Tribe Happenings: Salazar role could be up for debate
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
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Time to consider options with Salazar?
Before I get into this I want to note that there are no rumors that Danny Salazar could be traded nor have I heard something that the Indians are shopping him. I'm also not advovcating a move to the bullpen right now. I think he is a heck of a pitcher and prefer he stays with the Indians for a long time in their starting rotation. That said, it would take the right deal, but the Indians may want to consider dealing him if that right deal were to come along.
Why trade him?
Salazar has had injury concerns and been handled with kid gloves pretty much ever since he injured his right elbow in 2010. The fragility with which he has been handled the past three seasons is part the Indians doing everything they can to ensure he completely recovered from Tommy John surgery, but also concerns over his durability. He’s not the biggest and strongest pitcher you will find as he is just six-feet tall and 190 pounds so there is always a question as to whether his body and arm will hold up over the rigors of a full season in the starting rotation.
Salazar has yet to prove himself over a full season. The talent and ability no doubt is there, but in eight pro seasons he has pitched over 100 innings just three times. Two of those have come in the last two seasons when he totaled 145 innings in 2013 and 170.2 innings last season. He looks to be trending upward in the innings pitched department, but even last season when he threw all of those innings he battled some arm discomfort and consistency issues in the first half of the season.
Because of Salazar’s limited track record of pitching a full season, the Indians were actually granted a fourth option year for him this coming season. That is amazing considering he is going into his ninth season next year, but it shows how injuries have limited him to less than 90 days on an active roster in four of those previous eight seasons – and any player who is out of options but has less than five seasons with 90 days active on a roster is eligible for that fourth option year.
Why do you keep him?
Salazar is an electrifying arm with the ability to dominate a game with his upper 90s fastball and very good changeup. He has six years of club control remaining and will cost the Major League minimum for the next two seasons, which is very valuable when you consider that average free agent starters get $9-11 million per year or more in free agency these days. If he puts it all together and is more consistent locating down in the zone and mixing in quality sliders he has the upside to be a good number two or three starter in the Indians rotation for a long time.
What about a move to the bullpen?
We are probably a year away from such a discussion as Salazar does have that option left and if he does not make the Indians opening day rotation they would probably prefer he starts regularly at Triple-A Columbus to be the first arm called upon when a need arises. But while Salazar - or any pitcher for that matter - offers more value in the rotation because of the amount of innings pitched as a starter versus a reliever, the bullpen may be a place he truly impacts at the Major League level over the long haul.
The Indians have a good late inning right-handed tandem in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw along with a good left-handed tandem in Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Crockett; however, they are still lacking that one arm to bridge the gap and make it a truly dominant bullpen. Manager Terry Francona had to go to them a lot last season partly because the starters failed to go five or six innings the first half off the season, but also because beyond those four pen arms he did not really trust anyone but Scott Atchison. Adding in another arm like Salazar into the bullpen mix could impact the way that Wade Davis – a failed starter with injury issues and great stuff – did for the Royals last season.
What happens if Salazar loses out on the fifth starter role?
While it makes sense to send him to Triple-A Columbus to continue to start and be the first option up when a need arises, you wonder whether he might be more valuable to keep around in the pen. Lots of teams have done this with arms like Salazar, and if the need came up for a starter the Indians could always build Salazar up rather quickly. I don't see it shaking out like this, but this could be what happens to him the following year if he struggles with health and consistency this coming season. It happened to Carlos Carrasco in 2014, will probably happen to Zach McAllister in 2015 and Salazar could follow suit in 2016 as an out of options player who has to spend a good amount of time in the bullpen that season.
Such is the balance at this time in the offseason as teams assess their needs and where they can afford to take risk and lose assets to fill those needs.
There are a lot of things that would probably have to happen first before the Indians consider trading someone like Salazar for a need elsewhere on the roster, such as a right-handed bat. First and foremost they would have to trade Nick Swisher to get the salary relief needed to get one. Swisher is coming off a poor season, just had double knee surgery and has a bad contract, so that pretty much throws any chance at a deal for a big bat out the window.
Everyone knows the Indians could use some right-handed power in the lineup, but it is a scarce resource around the league. The law of supply and demand in economics tells us when the supply is low and the demand is high the price will be high. To get a big right-handed bat you either have to overpay in terms of prospect currency in a trade or you have to be willing to overspend in cash through free agency.
But let’s say the Indians were able to trade Swisher and are able to acquire a right-handed bat along the lines of some of the other big right-handed bats dealt this offseason in a deal centered around Salazar. Do you make the trade?
Knowing Salazar’s health history, consistency issues and lack of roster flexibility, it would be something to consider. It would be tough to lose the six years of control and cost efficient contract he provides, and even if he fails as a starter has the potential to be a dynamite backend reliever.
It is a moot point now, however, as most of the big right-handed bats like Josh Donaldson, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers and others have already been dealt. There does not appear to be anyone available worth considering for a trade this offseason for the likes of Salazar, but it could be something to revisit around the trade deadline in July.
The way things sit right now Salazar will be in a big battle this spring with Zach McAllister, T.J. House and Josh Tomlin for the final spot in the Indians rotation. The Indians are set on Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Gavin Floyd as the first four arms in the rotation, so assuming those four are healthy it should be a strong competition for that final spot.
Like I said, I prefer to keep Salazar. I think he could be a good starting pitcher for the Indians or at worst a very nice backend pen arm. But the durability issues, consistency issues and roster flexibility issues that stand before him and the Indians are enough for me to listen to offers for him or consider a role change if needed. Sometimes you need to be proactive on such a player and strike before you are forced into a corner with them.
Murphy trade not a sure thing
Since the Indians acquired Brandon Moss in a trade two weeks ago the prevailing sentiment has been that incumbent right fielder David Murphy would be dealt at some point this offseason. Seeing how Moss is a left-handed hitter like Murphy, Nick Swisher appears locked for regular DH duties and Carlos Santana has found a home at first base, there does not appear to be a place for Murphy on the roster.
But hold on a second.
With Swisher coming off double knee surgery in August and Moss coming off a hip surgery this offseason, the Indians may be wise to hold onto Murphy as Plan B if one of the two has a setback this spring and has to start the season on the disabled list. In this case it is entirely possible that the Indians keep Murphy around during spring training as a solid fallback option if Swisher or Moss go down with an injury, or even if someone like Santana, Michael Brantley or Michael Bourn come up lame.
The Indians believe Swisher and Moss will be ready this spring and that they will start the season on time, but as we all know none of this is ever known for certain until a player goes out onto the field in spring training to start workouts and plays in games. Players that are not 100% are typically sifted out of the player mix over the course of the six weeks in Arizona.
So what happens if everyone is healthy and good to go for the start of the season?
If this happens, then the Indians could open the season with Murphy as their fourth outfielder. Ryan Raburn would become the fourth man on the bench meaning they would have to open the season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players – a rare setup in the Francona years as he often has preferred to have 13 pitchers and 12 position players on his roster. With four off days the first two and a half weeks of the season, there won’t be as much of a need for that eighth bullpen arm, so it would mean that Murphy is on the roster instead of someone like C.C. Lee.
The Indians could also explore a trade of Murphy at the end of spring training. By then they will have gotten a much clearer outlook on Moss and Swisher by that point and will know how they stand physically going into the season.
Either way, the Indians will figure it out. They are currently in no position where they have to trade Murphy, so they can sit back and wait for a good offer to come along this offseason, and if not, just go to spring training with him and see what happens. He’s a solid insurance policy for relatively cheap at $6.5 million to hold onto while they consider all of those possibilities.
Indians first base prospect Jesus Aguilar has been battling a right foot injury he originally sustained in a game on November 20th. Since then he has been in and out of the lineup for his Leones del Caracas team in the Venezuela Winter League playing in just six games.
According to a report in El Diario de Los Andes, late last week Aguilar finally decided it was best to stop playing and rest his foot as the discomfort has continued and not gone away. He had an ultrasound on the foot and is getting treatment for it. He will stay with his team through the completion of their winter ball season to give them support, but he is a big loss to the lineup as he was hitting .303 with 4 homers, 18 RBI and .819 OPS in 29 games.
This is not good news and the hope is that over the next several weeks leading up into spring training that the foot issue is resolved. Aguilar is one of the Indians few sources of right-handed power and they may need him at some point this coming season, so the hope is this foot injury is not something that lingers next season and affects his play.
This is the second notable injury the Indians have sustained to a key prospect this offseason in Venezuela as third baseman Giovanny Urshela had his winter ball campaign cut short with a knee injury on November 15th.
Right-handed pitcher Bryan Price has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Columbus. He was DFAed when the Indians acquired Moss. He is the Indians property as an unrostered player for the 2015 season. … There is still no word on the status of Nick Maronde who was DFAed last week after Gavin Floyd was signed. A resolution on his roster status should come in the next few days. … The Indians have announced that Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley have been added to the Tribe Fest roster. The event occurs on January 24-25 and tickets are already on sale. Admission for adults is $10 and up to two kids 12 and under get in free with the purchase of an adult ticket.
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.
If Salazar and House end up back down in AAA for several wks the Indians would benefit from an added yr of service time.
As for Murphy, the Indians could easily keep him as a fourth OF going into camp. I really don't see the need to keep him around, but, I could see them moving him later. I prefer to see them move him with Holt, Moncrief, Hood, Ramsey, Walters, Sands and Naquin waiting in the wings.
As far as Salazar having more upside, we will have to agree to disagree. McCallister can survive on his fastballs almost exclusively because there is more than 1 and they have movement with plus velocity. Salazar cannot say the same. Salazar can top out a couple mph more, but that means very little when it is straight and has no variation or location. I've seen where some believe that Salazar's performance downgraded due to "losing" his slider. That is not true in my eyes either. Salazar's struggles are probably related to not using his split change as often or as effectively, which played up his fastball even more. I believe both are extremely talented pitchers whose ceilings are much more than number 4's. Who ends up being the better of the 2 will have to wait, regardless I'll be surprised if Salazar isn't in Columbus to start the season. The only thing that could change my thoughts on that is injuries or a trade.
As I sit here holding my 3wk old son, awaiting for my other children to stir....on Christmas morn. Here's a few random thoughts.
I thought, it's interesting how the Indians handle young players. As prospects - they are valuable commodities, and the Indians seldom trade from their prospect base to acquire talent. In fact, I might suggest they are at peak value - well, most of them, some will go on to good (or very good) ML careers. However, when these prospects break through the MLB barrier become rookies that for whatever reason (it varies from case to case) get limited playing time and exposure. Jose Ramirez and Jesus Aguilar are two polar opposites and prime examples. Some would argue it's based on talent, and perhaps rightfully so in this case. Yet, I find the dynamic of valuable commodity as prospect, and (in)valuable commodity (in some cases) as rookie intriguing.
My point, it seems players are handled a bit differently on the big league level. The Indians try to maximize value (and rightfully so), with service time, options, etc. I would argue, that their peak value is still in prospect status. As such, expectations are usually amiss, and as we (all - I hope) know many/most never reach (often) over zealous expectations. Here's where I think the Indians could or perhaps should maximize their talent base.
We have seen a number of trades sending off veterans for prospects. Most recently, Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera acquiring two talented bats in the form of Zach Walters and James Ramsey. However, I will suggest, it's time for the Indians to do the opposite...(they have recently sending Joe Wendle for Brandon Moss). That is, trade a cpl of prospects (and over zealous expectations- in some cases). I would even suggest, perhaps they've had the opportunity and avoided it - we don't know that, but we've seen some talent move without hearing the Tribes interest (Myers, Donaldson). Perhaps, for whatever reason - the Indians weren't interested.
Speaking of Joe Wendle, I applaud the Indians for turning a senior signing with some question marks into a legit power bat (with some question marks) in RF/1b Brandon Moss. Furthermore, I applaud the fact the FO was open minded about adding talent over handedness. However, there is still a need to add a RH bat, at least, a SH bat to the lineup.
In conclusion, Merry Christmas! Here's to hoping/wishing/ and praying for a 2015 season that ends with a WS championship. I think it's very much within reach with a minor tweak or two.
Agreed, it's time to look at the body of work. The Indians have drafted smaller / shorter pitchers recently (it seems). I think it's a bit of a mkt inefficiency, the Indians could capitalize (focus) upon. Big (tall) pitchers = big (motion) delivery (generally).
As GSon said, he's a SP until he's not.
That's simple enough for me, no need to ramble or explain.
Probably beating a dead horse at this time, but I live in LA and read Bill Shaikin and the other sportswriters' work in the Times. Since unloading Kemp, there have been several articles about how the new OF plays out and not one of them have mentioned Van Slyke. Now, this may only mean that the writers see Van Slyke as bench player only and/or that they believe GM Friedman has no plans to trade this cheap and controllable source of RHP. On the other hand, maybe it means the Dodgers view him as a marginal member of the 25 or 40 man, and he could be available. The guy kills LHP and doesn't do badly at all against RHP. I hope our FO is making inquiries.
Im also fine w Murphy still on the team. He's a good professional and a versatile player. Too many question marks in the OF to start the year and things will sort themselves out in real time. Would still like to see them add a RH bat to compete with or replace Raburn, but ok if that doesn't happen...maybe Swisher's return to relevancy is the RH bat we need? I suppose it's possible...
Seriously, wouldn't he need a gargantuan leap with the quality of his offspeed stuff to beat out both House and Salazar, and should we even want that. Salazar needs another shot to start off the right way or refine his offspeed in AAA a bit more but I don't want to bounce him to the pen because that would mean we have to start McCallister over House, which I believe would be a mistake.
I'm kind of in the camp of CL WHo and others who believe the Indians should make the best 12-13 man pitching staff possible. If that means House or McAllister is the 5th starter then Salazar should be on the team come opening day. I get that he would be insurance in Columbus, but I'd much rather get innings from him to impact in Cleveland now out of the pen. Like I said, perhaps he is Wade Davis for a year. Now, I don't have to see Salazar in the pen, but it is something I would strongly consider at the outset of the season for a team looking to contend and shut teams down with their pitching staff. This team needs another late inning arm and he might be the guy. If he has to serve that role for a year, so be it. There is no guarantee he will ever be used if he starts in Columbus.
Ron, the Indians have put themselves in a unique position of depth. Right now in the outfield they have Brantley, Swisher, Moss and Swisher with Murphy a fallback along with Raburn - and then the likes of Holt, Ramsey and maybe even Moncrief ready to help early in the season. In the infield they have Ramirez and Lindor at SS, Chisenhall-Urshela-Walters at 3B, Santana-Swisher-Moss-Aguilar at 1B and Kipnis-Ramirez-Aviles-Walters at 2B. At catcher they have Gomes and Perez. In the rotation they are 9 deep with Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco, Floyd, House, Salazar, McAllister and Tomlin, the lefty relief is 3 deep with Rzepczynski-Crockett-Hagadone with Downs, Maronde and Soto down below and the right-handed relief has Allen, Shaw, Atchison, Lee, McAllister, Adams, Armstrong, Price and even others like Sturdevant and Head and Tejeda who are on the periphery. Really, there is not a major hole on this team. They have set themselves up with some good depth where they should give themselves options to respond to needs as the season progresses with internal promotions or using some of that depth for trade.
Just go through reading Sickels appraisal of the Indians prospects and found it interesting. He certainly changes it from MLB.com. I notice that Zach Walters is not mentioned in his or other reports. Presumably, he has crossed some threshold but tell me which one. His ceiling looks average to above but his floor might keep him out of the ML.
On the negative side, he averaged exactly 5 1/2 innings per start in 2014, which is the kind of starter that wears out a pen. IMO the reason he averages 5 1/2 is because his placement is still shaky and his pitch repertoire is slim. This results in him nibbling the corners in a hit and miss fashion, and high pitch counts per batter. One more solid pitch and better control of them all and he'll be a fine starter.
If the first five are better than him in ST, what's the problem with him working on one more pitch and better control out of the pen, rather than in AAA? When he's ready and spaces start to open up, he can do exactly what CC did and start here and there, and pitch more innings in his mid-game relief set. I don't get all the anxiety about "the decision." It's not forever, and there really isn't much to decide.
Tony......too bad about Aguilar, but he has never been afforded what I would call a genuine opportunity to stick in the majors with the Tribe. I don't see a place for him this year either. Do you? Personally, I think he's going to be part of a trade or grow old in AAA and drop out of organized ball in favor of another line of work.
There are player like Swisher and others that are recovering from injuries. How ready will they be on opening day?
Murphy has value and he probably will have more value late in spring training or early in the season.
The Indians look like they have their bases covered, but, things can happen in the spring training and early season. The moving of the SS and 3B from Columbus might happen in May or early June. So changes are expected.
There could be trades in spring training and early season to clear some players to add others, such as the SS and 3B from Columbus.
I would be interested to see what Tony has to say on this?
I'll say it again that many many people on this site alone pegged Salazar as the ACE of the club, now and going forward coming off his 2013 season. If you were one of them that's your own fault for raising the standards to unrealistic levels. He'll be playing 2015 at 25 years old. Far too soon to just lump him in the pen. The guy has stuff you can't teach. You either have it or you don't and he clearly does.
You have to give him enough time, at least 1 more season to prove that he can harness his stuff. Couple that with game experience you have a true FOR weapon for many years down the road.
As long as Salazar has that horsehockey slider he won't be successful as a starter,he needs to pitch everyday and develop a viable third pitch or the bullpen is his future.
I've mentioned this before, but if they stash Salazar in Columbus, that's kind of crazy to me. I think some fans are stuck in a non-contending mindset. If Salazar can't beat out House for the rotation, that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a massive upgrade in the bullpen, and having a Salazar in there would take the load off of Shaw. They are a contender, you're looking to maximize wins now, not worry about player development (I also don't see how Salazar can develop any further in the minors, he needs to face major league hitters to improve, whether that's in the rotation or bullpen). The idea that "he's a starter until he isn't" is odd to me as well. It's not like if he moves to the bullpen this year, that he can't go back to starting next year if that's where the need is, or even this year. Chris Sale was a reliever when he first came up. Adam Wainwright was a reliever. Carlos Carrasco was a reliever, and seemingly became a better starter from it.
As for the rotation McAllister in the bull pen is so obvious I want to scream. He has a power arm that translates very well for one or two innings.
Six guys competing for five starting positions is a good thing.
IMO there are moves yet to come - 2 months to spring training.
As for Bauer, he's a fairly standard 6'1" and 190 pound 22 year old who will put on muscle. He's also the rare pitcher who is introspective about what he's doing, willing to take the hard steps to change what isn't working, and already has multiple pitches. No way I would trade Bauer instead of Salazar.
If I would trade a young pitcher for a hitter it would be Bauer. Your thoughts?
Putting Salazar in the pen shouldn't be an option at this point and he can't be quickly stretched out like Carrasco or McCallister. His frame isn't built for it and it would only be cause for injury.
As far as Murphy is concerned, I believe there is a market for him but his value is probably limited. I also believe that the Indians are more than willing to cut ties with Raburn. Bourn is another that could be useful to someone like the Padres, believe it or not. I'm anxious to see the spring performances of guys like Hood, Walters, and Ramsey. All 3 have more potential to help the team more than Murphy or Bourn at this point.
The Braves are also short on OFs, especially since Markakis is going for that neck surgery. They are shopping Evan Gattis. His power would play great at Progressive Field. It might not be a one-up trade, but the Tribe has the youngsters to enhance the deal.
On the subject of Salazar, I love the guy's stuff, but if the team is comfortable with the other starters, I say package Salazar, one of the team's FIVE COUNT 'EM FIVE No. 1 draft pick OFs, SS Erik Gonzalez and Aguliar to the Phillies for Cole Hamels. For more salary relief, throw in OF Carlos Moncrief.. My son is a Phillies fan, and he said he would favor that deal.
With a 1-2 of Hamels and Kluber, all of the moves of the other teams in the division are for naught, because the Tribe will go to and WIN the World Series!