Indians need to explore further ways to improve rotation
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.
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.
And I agree on Carrasco....if he comes back healthy, him, Bauer and McAllister could be workhorses for the rotation for awhile.
I've always liked Carrasco, he's a guy I think could still develop into a 2/3 starter.