he has made no fewer than 67 appearances and has saved as many as 34 games (during the 2015 season). In working as one of manager Terry Francona’s more trusted and durable relievers, Allen has climbed the Indians’ all-time leaderboard for saves with 122 in his career, 17 in back of the franchise’s leader, Bob Wickman. He has finished in the top ten in the American League in saves over each of the last four years.

Last season, the underrated closer went 3-7 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, saving 30 games in 34 opportunities.

Allen’s raise boosts his salary significantly from his figures of a year ago. He made $7.35 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility after receiving a $4.15 million payday for the 2016 season. MLBTradeRumors.com had estimated a salary of $10.8 million through arbitration this winter.

The contract could mark Allen’s final in Cleveland – he is set to become a free agent following the 2018 season.

The Indians still have work to do with four other players who qualify for arbitration eligibility this offseason. Those players (with MLBTR estimates in parentheses) – Trevor Bauer ($7.7M), Lonnie Chisenhall ($5.8M), Zach McAllister ($2.4M), and Danny Salazar ($5.2M) – are scheduled to exchange salary wishes with the team on Friday. The team has gone to arbitration hearings with players just twice since 1991 and came away victorious in each circumstance.

Allen’s return for the coming season ensures another familiar and dependable arm in the Indians’ depleted bullpen, one that has already suffered losses of Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith to free agency. The team has also subtracted Boone Logan (option declined) and Shawn Armstrong (trade with Seattle) from its list of candidates. Like Allen, both McAllister and All-Star Andrew Miller are set to hit free agency after the season, potentially dealing a substantial blow to the Cleveland bullpen as it is currently constructed.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty images

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Alomar and Wickman Headline Minor League Hot Stove Events in February

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Two former Cleveland Indians All-Stars will return to northeast Ohio this month to engage fans at special events hosted by a pair of Cleveland farm clubs.

Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar and 15-year Major League pitcher Bob Wickman will be the headliners for annual offseason fan events held by the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains, respectively. Both events are scheduled for early February.

Alomar, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2011, will speak to fans at the RubberDucks’ annual Hot Stove Banquet, held on Friday, February 9, from the Hilton Garden Inn in Akron. Alomar will engage fans, who will have the opportunity to talk to him about his three seasons in Cleveland with the Indians as well as the rest of his 17-year career spent with the San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, and Arizona Diamondbacks. The event will take place just days after his 50th birthday.

During his Hall of Fame career, Alomar hit .307 and made 12 consecutive All-Star teams, with the final three of those appearances coming with the Indians. He was also a ten-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger.

Alomar - Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer

Alomar – Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer

“We are thrilled to have Robbie Alomar headlining the RubberDucks Hot Stove Banquet,” said RubberDucks General Manager Jim Pfander in a media release in December. “Last year’s event was a lot of fun and exceeded our expectations. To follow that up with one of the greatest players in baseball history for this year, should only help the Hot Stove become a staple event in Northeast Ohio.”

A portion of the proceeds from the Hot Stove Banquet will benefit the West Akron Baseball & Softball League (WABL). The event will also feature a silent auction with items from current members of the Indians and the RubberDucks as well as items donated by Alomar. Following dinner and a question-and-answer session, those in attendance will have the opportunity to meet Alomar and get autographs.

Also joining Alomar at the event will be longtime Akron Beacon Journal writer Sheldon Ocker. After spending more than 30 years talking Tribe for the ABJ, he was named the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing last month and will be recognized during the Hall of Fame Class of 2018 ceremonies from Cooperstown, New York, in July.

For tickets or more information on the Hot Stove Banquet, click here.

The Lake County Captains announced on Monday that Wickman will be the featured guest for their 16th annual Hot Stove Dinner on Thursday, February 8, from 6 PM to 9 PM at the Holiday Inn Mentor in the Lakeshore Ballroom.

Wickman spent parts of 15 big league seasons in the Majors and was a two-time All-Star. He joined the Indians in a trade deadline deal with the Milwaukee Brewers just weeks after appearing in his first All-Star Game in 2000, then returned to the Midsummer Classic again with the Indians in 2005 on the way to a career-high and American League leading 45 saves that season as Cleveland fell just short of the playoffs. He remains the Indians’ all-time leader in career saves with 139 in 156 opportunities.

The right-hander entered the pro game with the Chicago White Sox before a trade to the New York Yankees. He began his Major League career as a starter, winning as many as 14 games with the Yankees in 1993, before transitioning into a permanent spot in the bullpen. In addition to his time with the Yankees, Brewers, and Indians, Wickman pitched for Atlanta in 2006 and both the Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

Joining the former Tribe All-Star closer will be the Captains’ manager for the 2018 season (who is yet to be announced). Other guests may be announced at a later date.

Regular Hot Stove Dinner tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for kids (ages 4-12), with a limit of 175 reservations available. Special VIP packages (limited to 50) are available for $50 per person and includes hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages while visiting with the guests prior to the event.

A 50/50 raffle and an auction of Captains, Indians, Cleveland Browns, and other baseball memorabilia will be held throughout the evening. Proceeds from the auction will benefit Captains Charities.

For more information on the Hot Stove Dinner, click here.

Photo: Cleveland Indians (Twitter)

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Indians Sign Zarate to Minors Deal, Invite Seven More to Spring Training

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The Cleveland Indians announced on Thursday morning that the team had come to terms on a minor league contract with left-handed pitcher Robert Zarate, who last pitched professionally in 2015. He will join seven other Indians minor leaguers who were extended non-roster invitations to spring training next month.

In addition to Zarate, the Indians have invited position players Bobby Bradley, Nellie Rodriguez, and Richie Shaffer and right-handed pitchers Louis Head, Cameron Hill, Josh Martin, and Cole Sulser to play with the team during the spring.

The Indians now have 17 non-roster players scheduled to participate during spring camp in Goodyear, Arizona.

The well-traveled 30-year-old Zarate has been out of action for some time after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left elbow during the 2016 season. He debuted in the pro game at the age of 19 with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and spent three years with the club, but did not pitch professionally from 2009 through 2011, aside from a brief appearance in the Venezuelan Winter League during the 2009-2010 season.

He emerged in Japan in 2012, pitching in two games in 2012 and 2013, and worked in seven games in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014-2015 before getting a shot with the Tampa Bay Rays. He went 2-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 18 games (five starts), with 17 of the appearances coming at the Triple-A level with Durham, but he missed time early in the year with a left pectoral tear and later an oblique problem. He again pitched that offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League and was a non-roster camp invitee with the Pittsburgh Pirates ahead of the 2016 season, but he was unable to participate in camp due to an elbow injury, one that appeared during the VZWL playoffs and lingered into the spring. He tried to avoid surgery with four months of rehab work, but ultimately went under the knife.

He worked in eight games for Aragua this offseason, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.79 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 35 2/3 innings.

Of the existing internal candidates to be offered non-roster invites Thursday, Bradley may be the most exciting of the bunch. The 21-year-old has spent parts of four seasons in the Indians farm system after being selected in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. He spent last season with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, slashing .251/.331/.465 over 131 games while working as the team’s first baseman. For the third straight year, he topped the 20-homer mark, providing the ‘Ducks with 23 blasts and 25 more doubles while driving in 89. He drew 20 fewer walks in 40 fewer plate appearances than the season before (when he hit .235 with 23 doubles, 29 homers, and 102 RBI for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats), but he shaved 48 strikeouts off of his previous mark. He followed up his season with 18 games in the Arizona Fall League.

Rodriguez, 23, was a 15th round pick by the Indians out of George Washington High School in New York in 2012. He has shown plenty of pop throughout his six seasons of minor league ball, but strikeouts have come in bunches. He reached the Triple-A level for the first time last year, working in 120 games for the Columbus Clippers while hitting 14 doubles and 17 homers and driving in 49 runs with a .170 batting average and .271 on-base percentage. He had previous spent more than a year with the Double-A Akron squad, where he hit .229 with 30 homers and 99 RBI in 157 games. Like Bradley, he plays first base exclusively.

Shaffer is the only one of the eight invited with previous Major League experience. He joined the Indians at the end of last January after being selected off of waivers from the Cincinnati Reds to culminate a busy offseason that saw him traded from Tampa Bay to Seattle, only to be selected off of waivers by Philadelphia and then Cincinnati before Cleveland took a shot (and even designated him for assignment to get him off of the 40-man roster, a process in which he finally went unclaimed). The 26-year-old was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Rays out of Clemson University and reached the Majors in 2015, hitting .189 in 31 games. He returned for 20 more games in 2016, hitting .250. He spent all of last season with the Triple-A Columbus team, slashing .227/.338/.464 in 131 games with 18 doubles, 30 homers, and 89 RBI while being named an International League All-Star, a Home Run Derby participant, and the game’s Top Star for the IL. He led all Indians minor leaguers in homers last season and finished second in RBI to Bradley. He spent time at both corner infield and corner outfield spots last season.

Head, a 6’1” right-hander out of Texas State University (18th round of the 2012 draft), has logged six seasons on the farm for the Tribe and twice has been named a midseason All-Star for his club (2013 with Lake County; 2016 with Akron). The 27-year-old spent all of last season at Triple-A Columbus, posting a 3-2 record with seven saves in 50 games with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He followed up his season with work in the Dominican Winter League, striking out seven in four and one-third innings over five games.

Hill, another 6’1” right-hander, is 23 and has spent four years in the Tribe farm system. A 17th round pick in the 2014 draft out of Redlands Community College in El Reno, Oklahoma, he spent the majority of the season with the Akron RubberDucks (41 games), but did make a couple of appearances for the Columbus Clippers as well. He was 4-4 in his second season of Double-A play with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Midseason, he was named to the Eastern League All-Star team.

Aside from Shaffer, Martin was the closest of the bunch to have a Major League opportunity so far in his career. He was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the San Diego Padres following the 2015 season, but did not make the club out of spring training and was returned to the Indians. He has spent the last two years pitching at Columbus, but he missed two full months last summer with right elbow inflammation. In his two seasons of work with the Clippers, he has gone 3-7 over 77 games with seven saves, a 3.35 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. Last season, he averaged just over a strikeout per inning and he trimmed more than a walk per nine innings off of his previous season’s mark. The 6’5” righty out of Samford University (10th round of the 2012 draft) turned 28 at the end of December.

Sulser, 27, joined the Indians organization when he was selected in the 25th round of the 2013 draft out of Dartmouth College. He split last season between Akron and Columbus, going a combined 3-1 with three saves, a 2.70 ERA, and a 1.41 WHIP with 70 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings pitched. The right-hander followed up his 2017 efforts by pitching in the Dominican Winter League, posting a 3.48 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in ten and one-third innings of work. He was a starter at the beginning of his baseball career and had pitched twice at the Double-A level in his second pro season in 2014, but he missed all of the 2015 season, slowing his progression through the farm system some. Since that lost season, he has worked almost exclusively as a reliever.

Photo: el-nacional.com

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Indians’ Questions in Need of Resolution for 2018

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With the start of the new year, the Cleveland Indians still have plenty of questions that need resolution before the start of the 2018 campaign. Most should work themselves out by the end of spring training, but in the meantime, one can only ponder how things will be answered.

The Michael Brantley Dilemma

Where Brantley might play in the field when the season starts on March 29 was answered when the Indians signed free agent first baseman Yonder Alonso to replace Carlos Santana in the lineup. It brought a surprise solution to one problem, while creating an assumption that Brantley will return to his customary spot in left when he is able to take the field again instead of potentially relocating to first base as some have speculated for years.

Brantley’s bum ankle required surgery in the offseason, yet another major medical procedure done on the two-time All-Star left fielder in the last few years. While he should be ready to go sometime at or near the beginning of the season, what results the Indians can expect from him remain to be seen. He seemed to overcome the shoulder and biceps issues that cost him almost all of the 2016 season, but he was only able to give the Indians a half-season worth of appearances in 2017. He made a triumphant return to the Midsummer Classic in July, albeit a somewhat generous one, but he struggled to stay on the field for stretches both before and after the exhibition and was hardly an asset in the lineup when forced into action in the American League Division Series to replace the injured Edwin Encarnacion.

Picking up the 30-year-old’s team option was a topic of great debate in the fall, as the $11 million spent to bring him back for one more season in Cleveland could have gone towards other areas of concern on the Tribe roster, but to be fair, the outfield was already a glaring hole. The front office and coaching staff know the type of player that Brantley can be, when healthy, which made the risk easier to make. Last season, he hit for a healthy .299 average in 90 games, but his strikeout rate was up while he did not get to enjoy the kind of power surge that players around the game had over the course of the year.

Will Brantley struggle to overcome his most recent batch of injuries? Or can he do what the Indians desperately need him to do and put together numbers at or around his career averages, as he did in limited action a season ago?

Kipnis & Brantley - Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Kipnis & Brantley – Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Where on the Field is Jason Kipnis?

Kipnis, like Brantley, missed chunks of 2017 with injuries and, as would be expected, it drastically affected his overall production and may have cost him a starting job with the ball club. Such things do not happen often to a two-time All-Star, but it was the sort of move manager Terry Francona was willing to make with Jose Ramirez looking comfortable replacing Kipnis at second base while the young tandem of Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz manned the hot corner down the stretch. It led Kipnis to return to the outfield (a spot that he had not played since 2009 while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers) to help the Indians buffer the losses of Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, and Brandon Guyer in the final month of the schedule. As it was, Kipnis posted career-worst numbers when in the lineup, including a .232 average, a .291 on-base percentage, a drop in his walk rate, and a jump to his number of pop-ups in the infield. He swung at a higher percentage of pitches than ever before in his career and missed at his greatest rate to date. Despite that, when he did get a hit, it dropped in for one of the extra base variety 47% of the time, a career-best.

The left-handed hitting Kipnis is not expected to bump either of the three existing left-handed hitting outfielders (Brantley, Zimmer, and Lonnie Chisenhall) from their spots in the grass and he cannot help in a platoon situation. Coupled with owning the second-highest salary on the roster for the 2018 season at $13.7 million, Kipnis costs far too much to be a bat off of the bench for a team known for being extremely and critically frugal with the purse strings. His name coming up frequently in offseason trade discussions was no surprise – if the Indians could get out from the money owed this year, the $14.7 million owed in 2019, and at minimum the $2.5 million buyout in 2020, the savings would be comparable to the amount of money that the team will have to shell out just to retain its arbitration eligible players for next year. With several significant free agents (Cody Allen, Andrew Miller) set to hit the market following the ’18 season, freeing themselves from the Kipnis contract could give the Indians some financial wiggle room to bring in extra pieces to bolster the roster.

As the roster is currently constructed, the Indians almost need Kipnis to come to camp hitting the cover off of the ball, forcing the club to move Ramirez back over to third base while allowing Kipnis a chance to have his old job back. Otherwise, he will be a painfully expensive and limited utility man off of Francona’s bench, and that does little good for all involved.

A Disappearing Danny Salazar

In each of the last two seasons, Salazar has disappeared from the mound with vague injuries and ailments and has suffered from random bouts of ineffectiveness after particularly strong surges from the pitching rubber.

The Indians’ rotation is strong at the front end with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and fourth place finisher Carlos Carrasco leading the way. Trevor Bauer lived up to his billing with an eye-catching breakout performance and some absolutely filthy movement on his offspeed stuff. But the backend of the rotation is not quite the same force to be reckoned with, although Salazar, Josh Tomlin, and Mike Clevinger have all shown their worth throughout their careers in Cleveland.

Salazar is due for a raise in arbitration and has been hard at work in offseason workouts. He, like Kipnis, was also a name bandied about during the Winter Meetings, in part due to his potential raise, in another part due to his inconsistencies, and in third because of the Indians’ perceived rotation depth for the season (left-hander Ryan Merritt is also out of options, so it adds one more to the crowd for the final two spots in the rotation). Tomlin is a known commodity – an innings eater with impeccable control and an unsavory tendency to give up the deep fly. Clevinger is a bit of a wild card, showing flashes of dominance on the mound while not yet being able to put it together at a consistent level.

Salazar is a conundrum. He made 19 starts and four relief appearances for the Tribe in 2017, posting a 5-6 record with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. He was a monster striking out opposing batters, doing so at a 12.7 rate per nine innings while amassing 145 in just 103 innings of work, but twice he lost his spot in the rotation and was largely a non-factor in the postseason, walking two and giving up a run while striking out three in an inning and two-thirds in relief. This all comes from a hard-throwing righty who put up some of the best numbers of his career just three seasons ago and started the 2016 season strong enough that he was selected to represent the junior circuit in the final exhibition that factored in home field advantage.

Whether Salazar disappears to another city in a trade or is retained, and what role he has with the club come March 29 if he is still part of the Tribe, has a significant domino effect on how the rest of the pitching staff could look.

Playing Third Base – I Don’t Know

While Who’s on First has been a question 80 years in the making, it has been a more recent concern for the Indians and one that became all the more muddied when Santana left in free agency and Kipnis lost his job. Ramirez, who was the AL starting third baseman in the All-Star Game, shifted back over to his more familiar second base position in his stead, shifting the notable hole in the infield from one position to another.

Who’s on first is now a known with the addition of Alonso, but which player gets the task of manning third base is still up for debate. Urshela is out of options, but still cannot hit at the big league level. Diaz has shown plenty of hard contact at the big league level, but is not trusted defensively. Ramirez is the most viable option, but if the plan moving forward is to continue with him at second base, a position he is notably more comfortable at and familiar with, the Indians may have to go with one of the aforementioned options.

A wild card in the mix is Francisco Mejia. With Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez locked in for several more years behind the plate, Mejia will be hard-pressed to find game action calling the shots. There is little left for him to prove against minor league pitching and the club sent him to extended play in the Arizona Fall League to learn about life at the hot corner with the hopes that he too could factor into the options at third base as a means to making the club and seeing meaningful playing time with the Indians in 2018. His clock is already ticking.

S-H-A-W Spelled Relief

Bryan Shaw is gone, part of a massive relief pitching spending spree in the Rockies, as former Indians pitcher and current Colorado manager Bud Black has seen his front office boost his ‘pen options with the additions of Shaw and, most recently, Wade Davis. The Rockies have also brought back lefty Jake McGee, with the new look bullpen designed to replace All-Stars Pat Neshek and Greg Holland. Shaw will see on average nearly $9 million a season over the next three to four years, pushing him beyond the Indians’ comfort zone for a heavily used setup man.

With Allen and Miller set to lock down the final frames, the Indians will look to Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody, and last season’s surprise lefty Tyler Olson to eat up some of the middle innings when needed. But with one to two spots up for grabs and the Indians’ tendencies to leave an arm on the staff with minor league options readily available to keep a steady flow of fresh arms moving north on I-71 from Triple-A Columbus, who will find their way into the newest rendition of the Bullpen Mafia?

It won’t be former member Joe Smith, who signed with Houston, nor will it be Kyle Crockett (claimed on waivers by Cincinnati) nor Shawn Armstrong (traded to Seattle for international bonus pool money as another arm out of options). Merritt could sneak in as a long man due to his own options status, as could one of the losers of the starting rotation derby between Clevinger, Salazar, and Tomlin. All three have spent time during their Major League careers in relief and Clevinger and Salazar were believed to have good enough stuff that they bumped the established relievers right off of the playoff roster for the ALDS in a somewhat surprising call by Francona.

Regardless of who wins the job, by effort or by default, replacing the 70+ games a year worked by Shaw over the last five seasons (three times leading the AL and twice the Majors) will be no easy task. He may have been many people’s favorite punching bag on the roster, but his late inning efforts were minimized and underappreciated throughout his stay.

Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

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Former Tribe Outfielder Luplow Passes Away at 78

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Former Cleveland Indians outfielder and seven-year Major Leaguer Al Luplow passed away on Thursday, December 28.

Luplow joined the Indians organization in 1959, when he signed his first professional contract after becoming a multi-sport star and an All-American at St. Andrew High School in Saginaw, Michigan, and suiting up for Michigan State University as both a baseball and football player. He was believed to be gifted enough to have played football professionally, but baseball became his path through much of the 1960s.

1963 Topps

1963 Topps

He worked his way through the Indians farm system steadily, seeing time at Batavia, Mobile, Reading, and Salt Lake City before stepping onto the Major League field for his first game action on September 16, 1961, at the age of 22. He played in five games for the Tribe that season but got a much longer look in 1962, when he appeared in 97 games for the club and hit .277 with 14 homers and 45 RBI while working regularly as a corner outfielder.

The following season, the numbers dropped a bit at the plate (.234 average with seven homers and 27 RBI in 100 games), but it was a defensive gem that year that gave him his claim to big league fame. On June 17, he robbed the Red Sox’s Dick Williams of a home run in a game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The Indians, having dropped four straight games in Boston during the series, were trying to avoid a five-game sweep and held a 6-3 edge with two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth. Williams sent a drive, described as something between a line drive and a fly ball by Luplow, into the deepest part of Fenway. The gritty Luplow, who was in right field for the Tribe as a late inning defensive replacement and was respected for his all-out style of play and for being one of the fastest men on the team, broke for the ball, leapt after hitting the warning track, and cleared the five-foot wall in front of the Red Sox bullpen, backhanding the ball and crashing to the earth below.

“I felt the warning track, so I was definitely aware of the wall. But I guess I’d just made up my mind to catch the ball,” Luplow shared in a story in Sports Illustrated on October 14, 1985. “It was actually over the fence when I caught it, and I just barely touched the fence with my right knee going over.

“After I caught the ball, I said, ‘Uh oh!’ If I’d kept going face first, I would have really hurt myself. I think my football background helped me because I tucked my left shoulder and rolled and fortunately all I did was spike myself on the right knee.

1964 Topps

1964 Topps

“I sure wouldn’t ever do it again. I could have easily broken my neck. I must have put those guys in the bullpen in shock.”

Luplow appeared in just 19 games for the Indians in 1964, making 19 trips to the plate while working primarily as defensive relief, and spent the majority of the season back in the minors at Portland. He played in 53 games the next season for the Indians, hitting .133 solely in a bench role, and on November 29, 1965, he was purchased by the New York Mets, bringing an end to his time in Cleveland.

“You know how anxious I am to get away from the Indians and get a chance to play regularly,” Luplow was quoted in the November 4, 1965, edition of The Plain Dealer upon rumors that he would be dealt. “I don’t care who it’s with – I just want to prove I can still play.”

He appeared in a career-high 111 games for the Mets in 1966, hitting .251 on the year while working at all three outfield spots for the club. He split the following year between the Mets’ and Pittsburgh Pirates’ big league clubs, appearing in 96 total games while hitting .195 in what would be the final action of his professional career.

His memorable catch followed him well into life after baseball, as Luplow shared in the aforementioned Sports Illustrated piece that “Every once in a while, I’ll get a card, and someone will mention it – kids, you know, who’ve heard their dads talk about it. It’s nice to know they remember.”

Luplow’s post-playing career took him into the world of real estate, where he worked as an appraiser. He also helped coach young baseball players in his area and owned a tavern for a stretch while enjoying hunting, fishing, and golfing. In 2002, he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame.

Luplow is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marlene, their son and two daughters, and eight grandchildren. He is the great uncle of current Pittsburgh Pirates corner outfielder Jordan Luplow, who made his MLB debut in 2017.

Photo: Luplow’s 1963 Sports Service card

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Cleveland Indians’ 2017 Year in Review – What If?

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For many Tribe fans, the 2017 season will be looked upon with the same marketing tagline that the 2012 season had at its outset.

“What If?”

What if Corey Kluber was healthy in the postseason and not dealing with injury? What if the rotation was not negatively impacted again by inconsistent and injury-riddled performances from Danny Salazar? What if Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis did not lose gigantic chunks of the campaign on the disabled list while looking to be shells of their former All-Star selves when meaningful October baseball arrived? What if the Indians had not wasted the last seasons in a Cleveland uniform of Carlos Santana and Bryan Shaw? What if Bradley Zimmer did not get stepped on by Baltimore’s Chris Davis to prematurely end his rookie debut while putting the outfield into further disarray? What if Edwin Encarnacion did not jam and roll his ankle retreating to second base in the first inning of the second game of the postseason? What if the Indians did not blow a 2-0 lead to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series after clinching home field advantage throughout the AL bracket of the playoffs?

Instead of defending their AL pennant from 2016 and making another long run through the postseason, as many had hoped and others had predicted prior to the season, the Indians fell on their collective faces when the stakes were the highest, costing the team a year of contention during its most recent “window of opportunity”. Sure, the AL Central essentially looks like the city of Cleveland during the summer – with orange construction barrels strewn about every corner – while the majority of the division is in some state of rebuild. The rest of the league, however, has spent its offseason working to get stronger, so while the path through the Central might require little fight for the Tribe, the beasts of the AL East and the best of the AL West have done little back-stepping this winter with a chance to improve.

Shaw - Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Shaw – Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Indians, meanwhile, have subtracted the big bats of Santana and Jay Bruce from the lineup and the arms of Shaw and Joe Smith from the productive and underrated bullpen.

The Indians, backed by an AL record 22-game winning streak in August and September, finished the season with the second-most wins (102) and fourth-best winning percentage (.630) in 117 years of junior circuit baseball on the north coast. But just as was the case for the Golden State Warriors’ NBA record 73-game win season in the 2015-16 season, records do not always equate to championships. So while the Indians looked poised for postseason dreams, the reality was a nightmare and disappointment.

The AL Central was a back-and-forth race throughout the season. The Chicago White Sox sold off early, dealing Chris Sale in the offseason before dumping everything of substantial value that they could at and before the trade deadline. The Detroit Tigers waited to see if they could pull one more rabbit out of their ball caps, but instead followed with both a midseason and offseason purge of several big names from the Motor City, including skipper Brad Ausmus. Things in Kansas City have gone almost exactly as expected, as the team held on to all of its chips and tried for one more postseason push, but now will suffer through a rebuild without assets that could have been acquired for the expiring contracts of the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and several other contributors to the club’s back-to-back World Series appearances just a few years ago. The Minnesota Twins were a wild card, a team that exceeded most’s expectations and snuck into the AL Wild Card play-in game before giving the Yankees a scare. Young and hungry, they would be expected to be right back in the mix in 2018.

And then there is the Tribe, left to ponder what went wrong in 2017 while debating if the existing components of the present roster are enough to legitimately contend in the AL playoff picture for 2018. Yonder Alonso becomes the team’s big offseason addition, following in the footsteps of another first baseman-type from a year ago in Encarnacion, albeit on a shorter and cheaper commitment after a breakout season split between Oakland and Seattle. The coaching staff has been shuffled up, with Mickey Callaway, Matt Quatraro, and Jason Bere gone for new opportunities. There are holes abound, as the outfield looks thin and the hot corner has to deal with lagging production of cooler bats that failed to produce reliable results from both sides of the game. The starting rotation should be great again, especially with the return of Carlos Carrasco in the second spot after finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young voting behind two-time winner Kluber. Trevor Bauer will be able to build upon a season when he reached the expectations set forth for him when he was a first round draft pick by Arizona in 2011, while the rest of the rotation would be presumably durable with Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, and even Ryan Merritt in play for the final two spots on the staff. The bullpen will be remodeled, with Shaw, Smith, and Boone Logan all gone from the roster. The front office has brought in what feels like a dozen reclamation projects to contend for openings in the bullpen bunch, with the “losers” of the rotation battle likely also factoring heavily into the relief corps’ makeup, but it will all amount to a heavy workload for Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in what could be their final years in Indians jerseys.

While Santana and Shaw had become punching bags for the fans throughout their stays in Cleveland, their absences will be felt. The offense will have to pick up the slack that Santana (.259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers, and 79 RBI), Austin Jackson (.318/.387/.482 in 85 games), and Bruce (nine doubles, seven homers, and 26 RBI in 43 games), but the Indians do return their second third-place finisher in the AL MVP voting in the last four years in Jose Ramirez. The utility man, who became an All-Star third baseman and later the everyday second baseman, proved that his offensive contributions in 2016 were no fluke with an MLB-leading 56 doubles, 29 homers, and 83 RBI while slashing .318/.374/.583. Francisco Lindor will still pair with him, either up the middle or as the left side of the infield tandem, and will bring his bats that burst out with an unexpected 33-homer, 44-double, 89-RBI power display in 2017. After a slow start, even Encarnacion’s numbers evened out, as the 34-year-old big bopper hit 38 bombs and drove in a team-leading 107 runs.

Kluber took home the Cy and led the AL in more than a handful of pitching statistics, despite missing a month of action early in the season. Carrasco came on and lived up to his top of the rotation billing, tying Kluber for the league’s lead with 18 wins while topping the 200-strikeout mark for the second time in his career. Bauer stabilized the middle of the rotation and made more than a few batters look foolish at the plate with the assortment of filth in his arsenal. Allen continued to be one of the more underappreciated closers in the game, saving 30 of 34 games with a 2.94 ERA, while a magnifying glass was needed to find Miller’s ERA (1.44) and WHIP (0.83). Late season knee problems did slow down one of the more effective relief arms in the game. Shaw earned four wins and three saves while getting holds in another 26 contests, all while making an MLB-high 79 appearances on the mound (his fifth straight season with 70 or more trips to the rubber).

The pieces were in place, the expectations were high, but a slew of questions curtailed and derailed what could have been a season to remember in Cleveland. It will still be remembered now by Tribe fans, but for all of the wrong reasons as the season slipped away in disappointing fashion.

As the calendar prepares to flip over for a new year, the core of the Cleveland Indians is still largely together, but all these questions remain. After wondering “What if?” in the past and once again this season, the question becomes “Now what?”. For the city that is always waiting for the next year, that next year is upon us as the Indians celebrate 80 years since their last world title.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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Indians’ Minor Leaguers on the Move this Winter

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While plenty of focus has been given to the big name free agents departing the Cleveland Indians organization this offseason, there has been plenty of movement down on the farm for the club’s minor league free agent class.

The names are nowhere near as big as Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith, who have all signed lucrative contracts in Philadelphia, Colorado, and Houston, respectively, nor are they as big as Jay Bruce, who is still testing the free agent waters while waiting for the right deal, but the moves cut into some of the existing depth in the team’s minor league system.

Baltimore claimed a pair of former Indians pitchers when they added right-hander Perci Garner and left-hander Luis Lugo to minor league deals.

Garner, who turned 29 earlier in the month, got his first taste of the big leagues in 2016 when he appeared in eight games for the Tribe. It was his second year in the organization after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 2010 draft. He split time between Double-A Akron (23 games) and Triple-A Columbus (18 games) before putting on an Indians uniform, but 2017 would not go as well for the Eastern League All-Star. The hard-throwing right-hander struggled in three Triple-A outings and spent the remainder of his season at Akron, appearing in just ten games while posting a 3.14 ERA. He missed nearly seven weeks at the start of the season on the disabled list, but after a rough go upon his return, he was designated for assignment on July 31 and released on August 3. He re-signed with the club several days later, but ended his season back on the disabled list later in the month with a right calf strain.

Lugo, 23, is a 6’5” left-hander out of Venezuela. He signed with the Indians as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent a pair of seasons working in the rookie league before hitting the more competitive levels of the farm system. He spent parts of 2013 and 2014 at Class-A Lake County and pitched for High-A Lynchburg for two full seasons in 2015 and 2016. He advanced to Akron for the 2017 campaign, going 8-7 in 26 games (25 starts) with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP while posting a decreased strikeout rate and an increased walk rate. He also allowed a career-high 19 home runs on the year.

Catcher Martin Cervenka, who was named an Indians’ MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2017, signed with the San Francisco Giants following the season. But his time in the bay was short as he was selected by the Orioles in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft earlier in the month. The 25-year-old backstop out of the Czech Republic joined the Indians in 2009 as a non-drafted free agent and began play in the minors in 2011 in the rookie league. He reached short-season Mahoning Valley and Lake County in 2013, but repeated work with the Scrappers in 2014 and the Captains in 2015. He spent almost all of 2016 with the Captains, his third season of work at the Class-A level

The first of the former Tribe farmhands to pack his bag this offseason was outfielder Luigi Rodriguez, who similarly joined the Giants organization like Cervenka. Rodriguez, 25, reportedly inked his deal with the Giants in the middle of November after his second season at the Double-A level for the Indians. Once one of the top ranked prospects in the Tribe’s farm system (fifth in 2011, seventh in 2012, and 13th in 2013, according to Baseball America), his value has plummeted as he has been unable to stay on the field for a variety of reasons, including an 80-game suspension for a failed PED test in August of 2015. He signed with the Indians in 2009 and made a slow climb through the minors, playing more than 100 games in just one of his eight years on the farm. He returned to Akron for a second season last year, hitting .276 with 13 homers, 22 doubles, and 40 RBI in 82 games.

The Indians lost a young infielder in the final days of November, when Yonathan Mendoza signed with the Seattle Mariners. The 23-year-old logged innings at first, second, and third base, as well as shortstop in his two stops (High-A Lynchburg; Double-A Akron) during the 2017 season. He showed some promise with the stick in his third straight season at the High-A level last season, slashing .307/.382/.370 in 72 games for the Hillcats, but he hit just .196 with the RubberDucks in 15 games in his first game action at the Double-A level since 2015.

On the move this month was a player who caught some eyes last spring during camp prior to the 2017 season, Ronny Rodriguez. The 25-year-old utility man spent 2017 at Triple-A Columbus, but he signed an offseason deal with the Detroit Tigers with a non-roster invite to spring training and figures to become a depth option for their Toledo affiliate at the very least.

Rodriguez signed with the Indians in 2010, but after progressing steadily through the farm system in his first couple of seasons, his career path slowed noticeably. He reached Akron by 2013, but spent each of the next two seasons there as a logjam of middle infield depth moved through the system, including the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Erik Gonzalez. He worked in 116 games for Columbus in his first look at the Triple-A level in 2016, but returned to the Clippers roster and had a strong season in 2017, hitting .291 with 18 doubles, 17 homers, and 64 RBI in 117 games. For the first time in his career, he was selected as an MiLB.com Organization All-Star and he was named a post-season All-Star for the second time (the first came in 2012 with Carolina). He worked at six different positions for the Clippers throughout the season.

Diego Moreno, who was briefly a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster when claimed off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of July, has elected to pitch in Japan next season. The right-handed reliever appeared in nine games for the Columbus Clippers (1-0, 0.73 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) after he was picked up by the Indians. A 30-year-old out of Venezuela, Moreno has logged nine games and 16 innings in the Majors, including four games with the New York Yankees in 2015 before making five appearances for the Rays last year.

During the Rule 5 draft, the Indians also lost three players, including right-handed pitcher Jordan Milbrath (Pittsburgh) during the Major League phase of the process. Minor league outfielder Junior Soto (New York Yankees) and infielder Ivan Castillo (Toronto) were taken during the minor league portion of the draft. In addition to these moves, the Indians also lost MiLB relievers Kyle Crockett and Dylan Baker on waiver claims (Cincinnati, Milwaukee) in November when looking to create 40-man roster space to protect prospective Rule 5 candidates. Baker has since been designated for assignment by the Brewers. Leonel Campos, a right-handed reliever added by the Indians on a minor league deal, was released from his contract signed just last month to sign with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League.

The list of remaining minor league free agents last associated with the Indians includes pitchers Robbie Aviles, Travis Banwart, Joe Colon, Tim Cooney, Carlos Frias, Jarrett Grube, Jeff Johnson, Chris Narveson, and Enosil Tejeda, and position players Claudio Bautista, Juan De La Cruz, David Lough, Adam Moore, Jordan Smith, and Josh Wilson.

Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images (pictured: Rodriguez)

Source: http://www.didthetribewinlastnight.com/rss

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Former Indians Infielder Kindall Passes Away at 82

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Longtime Major Leaguer and accomplished collegiate baseball coach Jerry Kindall passed away on Sunday at the age of 82 after suffering a major stroke on Thursday.

Kindall started his MLB career with big shoes to fill and lofty expectations, as the “bonus baby” had the daunting task of replacing Ernie Banks at shortstop for the Chicago Cubs (Kindall cracked the lineup for his first start at shortstop in 1956 when Banks’ consecutive start streak ended at 424 games and later took over for Banks when persistent knee issues forced the future Hall of Famer to relocate to left field). A light hitter in even his best big league seasons, he spent parts of five different seasons in the Majors for the Cubs between 1956 and 1961 and was even credited with referring to the team’s home as the “friendly confines of Wrigley Field” before Chicago dealt him to the Cleveland Indians in late November of 1961.

In a new locale and working exclusively as the Indians’ second baseman in 1962, he put up the best year of his career in Cleveland, appearing in 154 games while hitting .232 with 21 doubles, 13 homers, and 55 RBI. The success would not be sustained, however, as he appeared in 86 games for the Tribe in 1963 (hitting .205 with four doubles, five homers, and 20 RBI) and had played in just 23 games in the 1964 season before he was shipped to Minnesota in June as part of a three-team trade that included the Los Angeles Angels. The Indians received infielder Billy Moran (who had played with the club in 1958 and 1959) from the Angels in the swap, while the Twins received Frank Kostro from the Angels and Minnesota moved Lenny Green and former Indians All-Star Vic Power to Los Angeles.

Kindall - 1963 Topps

Kindall – 1963 Topps

For Kindall, joining the Twins marked a return home. He was born in St. Paul, went to high school there, and even remained in the area for college. He attended the University of Minnesota (and was part of their College World Series winning club in 1956 over the University of Arizona) before he kicked off his pro career.

The homecoming was short-lived for Kindall, however, as he hit .148 with the Twins in 62 games in 1964 and .196 in 125 games in 1965 before being cut at the beginning of the 1966 season. It would mark the end of his nine-year playing career, but life in baseball was only beginning as he joined the coaching staff at the University of Minnesota in 1967. He remained there until 1973, when he was hired by the University of Arizona.

Kindall would serve as head coach of the Wildcats, finding far more success in the dugout than he had on the field. He led the University of Arizona to titles in 1976, 1980, and 1986 before he retired after the 1996 season. He spent time after his coaching career attending Wildcats games and calling NCAA Tournament games on TV. In 2007, Kindall was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

During his lengthy coaching tenure, he saw several of his players head off to careers in the Majors, including Indians manager Terry Francona, his bench coach Brad Mills, former Indians players Casey Candaele, Ron Hassey, Tommy Hinzo, Kenny Lofton, and Dave Rohde, MLB pitchers Scott Erickson and Trevor Hoffman, and position players Chip Hale and J.T. Snow.

“Some people talk the talk; he walked to walk,” Francona said of his former skipper in a quote in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday. “He lived his life just like you’re supposed to. It’s easy to say things, but he lived it. In a nutshell, he taught us not only to respect the game of people, but to respect the people in the game. That was the most valuable lesson any of us learned.”

Photo: Chicago Sun Tribune

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Tribe Finds Santana’s Replacement in Free Agent All-Star Alonso

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For those worried that the Indians were going to stand pat after the loss of first baseman Carlos Santana and the likely departure of Jay Bruce from the Cleveland lineup, the Tribe brass addressed those concerns late Wednesday with the signing of free agent first baseman Yonder Alonso.

The deal, which had not yet been confirmed by the club, is for two years and a total of $16 million, split evenly at $8 million a season. Additionally, the deal has a vesting option for 2020 worth another $8 million, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The deal was first reported by USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale.

Alonso cashed in on a career year last season in the final year of arbitration eligibility. After a big first half earned him his first career All-Star Game selection, he was a trade deadline purge by the Oakland Athletics, who dealt the expendable first baseman to the Seattle Mariners for outfield prospect Boog Powell (no relation to the former Tribe first baseman of the same name).

Alonso - Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Alonso – Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The addition of Alonso will spare the Indians from having to debate between names like Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall for first base innings in the 2018 season. Alonso, who led the National League in errors at first base in 2012, has improved his game at first in recent seasons, finishing second in the American League in 2016 in fielding percentage and ranking first for range factor per nine innings at the spot just two seasons ago. He will replace Santana at first, one season after the former catcher and third baseman showed marked improvement on the right side of the diamond.

As for the offensive side of the game, the 30-year-old Alonso put up career numbers in his two stops on the west coast last season, establishing new highs for runs (72), homers (28), RBI (67), and walks (68).

Alonso broke into the Majors in 2010, just two years after being selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the seventh overall pick in the June draft in 2008 out of the University of Miami. The La Habana, Cuba, native appeared in his first game as a September call-up in 2010 and spent 22 games in the lineup that season for the Reds before appearing in another 47 games the following season.

Following the 2011 season, he was part of a four-player package dealt by the Reds to San Diego for starter Mat Latos. He would spend four seasons with the Padres, making his first season in southern California his best as he played in 155 games as San Diego’s regular first baseman while slashing .273/.348/.393 with 39 doubles (still a career-high), nine homers, and 62 RBI. His numbers and playing time dwindled over the next three seasons and, after the 2015 season, the left-handed hitter was traded to the Oakland A’s with Marc Rzepczynski for Drew Pomeranz, Jose Torres, and Jabari Blash.

He got regular work at first base and a handful of opportunities at third base for the Athletics in 2016 while gracing the lineup card a career-high 156 times. He followed up his first season in the Bay with a strong start in 2017, hitting .266 with a .369 on-base percentage in 100 games for Oakland with 17 doubles, 22 homers, 49 RBI, and his first career All-Star nod.

In his 42 games with the Mariners after his early August trade, he hit .265 with five doubles, six homers, and 18 RBI.

How the Indians utilize Alonso remains to be seen, but it would be thought that he would slot in as the regular first baseman for the club. He was treated as more of a platoon first baseman during the 2017 season, appearing in just 54 games against left-handed pitching while hitting .181 with a homer every 16 plate appearances (with 80 total appearances against southpaws). His average was more than 100 points higher against right-handers (.282) in a significantly higher number of trips to the batter’s box (441 plate appearances), and 43 of his 50 extra base hits for the season came against those righties.

The move could be seen as a bit of a gamble for the cost-conscious Indians, who invested in Alonso after his first half power numbers dwindled away in the second half of the season after relocating to the Pacific Northwest (he had 34 of his extra base hits in the first half).

The Indians’ front office has had to consider substantial financial obligations to arbitration eligible players this offseason while devoting attention to ways to upgrade the roster without taking on too much money. The free agent first base market was drying up, however, with the expensive Eric Hosmer remaining and Matt Adams coming off of the board earlier in the week when he signed with Washington. It left just a handful of second tier options remaining, including Alonso, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Adam Lind, and former Indians Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds.

(The Indians confirmed the signing of Alonso on Saturday.)

Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

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Indians Bring in Another Bullpen Candidate with Signing of Bonilla

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The Indians’ bullpen has been a source of recent extensive conversations, due in large part to the club’s losses of free agents Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith during the Winter Meetings and the knowledge that several other key pitchers in the relief corps are set to hit the open market after next season.

With the need to replace some of the innings exiting the roster, the Cleveland front office has focused quite a few of its offseason signings on bringing in some extra arms to spring camp on minor league deals. On Monday, the Indians added to that depth when they announced the signing of right-hander Lisalverto Bonilla to a minor league contract.

Bonilla, 27, hails from the Dominican Republic and has seen limited action on the Major League stage. The Indians become the sixth organization that he has been a part of since entering the pro game as an amateur free agent in 2008, when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. He will report to spring training with the club as a non-roster invitee.

He spent last season with the Cincinnati Reds, making his first appearances at the MLB level since 2014. He posted a 1-3 record with an 8.10 ERA in 36 2/3 innings of work in ten games. He split time between the rotation and bullpen, making four starts and throwing one complete game.

After signing with Philadelphia late in 2008, Bonilla spent four years in the Phillies farm system before he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the Michael Young trade in December of 2012. He made his Major League debut with the Rangers in 2014, going 3-0 in five games (three starts) with a 3.05 ERA. He was claimed off of waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2015 season and spent a year in their farm system before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter, but he lasted just two and a half months with the club before the Reds claimed him on waivers in February of this year.

At the big league level, he is 3-3 in seven starts with a 5.26 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP and 1-0 in eight relief appearances with an 8.24 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP.

He has worked as both a reliever and a starter throughout his minor league career, dating back to 2009. In 219 career games (64 starts), he is 35-31 with a 3.36 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He lost all of the 2015 season after undergoing right elbow surgery.

Bonilla has spent this offseason pitching for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Winter League, making eleven appearances (three starts) with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP. His last three outings there have been in successful but short starting roles, allowing three runs in 13 innings of work.

He joins a growing list of pitchers with limited success in the Show added to the Indians’ depth chart for spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, in February. The club signed pitchers Jeff Beliveau and Leonel Campos in November and added Sean Marshall and Neil Ramirez earlier this month. A deal with right-hander Alexi Ogando has not formally been announced, due to a pending physical.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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