CLEVELAND -- The Indians have experienced success with a handful of non-roster players over the past few years. Cleveland manager Terry Francona said this week that he would not be surprised if one of the team's invitees this spring made the Opening Day roster.
On Thursday, the Indians went that route with former closer David Aardsma, signing the right-hander to a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to attend Spring Training with the Tribe. Aardsma will be thrown into a wide-open competition for the final spot or two in Cleveland's bullpen.
With Aardsma in the fold, the Indians have 20 non-roster invitees, including five relievers. That list features Aardsma, Scott Atchison, Matt Capps, J.C. Ramirez and Mike Zagurski. That group will be among the many arms vying for jobs in the relief corps.
Cleveland signed right-hander John Axford this offseason to be its closer, and the club has virtual bullpen locks in right-handers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, as well as lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman. Former setup man Vinnie Pestano might also come into camp with a leg up on other pitchers for a job given his success before last season.
Depending on whether the Indians opt to carry seven or eight relievers -- Francona routinely had eight arms in the bullpen last season -- there will be one or two spots up for grabs this spring. If Pestano struggles in the preseason, that could create as many as three openings.
Besides the non-roster candidates, Cleveland has relievers Austin Adams, Scott Barnes, Preston Guilmet, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, Colt Hynes, C.C. Lee, Bryan Price and Blake Wood in hand. Pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin will enter the spring as rotation options, but could also contend for relief jobs.
Aardsma, 32, missed most of the 2011-12 seasons due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and a right hip procedure, but the pitcher was the ninth-inning specialist for the Mariners before the health woes. Across the 2009-10 campaigns, Aardsma posted a 2.90 ERA with a 2.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio, an average of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and 69 saves in 121 innings.
Last season, Aardsma was released by the Yankees after Spring Training and released by the Marlins after a month in their system, but he latched on with the Mets in May and logged 43 appearances. In 39 2/3 innings, the righty posted a 4.31 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 19 walks for New York.
In parts of eight seasons in the big leagues, Aardsma has a 4.23 ERA in 298 games, during which he has 305 strikeouts against 169 walks in 306 1/3 innings. The right-hander has had stints with the Giants, Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox, Mariners, Yankees and Mets.