The Cleveland Indians have several intriguing late-game options in the bullpen for the 2021 season.
Questions still remain, but there is plenty of cause for hype and excitement.
The two players in focus are James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase.
Karinchak made his MLB debut in 2019 and made 27 appearances in the shortened 2020 season.
He only had one save in 2020 because Brad Hand held down the closer role all last year.
Hand is now gone and the job is for the taking.
Clase factors into the conversation as well after missing all of 2020 because of a suspension.
The right-hander can routinely hit triple-digits on the radar gun and was the centerpiece of the Corey Kluber trade.
Having both Karinchak and Clase is a great thing and the Indians can do away with the traditional closer role in 2021.
Or, Terry Francona could opt to go with traditional roles based on who looks the best as Opening Day approaches.
Several writers at MLB.com got together and picked players who could lead the league in saves this season.
The Indians did not have any player on the list and the competition for closer is likely why.
James Karinchak fans a pair in his 1-2-3 7th. 🔥🔥#CLESpring pic.twitter.com/cSJSfT9xvU
— FOX Sports Cleveland (@FOXSportsCLE) March 18, 2021
Determining The Closer Role in 2021
The Indians did just have Hand as the closer for several years.
But before that fans were treated to a situation where the likes of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller could trade off in late-game situations.
There were no egos and it led to some of the best Indians baseball in a long time.
2021 may start out with Karinchak and Clase continuing to compete for what would be considered the true closer role.
Both pitchers lack a ton of MLB experience so there is no need to force one into the closer role when Francona can just choose the hot hand.
#Indians Top velo today by each pitcher vs Rockies
Aaron Civale 92.3 mph
Emmanuel Clase 99.4 mph
Anthony Gose 99.4 mph
Kyle Nelson 93.3 mph
Blake Parker 92.2 mph
Bryan Shaw 96.9 mph
— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) March 20, 2021
Nick Wittgren may even get save opportunities if the young guys need more time to settle into the season.
So can an Indians reliever lead the AL in saves?
That can absolutely happen if Francona does in fact pick Karinchak or Clase from the start of the season and everything goes as planned.
However, a more likely scenario continues to be a closer-by-committee process at least to begin the season.
And the Indians don’t even need a player to reach 20 saves to call it a great season.
The entire bullpen can just work well together and that should be enough.
That is what worked in 2016 and 2017 as Francona took the simple and obvious route of putting his best reliever on the mound when the game was on the line, regardless of whether it was the fifth or ninth inning.
Having two players like Karinchak and Clase is exciting and should avoid a major decline in reliability after losing Hand this offseason.
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