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Tribe Happenings: Indians are running out of time with McAllister

Tribe Happenings: Indians are running out of time with McAllister
Zach McAllister (Photo: AP)
August 4, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

McAllister’s inconsistency continues

Time is running out for Zach McAllister and the Indians. Not only time on this season, but next season as well.

That is because after this season McAllister should be out of options. Judging by his inconsistent performance to date that puts the Indians in a tough spot this offseason and next spring whether to lock him into a rotation spot or have to trade him or possibly lose him on waivers at the end of spring training. At this point it would be tough to insert him into the starting rotation even as the fifth starter at the outset of next season because of how poor he has pitched this season. It is like deja vu all over again with Carlos Carrasco last season.

McAllister, 26, is 3-6 with a 5.91 ERA in 14 starts for the Indians this season. In 67.0 innings he has allowed 76 hits, 7 homers, 26 walks and has 54 strikeouts. The peripherals with his 3.5 BB/9 and 7.3 K/9 are actually solid, it is the high amount of hits he is allowing and his fastball command which has haunted him this season. He has even struggled a little with some injuries which have set him back.

This is why it is so important for McAllister to go back to Triple-A Columbus and get things in order. The Indians optioned him out over the weekend and at least for now the plan is to keep him there so that he can work in a low pressure environment on some mechanical changes and overcome some mental obstacles that have hindered his consistency this season.

McAllister has actually pitched better than his ERA suggests as he has a 4.05 FIP and 4.27 xFIP, which is not a surprise given the Indians poor infield defense this season and him beig a groundball pitcher. But his fastball command has been erratic; not with walking guys but locating it down in the zone as he has paid dearly for several big misses with it all season. Considering he throws his fastball 72.3% of the time, he really needs to work on fine tuning the command and control of it and work it more effectively down in the zone – especially since it is his best pitch and has good sinking action to get groundballs.

You also have to wonder about the pitch usage. Not only is he throwing his fastball almost three-fourths of the time, but he is throwing his curveball much less this season (8.1% of the time compared to 12.6% of the time last year). He has increased his changeup use from 6.3% last season to 8.5% this season, and the biggest change has been the addition of a slider to his arsenal which  he added in the offseason and has thrown 11.1% of the time this season as his main secondary offering. You have to wonder if the finger ailment from last season has affected him not only mentally but physically as well which is the reason behind the change behind his pitch mix and usage.

The other thing that this move to Columbus will do is allow McAllister to catch his breath and work to rebuild his confidence. With improved confidence and better fastball command it could be the difference in getting him back to being the quality, innings eating workhorse the Indians need in the rotation.  Obviously that is a big need and considering that time with him is quickly running out, they need to do everything they can these final two months and then this offseason to get him back in line to be a legitimate option for them to start next season.

At this point, barring an injury, McAllister should stay in Columbus the rest of the season and then maybe return when rosters expand in September to help the Indians out as an extra starter

So long Cabrera and Masterson….hello Walters and Ramsey

The Indians completed two deals last week that hardly came as a surprise when they traded away shortstopAsdrubal Cabrera and right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. Both were free agents at the end of the season and were unlikely to be resigned.

Cabrera, 28, hit .246 with 9 HR, 40 RBI and .692 OPS in 97 games with the Indians this season. His performance overall this season has been a disappointment, especially with him in a free agent year. His defense continues to regress and his performance at the plate remains inconsistent. His power as a middle infielder (.140 career isolated power) is what makes him most appealing, but his approach has really dropped off the table the past two seasons with a .299 on-base percentage last season and a .304 on-base percentage this season.

Cabrera is still in the prime of his career and is a player who will probably fetch some interest from teams looking to shore up a need at shortstop or second base this offseason. Because he is still under 30 years of age, has a solid career to date and plays a position of need, he could be one of the more attractive mid-level free agents this offseason.

Masterson, 29, had a rough season with the Indians compiling a 4-6 record and 5.51 ERA in 19 starts. In 98.0 innings he allowed 106 hits, 6 home runs, 56 walks and had 93 strikeouts. His strikeouts were right in line with his big total from last year and actually above career norms, but it has been his inconsistent command all season which has led to a career high walk rate of 5.1 BB/9. He has also seen a 2-3 MPH drop in his average fastball command, which may be related to a knee injury he has struggled with the past month or have something to do with an injury to his arm which has yet to be found or disclosed.

At the outset of the season Masterson looked to be in line for a big deal as a free agent, but now questions with his health and performance will no doubt limit what kind of deal he is able to get. He may have to accept a one year deal from someone in order to re-establish himself with a strong season next year so that he is still able to get a sizable multi-year deal the following offseason and would still only be 30 years old.

With the exodus of the inconsistent Cabrera and Masterson, it by no means is a sign that the Indians have put up the white flag for this season. Neither player has had much of an impact on the team this season, in fact, both players combined have actually hurt the success of the team this season. With Masterson gone it will allow promising lefty T.J. House to stick in the rotation and establish himself as a solid back of the rotation option for the Indians the next several years. Cabrera’s departure will allow Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez to fill in adequately at shortstop until Francisco Lindor is deemed ready to help the team – likely this September or early next season.

But even while Cabrera and Masterson were no longer long-term fits for the organization, were both having poor seasons and were expensive two-month rentals for their acquiring teams the Indians were able to swing deals for two minor league players which can help the Indians in the very immediate future. They acquired two bats in outfielder James Ramsey and infielder Zach Walters who are not lower level minor league prospects with a long way to go to prove themselves, but as near Major League ready players who simply just need an opportunity at the Major League level to prove they beong.

We all would have preferred the Indians acquire pitching as that is their greatest need, but in reality they simply were not going to get anyone of notable worth and more than a backend rotation arm, so they went for their next greatest need which is power.

Ramsey does not really provide a lot of power, but he has some juice in his bat. He is also very versatile in the outfield, can run a little, has a good approach and is an exceptional makeup guy. He has been blocked in a Cardinals system loaded with outfielders in the upper levels, so he should get his chance to shine now that he is in the Indians system. He is not currently on the 40-man roster and does not need to be added this offseason, so the chances of him being added as a September callup in Cleveland appear remote – but he should be in the mix to help the Indians out at some point next season and is an interesting trade chip that they can use as part of a large deal this offseason to acquire a pitcher.

Walters without question brings some very interesting power to the organization. That’s the one tool that is so exciting about him and what really drew the Indians to him. Finding young right-handed power is a tough task to find in the trade market since it is so scarce and when teams have it they don’t want to give up on it. While Walters is not a right-handed hitter, he is a switch-hitter so he offers up power from both sides and provides a lot of matchup options not just with his ability to hit from both sides of the plate but his ability to handle third base, shortstop, second base and maybe even some corner outfield.

Ramsey and Walters are probably not future All Stars in the making, but let’s also remember that these are the kind of deals the Indians have really thrived at in recent years. They have flipped many average or below performing Major League players in pre-deadline deals in the past into some pretty good players. They did it withEduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera, Ben Broussard for Shin-Soo ChooCasey Blake for Carlos SantanaEsmil Rogers for Yan GomesJake Westbrook for Corey Kluber and Austin Kearns for Zach McAllister. Those kind of deals are what have really helped them stay above water in recent years considering their problems with the draft up until the past few years and their limitations with spending in free agency.

If past success with these kinds of deals is any barometer of what we should expect from Ramsey and Walters, it should be that there is a good chance that both will end up at least being solid contributors to the team for the next five to seven years.

These two trades also eliminate all doubts with roster control going into the offseason as the Indians control every player remaining on the roster. The only free agent-to-be left is Jason Giambi and he is expected to retire at the end of the season. Everyone else is either signed for 2015 or longer, is arbitration eligible or under pre-arbitration control.

2015 Tribe

Amazingly, for as inconsistent as the Indians have been this season and being forced to trade Masterson and Cabrera, they are a game above .500 and only three games out of the wildcard race. They were 4.5 games out of the wildcard going into September last year, so there is no doubt time for them to make a move – especially when you consider they have yet to have a strong stretch of good play this season.

That said, my expectation is that the Indians will not make the playoffs and will fade from contention in September. The inconsistency in the rotation is the biggest reason for that as beyond Corey Kluber you just don’t know what to expect. Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar are certainly interesting and capable of lighting it up these final eight weeks and T.J. House could be solid, but they will be hard-pressed to match the finish that Scott Kazmir andUbaldo Jimenez had last season to drive the Indians to the playoffs. They also don’t have a healthy Justin Masterson or a phenom pitcher from the minors to bring up like they did with Salazar.

So while I will be rooting them on for the remainder of the season and following the playoff race very closely, I will do so with the understanding that my expectations are limited and with an eye toward next season.

There is some sentiment that the Indians should just blow everything up and reload for two to three years from now, but I disagree with that. The pieces are in place to win now; they just need to make the two or three right moves this offseason to push themselves over the top. When I look at the lineup next year, I see promise:

1. Jason Kipnis, 2B
2. Francisco Lindor, SS
3. Michael Brantley, LF
4. Carlos Santana, 1B
5. FA/trade right-handed bat
6. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
7. Yan Gomes, C
8. Nick Swisher, DH
9. Michael Bourn, CF

It is a sad reality to see the two big money acquisitions from last season hitting eighth and ninth in the lineup, but at this point you have to set your roster and lineup based on what the player can do and not what they are getting paid. Whether or not Terry Francona does that remains to be seen, but that is where both of them should be hitting at this point.

As you can see, the Indians have a big hole in the middle of the lineup and need a right-handed bat. And as you can see I don’t have David Murphy in the lineup. Whether or not they trade or sign a bat to plug into that five-hole (or cleanup spot) is iffy, but it is one of the greatest needs of the team and has been for years. If you are able to add a right-handed bat with power and run producing capabilities into the middle of the lineup, suddenly the lineup looks rather good overall.

Imagine a Nelson Cruz hitting fifth (or fourth with Santana fifth). That’s obviously a pipedream, but even if you get 75% the player that Cruz has been and insert him into that spot the lineup suddenly is much better and balanced overall. Who that player is and if they are available remains to be seen, but it should be something the Indians pull out all the stops to try and acquire this offseason. It would probably mean they have to move one of Bourn or Murphy in order to clear the space on the roster and their payroll to do it, which adds a layer of complexity to it, but is still something they should pursue regardless.

Lindor will probably need some time to adjust to the big leagues and he may not even join the team until May or June next season, but if the Indians settle with him and Kipnis in the top two spots in the lineup by June next year it should make for a pretty significant improvement to the quality of at bats from the top two spots of the lineup which have mostly been filled by Bourn and Cabrera the last two seasons.

In the rotation, Kluber has established himself as a staff ace and one of the better pitchers in baseball. With that kind of guy in the rotation, it makes things easier to fill in the rest of the staff. They have two very promising pitchers in Bauer and Salazar who could be the number two and three options on this staff for years to come and they have some interesting backend options with House, McAllister and Josh Tomlin. What they need to pull it all together is a veteran innings eating middle of the rotation guy.  There will be some interesting starting pitchers of that caliber available this offseason and who should not require more than a one or two year deal, so you can bet that will be one of the Indians top target this offseason.

The bullpen is rock solid with Cody AllenBryan Shaw, Carlos Carrasco, Mark Rzepczynski, Kyle CrockettScott Atchison and John Axford all under control for next season. They also have an impressive layer of bullpen depth behind them which may allow them to non-tender Axford who will be expensive to keep in arbitration. If the Indians do anything on the bullpen front it will probably be to add a couple veteran arms on a minor league deal similar to what they did with Atchison this past offseason.

The bench looks to be comprised of Roberto Perez as the backup catcher, either Mike Aviles or Jose Ramirez as the utility infielder, and Ryan Raburn as the fourth outfielder. The Indians have options to add to the bench or to replace someone like Raburn who might be traded in the offseason or let go in spring training. With the newly acquired Walters along with others like Tyler Holt and Jesus Aguilar, they have various options to round out the bench.

Bottom line, if the Indians are able to avoid any significant injuries the rest of this season, they have the pieces in place to continue to compete next season. Their needs are defined in that they need to find that innings eating middle of the rotation starter and a right-handed middle of the order bat to push them over the top. Finding those two needs will be difficult given the limitations the Indians have with their payroll and the scarcity of such players, but if they are aggressive and make the right calls it no doubt can be done.

Swisher out?

Nick Swisher suffered a mild right wrist sprain swinging the bat in the game on Sunday and was removed in the ninth inning. The injury does not sound serious, but considering how much he has struggled this season and how the Indians could use a spark to the lineup from a younger player, it would not surprise if he is placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Swisher, 33, is having a forgettable season hitting just .213 with 8 HR, 42 RBI and .627 OPS in 92 games. He is an owner of a career .202 isolated power percentage, yet his ability to drive the ball has deteriorated significantly this season as he has a career low .342 slugging percentage (by almost 100 points) and a .129 ISO. A big reason for that is the decline in his bat speed, something that may have to do with him getting older and also with some shoulder issues he has dealt with the past two seasons.

This wrist injury could be an opportune time to sit Swisher and let him get healed both physically and mentally so he can be the player the Indians still believe he can be. While he is such an important leader for the team and brings so much energy to the club, his year-long struggles have done nothing but hurt the team up to this point.

If Swisher were to land on the disabled list it would be a good opportunity for the Indians to call up the recently acquired Zach Walters. His ability to switch hit with some power and the ability to play multiple positions would really fit in well on the bench, and he also brings some Major League experience to boot. Another option could be Jesus Aguilar, but he is limited to first base and designated hitter only, so Walters may be more attractive from a versatility standpoint with matchups and the positions he can play.

Parting shots

On Saturday Michael Bourn progressed to running bases in his rehab from his strained left hamstring. He is expected to run the bases again today (Monday) and a decision on a rehab assignment to the minors could be made shortly after that. If he goes on a rehab assignment sometime this week he will probably need at least three to five games before he can return to the Indians lineup. … Right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum is back on the mound and began a rehab assignment with the rookie level AZL club on Friday. He threw two shutout innings and allowed one hit on one walk and had three strikeouts. It will be interesting to see how he progresses, but it should not be expected that he pitches with the Indian this season. … Right-handed pitcher Tyler Cloyd pitched a no-hitter last Wednesday and has been impressive of late at Triple-A Columbus. Overall he is 9-5 with a 3.91 ERA and is an option for the Indians if they have a starting pitching need the remainder of this season. While the Indians will rely on their current five starters and Zach McAllister as the sixth starter, if injuries crop up and force the Indians to dig into the minors he should get a call.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Nick S
August 5, 2014 - 12:49 PM EDT
Put Kipnis Back to Outfield. He played there At ariz . St. .Urshela needs to playing 3b nexty ear. Infield D. must shored up. Too many unearned runs this year!
August 5, 2014 - 10:33 AM EDT
If JRam can hit MLB pitching, he needs to be the 2B in my opinion, but what do you do with Kipnis? Aguilar may be the answer for the #5 spot in the lineup. I like the potential of Walters and Ramsey. I think it's time to find out their abilities before the season ends.
August 5, 2014 - 8:38 AM EDT
You're right, shy, on Chisenhall/Brantley. Good catch. Your posts are great, by the way.
August 4, 2014 - 11:46 PM EDT
This is a breakthrough year for Chisenhall- he is a good hitter w pop and his third base is steadily improving. Soft hands, pretty good range, and a strong arm. That said, Brantley stole the sign from the catcher and tipped the HR pitch to Chiz during the windup. Watch the video. The catcher puts the one finger down, Chiz sneaks a glance at Brantley who lifts his right forearm to his mouth. That little dance they did together after the HR was the kicker. No big deal of course. Stealing signs w a runner on second is something all teams do- I'm just a little surprised the Cinci catcher didn't make any effort to disguise it. As for McCallister he threw a two seam forky sinker last year and was very effective until he injured his finger. Has not been throwing it this year and throwing a lot more fly balls including some long ones. I don't know why he doesn't go back to it, maybe fear of injury again. He's going to have to spend the winter toughening up the finger, because that pitch is the difference between him being an MLB number front end guy and a triple A guy.
August 4, 2014 - 7:42 PM EDT
In my mind, Tony, unless your right-handed power bat and starting pitcher are real studs, you're just putting perfume on a .500 pig.
August 4, 2014 - 7:01 PM EDT
Nice article. A few random thoughts

Yes we can use pitching but hitting has been so inconsistent. We score 9 runs in four losses to min and kc which was a killer. We should have easily swept that bad min team and should have had no worse than split with kc if we get just decent hitting. I know the numbers show we are decent hitting but we are way to Jekyll Hyde. Way to many guys having bad years or just to unreliable.

Bourn and swish have been busts. Kipnis is at .239 and Murphy inconsistent. Cabby gone. Brantley is a stud. Gomes should be much higher in order. Santana, not sure what to expect. Hot and cold. Has never hit .270! Lonnie had 2 good months. Not a fan but hope I'm wrong.

Agree we don't have it this year. Too inconsistent and too many teams ahead of us.

Next year find a cleanup up guy and leadoff hitter, don't have either. Dump raburn. Dump bourn and eat salary if needed. Stuck with swish. Move Murphy but not a bad platoon guy if we have to keep him.

Want to give a few younger athletic guys a legit shot. Lindor up by late spring or sooner. Walters, naquin? Can aguilar be a run producer? Time to give a few guys a chance.
C L Who
August 4, 2014 - 4:28 PM EDT
Personally, I'd rather see rookies fill Bourn and Swisher's roles.....perhaps Holt and Aguilar? At a combined $1 MM for both, the Tribe could afford to eat $9 MM of Swisher's salary for 2 years and trade him. Bourn I like, but he's hurt alot, doesn't steal any longer, a poor choice for leadoff batter, and about the streakiest player around. I believe he is tradeable, much more so than Swish, without taking an enormous hit in cash payout.
I feel about Walters as Chip does about Aguilar......doesn't look like much for him to prove in AAA and he is currently hammering the ball. Bring him up already!
Is Marcum actually signed for 2015?
August 4, 2014 - 4:25 PM EDT
chip that is making a huge assumption. Bourn would be difficult to deal and they wont eat his contract so brantley remains in LF until CF position becomes available. I tend to think that bourn has a hamstring that may be shot. Juan Gonzo had his career end sooner than he expected due to brittle hamstring muscle and it is looking more and more like bourn is in the sunset of his major league career but there are 25 million reasons for him to continue to try to come to fulfill the back two years of the contract. It is rare when i look back at 55 yrs of following baseball i cant think of anyone who had surgery on hamstring.
August 4, 2014 - 4:23 PM EDT
That 75% of N.Cruz RHB might already be on the roster right under our noses in Yan Gomes. Seriously
August 4, 2014 - 3:45 PM EDT
My expectations are the same, although I'm still hopeful reality suggest the playoffs will not happen. As far as replacing Swisher, I hope it's Aguilar. He needs to be in the bigs now. There is nothing left for him to do in Columbus and any development left needs to happen in Cleveland. I hope we don't relegate Walters to a "versatile" player. He needs to be the right fielder now and move Murphy to his natural position of LF. Let someone like Aviles be the "versatile" player. Every team needs one, not 5.
August 4, 2014 - 3:36 PM EDT
Man, batting Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn 8th and 9th...that is hard to think about. At least we didn't sign Ubaldo.

I wonder what the Indians could get (in terms of pitching) for Corey Kluber? I know people would say, "No way do we deal him!" but the guy's trade value is never going to be higher. Just sayin'
August 4, 2014 - 2:56 PM EDT
Nick "Crazy Guggenheim" Swisher needs to go!
August 4, 2014 - 2:51 PM EDT
Thanks Mike. Anything can happen, but I wouldn't expect Marcum to get a token ML appearance in September. They already know what he can pretty much offer him this year.....and as for beyond this season that will be mostly determined by his outings in the minors. I don't think he is worth adding to the 40-man and losing a player unless they are 60-daying someone. And he's only going to get a minor league deal in the offseason I would not be surprised if he pitches next season if he is back with the Indians.
MT88 in WI
August 4, 2014 - 2:34 PM EDT
Tony - Nicely done as always. Question about Marcum: although wise not to expect anything from him this year (at this point), if out of contention might the Tribe try to get one or two major league appearances out him to see if he is someone to resign for 2015 depth and experience??

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