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The race for the Indians fifth starter job has begun

The race for the Indians fifth starter job has begun
T.J. House (Photo: Cleveland Indians)
December 17, 2014
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With the signing of Gavin Floyd on Tuesday, Indians GM Chris Antonetti confirmed to the media that four of the five spots in the starting rotation are locked up with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Floyd (in no specific order).  That leaves one final spot left in the rotation.

As it stands, the Indians currently have four pitchers fighting for that fifth and final spot – Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister, and Josh Tomlin.

Why Salazar?

Salazar's fastball is one that most of the candidates cannot compete with.  Although he struggled last year with a 6-8 record and 4.25 ERA, he owns the biggest upside of this group.  On any given day, he can look like a top flight starter, which is part of the reason why manager Terry Francona and company picked him to start the American League Wild Card game two seasons ago.  Surprisingly, last season right-handed hitters (.289 batting average) hit better off Salazar than left-handed hitters (.246 average).

If Salazar can improve on his slider to make opposing hitters more hesitant and complement his great fastball-changeup combination, he will be a lethal weapon in the Indians’ rotation.  Salazar has one option left.  So if he does not make the rotation, he can either be sent to the bullpen or sent down to Triple-A Columbus one last time.

Why House?

In his first season with the Indians, House posted a 5-3 record with a 3.35 ERA.  In seven starts at Progressive Field he went 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA whereas in 11 starts on the road he went 2-3 with a 4.20 ERA.  Before the break he went 1-2 with a 4.40 ERA; following the break he went 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA.  Also, in September, he posted a 3-0 record with just a 1.50 ERA.

While House limited lefties to a .252 average, he must improve his pitching against right-handed hitters as they hit .297 against him last year.  He's been inconsistent on the road and has been home run prone, but he improved tremendously after the All Star break with experience under his belt.   He is a lefty and the only lefty starting option, so if he were the fifth starter he would bring a different dynamic to the rotation.  He has just one option left, just like Salazar.

Why McAllister?

Out of the four contenders for the final spot in the rotation, McAllister has the most experience in a starting rotation.  Last season, battling injury and going back-and-forth from Triple-A Columbus, McAllister had just 15 starts (22 games) and posted a 4-7 with a 5.23 ERA.  Although he had over a 5+ ERA on the season, he had an ERA of 2.84 in eight games (one start) in September.

McAllister is out of options, so if he does not make the rotation, he will either have to be put in the bullpen or be designated for assignment.

Why Tomlin?

In all honesty, I do not think Tomlin has much of a chance in this race, unless he has improved tremendously during this off-season.  He is not only the oldest of the four pitchers going for the final spot (30 years old), but he is also one of the most injury-prone and had the worst season last year.  In 16 starts (25 games) last season, Tomlin had a 6-9 record with a 4.76 ERA.

Unfortunately for Tomlin, he pitched worse as the season went on – 4.21 ERA before the All Star break and a 6.33 ERA post All Star break.  Also, right-handed batters had a .314 average against him, which is poor for a starting pitcher.  He has two options left, which likely means he will be sent to Triple-A Columbus as a depth option to start the season.

If I had to pick one of these pitchers for the fifth and final spot in the rotation going into spring training, it would be House.  Inserting him into the rotation would give the Indians the luxury of having a left-handed pitcher in their starting rotation.

Also, with the kind of fastball Salazar has, he would be a great guy to come out of the bullpen - almost like an Aroldis Chapman-type bullpen arm - though I expect he would go to Columbus and continue to start if he is not starting in Cleveland.  Also, McAllister is not only coming off an injury-riddled season last year, but he has had plenty of time to prove that he is a permanent starter for the Indians and he has yet to secure that spot.

User Comments

December 17, 2014 - 10:26 PM EST
Personally, I like the move to get Floyd. Unless he goes "Brett Myers" on us, he should contribute innings and a consistent approach. No need to fret about the starting five... After all, we needed 7 or 8 starters last year and with the Tribe looking to compete at the top of the AL Central, we will need every available arm.
December 17, 2014 - 9:42 PM EST
@ Joe... You're correct.. Tomlin is more of an artist than a power armed hard throwin hound.. His artistry starts and ends with painting.. painting on the black.. When he would start a game.. and his FB velo on the corner at 91 - 92 was being seen.. through the third was clear.. he had it all going on.. It was when he was down around 84 - 86 and struggling to find the zone.. that you knew was going to be short night..

BTW.. the one hit complete game.. was the best pitched game of the entire season by anyone in MLB. So, he has it to go... He's either a good depth starter.. a trade chip.. or a long man.. He's a good asset to have on any team. We'll see if that remains the Indians...
Joe Chengery
December 17, 2014 - 7:41 PM EST
"best" should be "beat."
Joe Chengery
December 17, 2014 - 7:40 PM EST
I mentioned this before in regards to Tomlin, and I'll say it again: I think a main reason why he wore down last season was because he hadn't pitched for the better part of two seasons- that likely took a toll on his endurance, which likely affected his performance, especially since he was beating himself with poor command and walks, something Tomlin has never done throughout his whole professional career. Yes, his stuff might not give him much margin for error, but he forced the hitters to hit him, not best himself with walks- that's why I think endurance was largely an issue as the season wore on because he missed most of the two prior seasons. Keep in mind he did throw probably his best professional start - a 1-hit complete game shutout at Seattle a few weeks before he started wearing down, so I do think there is still something useful there and certainly not a bad 4-7 option in your rotation. We've done much worse in those spots and even in the 1-3 spots in the not-too-distant past.

Thus, I do think he'll look more like his old self and be more reliable like he has been in the past. He'd still be the long shot amongst this quartet and probably will be heading to Columbus to start 2015, but still will be a solid option going forward if needed as he has been outside 2014.
December 17, 2014 - 7:10 PM EST
Having an option makes their chances of making the club out of spring training remote unless someone is injured. The further McCallister is removed from the finger injury the better he has pitched. The guy is 6'6" and 240+ lbs. His fastball can reach the upper 90"s and sits around 94 with little effort. If his finger is healed and allows him to reestablish his slider, then he is your #5.

Floyd will be solid in the middle of that rotation if he stays healthy. If he don't then the options are aplenty. Health is Floyd's only question mark as the stuff is proven when he's on the mound.

I think puting Salazar on the block is a good idea. I don't know if someone would be willing to give what he is worth to this team, but I would find out. There again, his option makes him even more attractive to other teams. The problem with trading him is you would probably have to make a cut(Raburn) and a trade or two(Murphy and/or Bourn) to create a spot for the bat they received in return.

Tomlin may actually be attractive to other teams with his options remaining. He could be a good catch for a team like Oakland, San Diego, or any other club with a spacious park.
December 17, 2014 - 6:42 PM EST
I guess it's House, but I don't like it.
December 17, 2014 - 5:53 PM EST
I do think people are overreacting. Tony, among others like Bastian in the media and even Francona publicly stated the Indians wanted to add a veteran presence into the rotation. They did.

@Mike yes Callaway was interviewed by Jordan Bastian and released the story during the WM. More or less they want Salazar ready from the get go, rather than ease into the season like 2014. They are trying to get him to understand that he doesn't need to hold back early in the game, etc.
December 17, 2014 - 5:30 PM EST
About a week or so ago I recall Callaway saying something publicly about Salazar, implying (at least in my quick read) that he needed to start hard in 2015 instead of again easing his way into the new season. I wonder if that warning and this signing are related.
December 17, 2014 - 4:03 PM EST
I'm very happy about the Floyd signing. Gives us more options and with pitching you can never have too many of those! I wouldn't mind seeing mcAlister and Salazar in the bullpen if Francona thinks that's the best place for them to help the team win. Would still like to see them add a relief pitcher.
December 17, 2014 - 2:30 PM EST
Jimmy, you do realize that Billingsley was also injured last year, right?
December 17, 2014 - 2:05 PM EST
I'm fine with Floyd. His signing is not any different than any signing before him. There's risk with any player, not just ones coming off injury, no matter how freak the injury is.

And someone tell me why is it so bad that the Indians have too many solid options? Oh, well, once you starting thinking you have more than enough, guess what? You're on the waiver wire praying to find gold.
December 17, 2014 - 2:03 PM EST
Too many arms? A very good problem to have.
December 17, 2014 - 12:43 PM EST
I don't mind this signing. The sixth man in the rotation usually get plenty of work and that is probably more true when considering how young and unestablished our staff is. Heck, House was the 8th starter coming into last season. I'm much more comfortable with the sixth starter as House/Salzaar then Tomlin/Mcallister especially considering that we don't really have an any options after McAllister.
December 17, 2014 - 12:22 PM EST
I can tell you that Salazar is probably just as surprised to learn he has an option remaining as I am. He probably felt he was a sure thing to be on the staff, now not so much and could open in AAA. I haven't spoken to him specifically about it, but in talking to players about it in the past, the thought of going to AAA when they believe they should be in the bigs is a big issue for some. Hopefully not him (or House).

The reason Antonetti already noted the four set spots is because Kluber is a lock (duh!), Carrasco is out of options, Bauer is out of options and Floyd has a guaranteed deal and was signed to be in the rotation to start. Hard to have a competition when we know that for options/contract reasons who is already why it's just a fifth starter battle unless one of the other four get hurt.
December 17, 2014 - 12:17 PM EST
I'll go ahead and predict Salazar as the 5th and House as first call up. Tomlin to Cbus and McAllister as the Tribe's LR.

Floyd is going to have restrictions on him so McAllister will get plenty of work and House will see his time up here as well, no doubt about that.
December 17, 2014 - 12:09 PM EST
Make the kids work for it. Competition is good.

I have never heard so many complaints about a team having too many good pitchers!
Canadian Joe
December 17, 2014 - 12:02 PM EST
I do not believe either Salazar or House pitched themselves out of the rotation last year, so why are they not the incumbents for '15 with the others trying to break in. If injury or poor performance takes place, then whoever is pitching the best gets the start. This makes no sense. Handing Floyd a starting job when we don't know if he is healthy yet boggles the mind. The Indians have done some unusual things over the years, and this move is right up there. Male him earn the place, don't hand it to him. Wow !!!! Dumb. Have to reach for my Immodium !!!!
December 17, 2014 - 12:02 PM EST
The Floyd signing is a good one. There is no guarantee all of the young starters are going to stay injury free and be able to repeat what they did last year. Also one reason the stats look good for Salazar, House, etc is that Francona usually wouldn't let them pitch past the 5th inning. Getting a veteran starter with a track record was critical. And in this insane free agent market the price was right.

One thing I like is this gives the team the option of seeing what other teams might give up for Salazar or some of the controllable live arms the club has. Not saying I want to see Salazar go but I bet he has some real trade value.
December 17, 2014 - 11:22 AM EST
We had one of the best starting pitchers in he second half and now Chris wants to break that starting staff up. I don't understand why Floyd, who was hurt last year, would be replace a good health pitcher. Chris WHY, Floyd probably won't make it thru the spring. Some more wasted money, it instead of getting Billingsley, or some other free agent beside one that is hurt.
We signed Moss, great move but Floyd and made him a starter like we had no starters on the team.
What is going to happen if Floyd who is your no. 4 becomes no. 6 in spring due to performance. Will you man up.

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