Tribe inks Atchison, Francoeur to Minors pacts
Veteran reliever, outfielder get invitations to Spring Training to compete for a spots
CLEVELAND -- The Indians will have a wide-open competition this spring for the final few spots in their bullpen. The final spot on the bench will also be up for grabs among a handful of players.
Veteran right-hander Scott Atchison and outfielder Jeff Francoeur are the latest players to be added to Cleveland's growing list of candidates. On Monday, Cleveland padded its depth chart by signing each player to a Minor League contract with an invitation to attend Spring Training with the Tribe.
Atchison and Francoeur now give the Indians 12 non-roster invitees, including seven pitchers. Between the 40-man roster and the invitees, there are currently more than a dozen pitchers in the running for the two or three vacant spots in the bullpen.
Three members of Cleveland's bullpen from last season -- former closer Chris Perez, setup man Joe Smith and right-hander Matt Albers -- signed elsewhere via free agency this winter.
Cleveland signed righty John Axford to serve as its new closer and has bullpen returnees in Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Vinnie Pestano. The Indians also acquired lefty Josh Outman in a trade with the Rockies this winter.
The list of possible relief candidates beyond those arms includes (in no particular order) Frank Herrmann, Blake Wood, Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet, Mike Zagurski and Atchison, among others. Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin could also be bullpen options if they do not figure into Cleveland's rotation plans.
Atchison, 37, posted a 4.37 ERA in 50 games (45 1/3 innings) for the Mets last season, when he had 28 strikeouts against 12 walks. The right-hander had two stints on the disabled list with New York last year due to a right elbow strain and a strained right groin.
Over parts of seven seasons in the Majors with the Mariners, Giants, Red Sox and Mets, Atchison has a 3.64 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP across 255 innings. In 2013, Atchison fashioned a 1.58 ERA in 42 appearances for the Red Sox. He has a 2.98 ERA in 109 games over the last three years.
Francoeur, who will turn 30 on Wednesday, is coming off a down season, during which he hit .204 over 81 games between the Royals and Giants. The right fielder was released on July 5 by Kansas City and released again on Aug. 21 by San Francisco. Over the past two seasons, Francoeur's production has dropped to the tune of a .226 average and .626 OPS in 229 games (806 at-bats).
That represents a dramatic slide from Francoeur's overall showing in his nine-year career, which includes a .263 average and .725 OPS in stints with the Braves, Mets, Rangers, Royals and Giants. From 2005-11, he hit .270 with a .746 OPS, averaging 17 homers, 79 RBIs and 143 games per year. Arguably his best season came with the Royals in '11, when Francoeur hit .285 with 20 homers, 87 RBIs and an .805 OPS.
Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles project to open the season on the Tribe's bench as utility men again in 2014. Behind them, Francoeur is among a list of bench candidates that includes designated hitter Jason Giambi, third baseman David Adams, first baseman David Cooper, oufielder Matt Carson, catcher Matt Treanor and infielder Jose Ramirez.