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Tribe Happenings: Indians main focus will be on the rotation

Tribe Happenings: Indians main focus will be on the rotation
October 21, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians’ notebook…

Rotation concerns

The Indians main focus this offseason will be on upgrading their starting rotation. Yes, they have three holes in the lineup at designated hitter, first base and left field that need filled and will get some attention, but those are all going to take a clear backseat to getting their rotation in better shape going into next season.

Right now the Indians have “a collection of four and five starters” as a few industry personnel told me during conversations I had with a few scouts and executives out in Arizona last week. That’s the general overview of their starting staff, a view I believe is shared by the Indians themselves though would never admit so publicly.

Obviously the hope would be to find a front of the rotation starter in a trade or in free agency this offseason, but that would be a reach as that kind of pitcher is not expected to be available in a trade and they are impossible for the Indians to sign on the open market.  So where the Indians will need to turn their attention is on the guys that are middle of the rotation starter types that haul innings, keep their teams in games, and are consistent start to start. Starters that show flashes of brilliance and struggle from time to time, but when the season ends you can expect 10-14 wins, an ERA just below or above a 4.00, and solid peripherals.

These middle of the rotation types also do not come cheap, but if they can be had for three years or less and for $12 million or less per year, I think the Indians will be much more in the running for these kind of free agent pitchers than in years past because of their more aggressive approach to taking on risk that they have adopted this offseason. They will still prefer the one or two year deals, and even in those cases I could see them throwing extra money at a guy for one year to entice him to come to Cleveland, but those three year deals and those $10-12 million per year guys could now be on the radar.

The problem though is that there are not a lot of good free agent starting pitching arms out there. Once you move past Zach Greinke – who is not a realistic possibility – the pickings are slim in free agency with the likes of Edwin Jackson, Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, and Joe Saunders as some of the best starting pitchers available.

All of those pitchers except maybe Sanchez should fit into that three years or less and $10-12 million per year or less requirement I listed above.  Of those on that list, I would expect Jackson to be at or very near the top of their free agent wish list.

The Indians will also look to go the trade route to bolster their staff. There will certainly be a few “names” that come out of the woodwork as guys on the block once we get into the hot stove season, and I think the Indians will look to go that route not only to get a proven starter, but also to look for undervalued Major League ready guys that are blocked in other organizations.

If the Indians get a veteran or two to in some combination of free agency or the trade market to shoulder the load – not to be an ace but just lead the staff - it may take a huge burden off of someone like Justin Masterson so he can worry less about being the staff leader and just go out and perform. There is no denying his stuff as while he pitched like a middle to back of the rotation starter this past season, he has the stuff to be a solid #2 or #3 starter.

Also, with Ubaldo Jimenez in a less demanding role and in his free agent year, maybe his talents shine through more and he can more consistently show the flashes of his 2009-2010 self. The Indians are expected to pick up his 2013 club option, but no matter what, it looks like 2013 would be his last as an Indian. If he pitches well, then he will decline the mutual option for 2014 and look to strike in free agency for a new deal. If he pitches poorly the Indians will decline the mutual option for 2014 and let him become a free agent.

So either way the Jimenez Era looks like it will end after next season (or during it if he is traded), which means this coming season he is essentially pitching for his next contract, an incentive that can often lead to a lot of big years for players since the intensity and focus meter are pushed way up. Of course, this is Jimenez we are talking about, so who knows what we can expect from him in 2013. But the point is that he is expected to return next season and if the Indians can add two starters to the mix, the reliance on him to make meaningful starts becomes less and he can be the #4 or #5 starter on the staff rather than be so relied upon as a #2 or #3 starter.

The Indians also have a solid back of the rotation arm in Zach McAllister, though they should not go into the 2013 season relying on him to repeat his 2012 performance. Unproven young starters like him can lead to disappointment in their follow up seasons after solid rookie campaigns. The Indians had this happen recently with the likes of Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, and Roberto Hernandez (2007 was essentially his rookie season as he pitched just 74.2 innings in 2006). The Indians should pencil in McAllister for the final spot in the rotation, but go into spring training with him, Corey Kluber, Jeanmar Gomez and maybe a few minor free agent or trade pickups all in the mix for the final rotation spot.

The hope is that if the Indians can go out and acquire the right two guys to plug into the rotation that the rotation will show a marked improvement in 2013.   If Masterson can rebound to something more in the middle of his 2011 and 2012 seasons, Jimenez pitches for his next contract, the Indians sign or trade for two proven veteran starters that can haul innings and provide quality starts, and then you have McAllister, Kluber and others as depth and fighting for the #5 spot….the rotation has promise.

There would be no true ace of the staff or dominant starter, but if you have a rotation full of #3 and #4 starters then you have a chance to be in just about every game and get consistent outings. That’s what the Indians need more than anything from their starting staff.

A different search

The Indians’ quest for a new manager this offseason was much different than their manager search three years ago.

The Indians fired Manny Acta on September 27th, but just 11 days later they found his replacement in Terry Francona.  It was a search that was over before it started because of Francona’s strong interest in the job and the organization’s strong interest in him. In addition to that they had a strong secondary candidate in Sandy Alomar Jr. that is one of the better up-and-coming big league manager’s in the game. The Indians did not need to look much further than those two candidates, and that is exactly what they did as they interviewed both before quickly settling on Francona as the man to lead the Indians.

The search for a manager this offseason pales in comparison to the search three years ago when the Indians canned Eric Wedge. Like with Acta, the Indians fired Wedge with six games to go in the 2009 season, but the available pool of managerial candidates that offseason was poor, so the process took two weeks longer than it did this time around and the final candidates were less than appealing.

The Indians targeted John Farrell right out of the gates that offseason, in a way I would guess they did Francona this offseason. Even though they moved quickly on Farrell, the difference was he was not ready to leave Boston (or simply was being kind and wanted no part of going to Cleveland).  Once their #1 option Farrell went by the wayside in the 2009 offseason, they had to scramble for other options before they narrowed their choices down to Acta, Bobby Valentine, and Torey Lovullo.

At the time I felt the trio was weak, and in hindsight that has proven to definitely be true.  Acta lived up to his billing as a good guy that had problems connecting to his players and continued his inconsistent losing ways he had with the Nationals. Valentine looked disinterested throughout the entire interview process, and after witnessing the train wreck he was in Boston this year that is exactly what I feared happening with him if he got the Indians job three years ago. Lovullo up to that point had a very good career as a minor league manager, but I think at this point he is better served as an assistant coach on a big league staff rather than as the head guy.

The Indians ended up with Acta three years ago, a guy that you could say was the lesser of the three evils. But when you look back at the candidates then versus now with Francona and Alomar, it is night and day and it looks like the Indians could do no wrong with either choice as the guy to lead this team over the next several seasons.

Of course time will tell, so hopefully three years from now we are saying how great the Francona hiring was and not revisiting their 2012 coaching search as they finish up another manager search in 2015.

Alomar set to stay, others leave

Francona and the Indians front office are still finalizing the rest of the big league coaching staff. While lots of decisions have to be made with who they bring on board to fill out the staff and in what roles to place them in, it has been confirmed that Alomar Jr. has accepted a role on Francona’s staff, likely as bench coach.

While Alomar has officially agreed to return as a coach for the Indians next season and is under contract for one more year, the one thing that would keep him from making good on that agreement would be if he is named as a manager to another team. He is a candidate for many managerial openings this offseason, and is probably the favorite to land the Blue Jays job. Major League Baseball rules require all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a managerial opening, so because of his qualifications first and foremost and also his minority status, even if he does not land the Blue Jays job he will continue to be interviewed for any opening this offseason.

Another coach expected to officially join the staff any day is Brad Mills. He spent the last three years managing the Houston Astros before he was fired this past August. He has served in a variety of roles on Francona’s staff over the years, fulfilling first base coach duties and bench coach duties a majority of his time.  But with the possibility that Alomar Jr. remains with the club in a bench coach role, it is unknown as to what coaching role Mills would fill.

The announcement of Mills to the staff and the role he undertakes is probably on hold as Francona and the Indians await the fate of Alomar. If Alomar bolts for a manager gig elsewhere then Mills would fill the bench coach role, but if Alomar stays then Mills would have to fill another coaching role. I have a feeling that the Indians expect Alomar to get a manager’s gig as I just can’t see Mills filling any role but as bench coach.

Two staff members reported to be leaving is third base coach Steve Smith and hitting coach Bruce Fields. Smith is expected to step away from the game next season so he can spend time with his family, and Fields has already taken a job with another organization.

The status of pitching coach Ruben Niebla, bullpen coach Dave Miller, and first base coach Tom Wiedenbauer are unknown at this time. Due to the bullpen’s success this season it is possible that Miller returns in his bullpen coach role, but Francona will likely bring in a more experienced big league pitching coach and also fill in with a coach that he is more familiar with at first base. Even if Niebla and Miller do not return on the big league staff, I expect both to remain in the organization and fill a coaching or coordinator role in the farm system.

The Indians have at least one spot on the coaching staff filled with Alomar and Mills, but after them the Indians could really go in several hundred different directions to fill the final coaching vacancies. I would expect both the hitting coach and pitching coach to be experienced “been there, done that” coaches that they bring in, but the base coaches and other coaching roles could be filled with guys from within the system. I do not know who they are considering from outside the organization for some of those coaching roles, but I have to believe that a top internal option such as Mike Sarbaugh is strongly considered.

Sarbaugh is kind of where former Triple-A Columbus manager Torey Lovullo was three years ago as a manager that spent the last three seasons managing Triple-A that is ready for an opportunity to coach in the big leagues. I would be surprised if Sarbaugh is not on Francona’s staff and could see him as either the first or third base coach.

Also, a lot of people have made a big deal about the connections that Francona has with President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti, but he also has a connection with current Indians Field Minor League Coordinator Rob Leary from his days with the Red Sox. Leary was a staff assistant on Francona’s Major League staff in 2010-2011 and worked in their minor league system prior to that from 2002-2009. Due to that connection he could be another candidate for a spot as a coach on the big league staff, and could fill the role Alomar had from 2010-2011 as the first base coach and catching coach if Alomar departs.

The staff should start to take shape this week, and by the end of the month almost all of the coaches could be named to their respective posts.

LaPorta has another hip surgery

Indians outfielder and first baseman Matt LaPorta underwent a left hip arthroscopy Thursday morning in Nashville, TN. The surgery involved a debridement of the left hip joint and is the second time in three years he has had the surgery as he originally underwent the same surgery in October of 2009.  Recovery and rehab is expected to take three to four months and he is expected to be back 100% by the start of spring training without out any restrictions.

Whether by coincidence or not, LaPorta has struggled with hip, toe and ankle issues the past few years. I’m no medical doctor, but the “debridement” of the hip is interesting in that per the Manchester Knee and Hip Clinic, “If you have persistent hip pain or catching in your hip as a result of early hip osteoarthritis or a sporting injury, this procedure, either in isolation or in combination with a mini-hip incision and procedure known as 'hip debridement', may help relieve these problems.” Hopefully this procedure corrects whatever issue he is having with his hip and is simply not a band aid for a larger, recurring issue which affects his career going forward.

In any case, this is not the kind of news you want to hear about LaPorta as he enters into an important offseason for himself and the Indians. Instead of working on his game and preparing for a big spring training or potentially being a trade option for the Indians, he now will spend his entire offseason rehabbing from surgery.

It also looks all but certain that LaPorta will be an Indian come the start of spring training. It looks like he will need to remain on the 40-man throughout the offseason as - while I am not 100% certain on this rule - a player on the 40-man roster that is injured and rehabbing cannot be designated for assignment. It may or may not be a rule, but even if not it may be more of an unwritten rule where teams don’t dump injured players off the roster.

At this point in his career LaPorta has proven to be a very inconsistent and unreliable player going forward. He is also out of options, which means he has to make the opening day roster next season or be placed on waivers and clear them in order to be outrighted to the minors.

The Indians have big holes to fill this offseason at designated hitter, first base and left field, which are the three positions that LaPorta plays. But even before the surgery it looked very unlikely that he would seriously factor into any of those positions at the start of next season considering the limited looks the Indians gave him at any of those positions this past season. Even though the Indians cycled through a high amount of left fielders all season, the designated hitter position was opened up for a large chunk of the season due to Travis Hafner being hurt, and first base was a problem spot with the poor production of Casey Kotchman, the Indians never really gave LaPorta a shot.

As they say, actions speak louder than words, so if LaPorta was never really an option this past season when the Indians had needs all season at all three positions he plays, then why would he seriously be an option for them in 2013?

Besides, when LaPorta did get a chance in Cleveland this year it was the same old same old with him, and he may have been at his worst offensively when he was called up in September.  The writing is on the wall that he is not a serious candidate to be on the big league roster next season; just now the injury and rehab add yet more questions to his Indians’ future.

Parting shots

Outfielder Michael Brantley recently underwent surgery for a sports hernia on October 10th. His offseason and readiness for the 2013 will not be affected much if at all as the rehab will only take three to six weeks. He said the injury bothered him a lot in the second half of the season; however, he maintained his play and was his typical consistent self in the second half (.288/.366/.393) and a little bit better than he was in the first half (.288/.334/.409). … Right-hander Kevin Slowey is recovering from a stress fracture in his rib cage which prematurely ended his season just eight starts into the year at Triple-A Columbus. He is set to pitch winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but is expected to be non-tendered by the Indians this offseason and not return to the club.

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

October 23, 2012 - 8:24 AM EDT
Agreed Norm, hence why the article mentioned the Indians needed to add two arms that they can count on. Masterson and Jimenez are going to be counted on - whether that is good or bad - and then you just go with the best our of Carrasco, McAllister, Kluber, etc for the final spot or to fill for injury.

As for Beau Mills, he was traded to the Reds back in June.
October 23, 2012 - 2:57 AM EDT
Brad Mills Beau's father? He still in the system? Will Vizquel be on the staff?
October 22, 2012 - 8:12 PM EDT
Tony and Willy, as far as I can see we all feel the same about Carrasco. I really don't believe any Indians starting pitcher can be counted upon and Carrasco is no different even if the reasons aren't the same. It may not be 2013 but I think there is a distinct possibility Carrasco can be the FOR pitcher the Indians really need in their rotation. At this point though, that is just speculation.
October 22, 2012 - 6:31 PM EDT
Dick, thanks for the kind words. And don't goal is to always just be fair. No agendas.

Norm, I completely agree Carrasco is more talented. But, like I said, he is kind of an unknown next year and probably won't pitch the first month of the season, so why they can't go into the season relying on him. He should be in the mix for the 5th spot with McAllister and others.

As for Jackson being their #1 target, we will see. I just think that is the kind of starter they could go after. A proven innings eater that competes and puts up solid to very good numbers each year. Pretty much averaged 200 innings a year the past 5 seasons, won 10-14 games, and an ERA around 4.00
October 22, 2012 - 5:20 PM EDT
Rich check his stats again. Jackson is one of the more durable arms in baseball.
October 22, 2012 - 9:13 AM EDT
Edwin Jackson might be our #1 target? The guy was 10-11 for one of the best teams in the NL last year (Nationals) with a 4.03 ERA. That's a National League ERA, which probably converts to about a 4.40 in the AL. Still better than anybody we've got, but he earned $11 million last year.

He managed to start only 19 and 13 games in 2010 and 2011, so even though he's only 29, he hasn't been able to consistently show up every five days.

If this is our best case scenario, we're in pretty bad shape.
October 22, 2012 - 9:01 AM EDT
Completely agree on Carrasco. He's a very talented arm and truth be told kids pitched with an injured elbow since he's been 14?. I think he's the type that could easily become a 2/3 starter. I look forward to his return this season. Hopefully the Tribe holds him off early. Im looking for a strong return and his velocity will be nice to see in the rotation.
October 22, 2012 - 8:13 AM EDT
Tony, I think the difference with Carrasco is talent. I understand the story of his undiagnosed(for a long time) injury and his strong recovery is pretty compelling. Pretty good story for a good writer like McGavin IMO. Just think his upside is much higher than our run of the mill BOR mix.
October 22, 2012 - 8:10 AM EDT
LaPorta's performance speaks for itself.
Hope that he gets fixed up and then turns his career around.
But after years of anticipating the same sort of rebound from Hafner, it seems fools gold.

Tony's work is always substantive and never verbose. Now Jim Pete on the other hand, dude writes short stories instead of articles. But I am cool with that. Some people just have that blogger mentality and I appreciate having IPI to go to for Tribe insights. Lotsa info and reasoned criticism re Tribe affairs

Sad to say it but I finally dumped clevefan from my bookmarks. Oh so much cynicism and self aggrandizement. Please keep IPI from that road that so many sports websites follow.
October 21, 2012 - 8:46 PM EDT
Who ripped LaPorta's performance? I didn't see anyone comment as such and I didn't write anything that tore apart his performance.
October 21, 2012 - 8:20 PM EDT
Why do you tell us about LaPorta's injury, which obviously was bothering him in Sep, and then rip Laporta's performance in Sep? I don't get it.
October 21, 2012 - 7:50 PM EDT
Thanks for the kind comments. Like I said, some things here are not for everyone....but we try to appeal to most fans and when we write I always encourage to be thorough. When you make a statement, don't follow up with a simple one sentence answer to explain....go into detail in a concise manner but also bring up lots points to explain it.

As for Carrasco....I did forget to list him Norm....though he is in that same mix in spring training as a guy battling for a backend role. Coming off injury and not pitching in 2011, he is simply not someone that can count on. He will be limited with his innings, and knowing the Indians they will limit him on the front end and have him open the season the first month in extended spring training.

And Jim...."who gives a sh*t, it's gone."
October 21, 2012 - 6:33 PM EDT
Yo Tony...

"It's too high..."
October 21, 2012 - 5:36 PM EDT
Hi Tony, As you know, I edit books for a living and I do not find this particular article offensive. Pretty solid from an editor's view IMO. As an Indians fan, I was wondering how you overlook Carrasco who may be better than any pitcher than any pitcher they can reasonably expect to acquire. Granted, he will probably be on restricted innings but I would expect 160 IP from him. I project that Carrasco will be to the Philadelphia trade that Brantley has been to the Milwaukee trade and Masterson to the Red Sox trade. But that is just my opinion.
October 21, 2012 - 4:21 PM EDT
The "too long" "thought is a product of the twitter world quick instant fix mode some are in now - attention spans are lessening for many..

The articles are great, the longer the better, some of us still aprreciate thoroughness and can never get too many tidbits about our Tribe.

I like where I think our coaching staff is headed and hope Sarbaugh indeed is here, he's earned it.
October 21, 2012 - 3:19 PM EDT
Too long? What a silly comment.

Between here and the SBN blog this is the best Indians info you will find anyplace. If these articles are too long, then stick to reading Hoynes and the PD.

Keep up the great work.
On a different note: think the Indians would be interested in Jonny Gomes? I heard the Athletics might be parting ways.
matt underwood
October 21, 2012 - 3:19 PM EDT
And to think we had 2 Cy Young winners on this team no more than 5 years ago...

With such gaping hole sin the rotation and no help in sight, it is amazing that they are not going Full Rebuild. You can't win without pitching and this team has none - zero. They do not have one reliable guy in the rotation that can be counted on. Why not re-boot the "cycle" and shoot for 2015? this team is not going to compete for anything more than 3rd place as we all know they will not bring in the players needed to compete.
October 21, 2012 - 2:12 PM EDT
First, Tony and all the staff who writes, etc. thank you, your hard work and dedication is appreciated. I understand full well how time consuming writing and just keeping up can be. Thank you, to all of you for all those times you keep 'pushing' when there are other, sometimes even more important, demanding and necessary things to do.

Second, if any format etc. is too long / too much info. to digest for your liking only eat what you like from the plate.

Finally, I could see the Tribe making several moves to add pitching. I think if they are serious they try to at least land a guy like Sanchez, Marcum, Jackson and follow that up with one of Liriano, Saunders, Guthrie or even Blanton. That said there are names floating out there like Niese, Vargas, D. Holland and Shields that the Tribe should at least have some serious interest in.
October 21, 2012 - 1:52 PM EDT
T, I appreciate the comment and agree with you. However, the point of Tribe Happenings is not limited to normal journalist guidelines that are limited more for space in a paper than anything. With the web it allows the freedom to go more in depth with things and not be limited by space. Also, Tribe Happenings is essentially five to six articles in itself, a mini paper I guess you could say that touches on several different topics. Each topic is typically no longer than 800-900 words, some much shorter than that. It is basically five to six articles into one large article each Sunday to kind of catch up on everything with the Indians but also expound on those things. For example all the news sites mentioned laporta's surgery this week, but nothing about his future and roster status and other things. That's the extra step in talking about these things I like to do with happenings. Some may like it, some may can't make everyone happy lol.
October 21, 2012 - 1:46 PM EDT
Just keep doing like you have been Tony. It's great work and appreciated by many......
October 21, 2012 - 1:37 PM EDT
Articles that are informative and insightful are for the well read & interested fan. Those alleged fans that have limited attention spans should get their information from, where short whiny useless articles can be found !!..
October 21, 2012 - 12:35 PM EDT
These articles are just so long. Journalists are normally encouraged to be concise. Just a suggestion.

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