The Tigers demoted young reliever Bruce Rondon, who was expected to be the team's closer. [Carlos Osorio/AP]
By Cliff Corcoran
The 2013 regular season starts Sunday night in Houston, and though there will be exhibition games every day between now and then, teams are already starting to pack up and head north. That means that teams are also setting their 25-man Opening Day rosters, so many of the questions we’ve been posing all spring are finally being answered. Here, then, is a quick survey of some of the decisions that have already been announced.
The big news Thursday morning is that the Tigers have decided to send intended rookie closer Bruce Rondon to Triple-A for further seasoning, opting instead for a bullpen by committee. Per Tigers manager Jim Leyland, the team isn't fully confident in Joaquin Benoit's performance on consecutive days and any of the seven men in their pen (Benoit, lefty Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, or lefties Darin Downs and Drew Smyly) could be called up on to close a game early this season.
The Orioles farmed out 2012 first-round draft pick Kevin Gausman to Double-A on Wednesday. He'll join fellow rotation prospect Dylan Bundy in the Double-A Bowie rotation, though both could be in the majors by year's end.
Other top prospects to receive demotions on Tuesday included the Rangers' Jurickson Profar, who was optioned to Triple-A, and Dodgers' sensation Yasiel Puig, who was optioned to Double-A, the same day that the Dodgers sent shortstop Dee Gordon to Triple-A despite the fact that Hanley Ramirez will open the season on the disabled list. The Dodgers are expected to open the season with Luis Cruz at shortstop and Juan Uribe at third base.
Meanwhile, Twins prospect Aaron Hicks will be Minnesota's Opening Day center fielder, Reds catching prospect Devin Mesoraco fended off Miguel Olivo (who was released on Thursday) to open the season as Ryan Hanigan's backup, and the Braves' Evan Gattis, who suffered from depression and quit baseball during his college years, seized the opportunity created by Brian McCann's offseason shoulder surgery to win a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Jake Arrieta will likely be the Orioles' fifth starter, but that hasn't been made official yet. The following rotation decisions have, however.
The Blue Jays have sent their Opening Day starter from the last two seasons and former staff ace Rickey Romero to High-A and made the newly-extended J.A. Happ their fifth starter. The Rangers are going with non-prospect Nick Tepesch, who posted a 4.28 ERA in Double-A last year, as their fifth starter, at least until Colby Lewis's return from the disabled list. Mariners prospect Brandon Maurer has been named Seattle's fifth starter with Erasmo Ramirez heading to Triple-A to build up arm strength in the hope of ultimately unseating fourth-starter Blake Beaven. Luis Mendoza beat out Bruce Chen for the fifth spot in the Royals' rotation. Chen will join fellow 2012 starter Luke Hochevar in the bullpen. Scott Kazmir's comeback will continue as he was named the Indians' fifth starter, beating out Carlos Carrasco, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Mike Pelfrey will open the season as the Twins' third starter despite having Tommy John surgery just 11 months ago. Meanwhile, the Astros' rotation will include non-roster invitee Erik Bedard, rookie Brad Peacock, who came over in the Jed Lowrie trade, and perfect-game author Phil Humber, while Alex White heads to the bullpen.
Over in the national league, former Twin Kevin Slowey made the Marlins' rotation, former Giant Jonathan Sanchez made the Pirates' rotation, and Jon Garland, who sat out all of last season without a team following July 2011 shoulder surgery, will open this season as the Rockies' fifth starter while Drew Pomeranz spends some more time in Triple-A.
Slowey, Sanchez, Garland, Bedard, and Kazmir all entered camp this year as longshot non-roster players. So did Miguel Tejada, who made the Royals as a backup infielder (Chris Getz will be their second baseman to start the season), Rick Ankiel, who will start in right field for the Astros, Jason Giambi, who opens the season on the disabled list but should return in early April as a left-handed pinch-hitter for the Indians, Jeff Baker, who will be a four-corner man for the Rangers, Yorvit Torrealba, who beat outRamon Hernandez for the Rockies' backup catching job, Chad Gaudin, who made the Giants' bullpen, and Yunieski Betancourt, who was a non-roster Phillie last week but will be a major league Brewer next week.
Jason Bay, who signed a split contract with the Mariners, beat out Casper Wells, who is out of options, for the last spot on the Seattle bench.