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Indians need to explore further ways to improve rotation

Indians need to explore further ways to improve rotation
December 13, 2012
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No baseball adage rings truer than the saying ‘you can never have enough pitching.’ It may seem cliché, but not if you’re one of the many Cleveland Indians fans that watched your favorite team last season go seemingly full weeks without a quality start. There are plenty of holes on the Indians roster, but none of them loom quite as large as fixing the starting pitching staff.

It’s not going to be easy.

Entering the 2012 season the Indians had high hopes for their staff. After all, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin were coming off breakthrough 2011 campaigns, Ubaldo Jimenez was on board for the entire season, and recently acquired Derek Lowe seemed like a good bet to return to the form that made him one of baseball’s most consistent starting pitchers from 2002-2010. With Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey, David Huff, and Zach McAllister battling for the fifth spot and providing depth, the Indians saw the rotation as one of their bright spots.

This would prove to be a fatal miscalculation.

When the sun set on the 2012 season, the Indians rotation sat dead last in the American League in ERA (4.78), second worst in all of baseball. Masterson regressed badly, Jimenez was wildly inconsistent, Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery in August, and Lowe didn’t last the season before being released.

Only one pitcher had what could be considered a successful season; Zach McAllister. McAllister was easily the team’s most consistent starter after his call-up in late June. However, his struggles in the months of August and September remind us that he should not yet be counted on as a key piece in the starting rotation.

Thus, the Indians entered the offseason with a very tall order in front of them. With limited resources and huge holes in left field and first base, the Indians would still have to find a way to improve their rotation if they wanted any chance to compete in 2013.

The first domino fell on Tuesday when the Indians struck a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for highly touted right-hander Trevor Bauer. Bauer, the #3 overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, easily moves to the top of the Indians prospect charts and is arguably the system’s top pitching prospect since C.C. Sabathia. The Indians care little about that though, as they expect Bauer to be an integral member of the 2013 rotation, and a cornerstone of the team for the next several years.

With Bauer in the fold, what happens next with the rotation?

It would be fool’s gold to think a 21-year old with 16.1 innings in the majors can fix all that ails the Indians staff.  While Masterson, Jimenez, Bauer and McAllister can safely be penciled into the 2013 rotation, barring a trade, it’s hard to be optimistic that group can spearhead a playoff run.

The Indians still need at least one more quality arm. One option to acquire such a player would be the free agent market, where names like Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, and Jair Jurrjens remain unsigned. However, it’s unknown how much money the Indians will have left over if they get their man in Nick Swisher or someone else to fill the void in right field.

Assuming that cost is prohibitive in signing a starting pitcher through free agency, the Indians may once again find themselves in trade talks surrounding one of their best players. The Indians creativeness to acquire Bauer without giving up Asdrubal Cabrera is a huge win, one that gives the team the necessary assets to acquire another young pitcher of Bauer’s level of talent.

A good argument can certainly be made for keeping Cabrera on the team. The lineup would take a significant hit changing out Asdrubal for Mike Aviles, his projected replacement. However, Aviles is a capable shortstop and if they feel the need they could pursue a stop-gap on the free agent market or in a small trade until top prospect Francisco Lindor is ready.

Meanwhile, other than Bauer, the Indians have virtually no high upside starting pitchers close to being ready and holes in the rotation will continue to crop up. Jimenez has a player option for next season while Masterson is just two years away from free agency. Both players have found themselves in trade rumors this summer.

Besides Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and McAllister are the only starting pitchers of note that are controlled by the team for at least the next four years. Corey Kluber, Scott Barnes, and Tomlin after recovery should provide depth in the coming years. The rotation needs to be shored up now, but just as importantly it needs shored up long-term. An Asdrubal Cabrera trade can accomplish that.

Trades and free agent signings aside, a lot of the 2013 rotation’s success is going to bank on improvement by holdovers from last year’s staff. It’s important for the team under new pitching coach Mickey Callaway to diagnose what went wrong with Masterson and Jimenez in 2012 and get them fixed. Callaway recently traveled to the Dominican Republic this offseason to begin working with Jimenez, which is a positive sign.

Perhaps no player is more key to the Indians chances in 2013 than Jimenez. When he’s on his game he’s a difference maker and a top of the rotation pitcher that can shut down any opposing lineup on a given night. The problem is that the Indians have yet to see anything but glimpses of that pitcher. It’s tough to count him as anything more than a fourth or fifth starter with some upside.

There is no blueprint to fix a rotation in as large of disarray as the Indians with the amount of resources the team has available. However, seeking out high quality young pitching with their available trade assets is a smart play. It allows them to inject talent and upside into the 2013 rotation, while fortifying it for years down the road.

The Indians offseason has to be considered a rousing success thus far. It’s nice to see the team taking a proactive approach to fixing holes that have plagued them for years. However, a lot of work is still left to be done, and none more daunting than in the starting rotation.

User Comments

December 14, 2012 - 1:59 PM EST
Huff and Gomez are both out of options if anything they could be long relievers. At this point I'm starting to tank that's doubtful.
December 13, 2012 - 11:37 PM EST
Gomez and Huff and Kluber are not options right now for the rotation to open the season. If they open the season with one of them, then they fell short of their goal to add pitching in the offseason, someone got hurt, or Bauer really struggled in spring training. Right now the plan is Masterson, free agent, Jimenez and McAllister and then they will probably say there is a competition for the last spot between Bauer, Gomez, Huff and Kluber.....but anyone in their right mind knows that if Bauer has a good showing this spring and the organization is comfortable with him, they will bring him to Cleveland to start the season. I don't think people realize how different and aggressive this organization is thinking now. Francona will call the shots on that one and if Bauer is what he wants, he will get it.
December 13, 2012 - 8:54 PM EST
Indians were ready to pay Slowey close to 1.5M to be in the minors last year, why wouldn't they do it with Bauer for a little bit? If Huff and/or Gomez show anything out of ST I wouldn't be opposed to giving them extended looks in the rotation then DFAing them and replacing with Bauer/Kluber/Carrasco if they struggle. Still need 1 more vet starter in the mix, ideally a lefty.
December 13, 2012 - 8:11 PM EST
I wouldn't think Bauer or Carrasco will be in the rotation till at least mid May or early June. Bauer still has some work to do with his mechanics, and Carrasco will be on a pitch count coming back from surgery. Unfortunately the rest of the staff will have to shoulder the burden until these guys are able to work their way back in. Sounds like Swisher and Jackson could now be out of play. Could be a good time to pursue Ross and perhaps Jurjians(?)
December 13, 2012 - 8:04 PM EST
Whether or not Bauer is in the rotation all year really depends on how he does in spring training. If he gets hurt or struggles and shows the team he may need a little more time in Triple-A, then yeah, there is a chance he opens in Columbus. Controlling his service clock is a consideration, though I am told that it is not of big concern as if he shows he is ready he will open the season with the team. They aren't gonna pay him close to $1.5M to be in the minors. Plus, in a way, it sort of hurts the PR from the trade. To have him open in the minors kind of hurts the positive PR from that trade, even if for a short bit and even if it is the right decision.
December 13, 2012 - 7:26 PM EST
Do you really think Bauer is going to be in the rotation all year? He wasn't ready for the bigs last season. The Indians would probably like to keep him in the minors to prevent his service time clock from ticking that much sooner.
December 13, 2012 - 7:17 PM EST
I think the complete collapse of the Tribe offense after the first 45 games of 2011 contributed a great deal to the eventual collapse of the starting pitching.

How many times can a starter like Masterson go out and pitch effectively into the 7th or 8th inning with minimal run support and not have all those tough losses and no-decisions get into their heads?

Give the pitchers adequate run support and you won't have them constantly pitching under the pressure of knowing one mistake will cost them the ballgame.
December 13, 2012 - 6:56 PM EST
I don't think Trumbo is an option. Remember, the Angels would probably want ML pieces for him. I don't think the Indians can afford to do that to acquire him.

And I agree on Carrasco....if he comes back healthy, him, Bauer and McAllister could be workhorses for the rotation for awhile.
December 13, 2012 - 6:37 PM EST
Carrasco actually injured his elbow at age 14. Had been pitching injured for some time. Actually it had slowly healed and began to tear...he had numerous elbow sprains with each one his elbow was slowly giving way. He could potentially come back stronger / better than before.
I've always liked Carrasco, he's a guy I think could still develop into a 2/3 starter.
December 13, 2012 - 6:17 PM EST
Now that Hamilton has gone to the Angels, would Trumbo come in to play again? I know there are a lot of K's there as well, but I think he was somewhat of a target after the season ended.
December 13, 2012 - 6:06 PM EST
i suspect that the real BAT Masterson is a cross between what we saw in 2011 and 2012. Boston knows him well and wants him back that tells you what they think of him. actually a cross between the two years isnt a bad foundation. and carlos carasco did have excellent firsthalf of 2011 and complained even back as far as when he was philly that his elbow wasnt right. Lets say he is fixed that isnt bad pitcher to have as for going after edwin jackson i reiterate the guy has been all over the place with all that talent 7 teams in 7 yrs and some top flight managers too. Something tells me that he has issues. I may be wrong but something has to be there top flight pitchers are hard to come by and he sure gets moved a lot in trades, and even the previous off season couldnt get multi year deal.. the guy from atlanta who came from detroit might be worth pursuing and be be a good much more inexpensive option.
matt underwood
December 13, 2012 - 5:40 PM EST
Bauer is pretty much who they expected Dillon Howard to be - hopefully he can come through this year and bounce back. Would be a shot in the non-throwing arm of the Tribe/

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