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Tribe Happenings: Who makes up the five-man rotation?

Tribe Happenings: Who makes up the five-man rotation?
February 3, 2013
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It has been over a month since the last inbox, and since I am down sick this weekend and working feverishly to finish my new 2013 book, the regular Sunday morning format of “Tribe Happenings” will take a one week hiatus. But fear not, you will get your usual dose of Indians commentary on a variety of topics, but just in a different format this week.

It has been a little over a month since I did an IBI Inbox, so today is a good time to do it with spring training about a week away and the Super Bowl on tap later today. While the Indians have been busy this offseason, there are still a lot of question marks and concerns with the team going into the season, particularly with the starting rotation. I answer some of those questions and share my opinions on the rotation and a lot more below.

If you have a question on anything pertaining to the Cleveland Indians from the minors to the big leagues that you would like answered in a future inbox feature, feel free to contact me. I also pull from questions in the comments sections in articles, and also from Twitter, so you can post your questions there as well.

Onto the Happenings....errr...IBI Inbox.....

@Dizzle729 wrote: I know it’s early, but do you have an opinion on what the five man rotation will be for the Tribe?

Answer: Obviously, barring injury, the top three starters will be Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers. And, really, aside from something incredibly surprising happening, Zach McAllister is pretty close to a lock for the rotation. So, really, it just boils down to who opens the season as the fifth starter and the Indians have five options for the role: Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, David Huff, Scott Kazmir, and Corey Kluber.

Huff and Kazmir are long shots as Huff probably fits better in the bullpen as I suggested above, and Kazmir has barely pitched in two years so no matter how great he throws this spring he is unreliable and probably needs a month or two in the minors to prove himself before he is a legit option again.  If the Indians want to ease Bauer into things and maybe control his service clock a little, they could have him open the season at Triple-A Columbus for a few months and then bring him up. Also, if they want to monitor Carrasco’s workload on the front end (he will only be able to throw around 150 innings this year), they could have him open the season in extended spring training. If the Indians did those two things, then it would open the door for Kluber to win the spot if he has a good camp.

But to me, Bauer and Carrasco are superior starting pitching options to Kluber, so if they pitch well in camp and the Indians use one of the two excuses above to hold them back and insert Kluber into the rotation at the outset, it would be a poor decision. There have been some comments made by national pundits of late that the Indians may not bring up Bauer until August, but I think that is a bit farfetched. He probably could use some time in the minors to settle in so he doesn't over do it at the outset trying to validate the trade. It would also help the Indians align his service clock and get an extra year of roster control. Most importantly it would allow himself a little more time to finish off his development.  But, if he shows he is ready and deserves a Major League opportunity they are going to give it to him. Be it April, May or August.

As for Carrasco, the Indians do not want to overextend him in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Remember, he did not pitch all of last season so he will be limited to about 150 innings (24-26 starts).  With that kind of workload limitation he simply can't pitch a full season unless he is shut down for a considerable amount of time, which would have to be on the front end of the season where he opens the season in extended spring training and then joins the team sometime in May, or he is shutdown at the end of August (like Strasburg last year).

So, to me, it comes down to Bauer and Carrasco for the final spot in the rotation. At the outset of the season the plan should be to go with the best pitcher and not necessarily the best option. If Carrasco proves healthy and strong this spring, I'd go with him at the outset of the season due to his experience and talent, and to also give Bauer some time to relax and get on a roll at Triple-A Columbus. As to Carrasco's workload issues, well, the Indians could just cross that bridge when they get to it as there is no guarantee he will be healthy all season anyway. Plus, the hope would be that Bauer would be ready to slide into the rotation if Carrasco was shut down or injured.

@DJSeb9 wrote: Do you think that the 2013 Tribe starting rotation will perform as well as the 2011 staff or as bad as the 2012 staff?

Answer: For our sakes, let’s hope they are more like the 2011 staff, and even better. Jake Dungan did a nice comparison between the 2012 and 2013 staffs, and to add to what he said I think the staff certainly has potential. Masterson and Jimenez have had success in the past but have battled inconsistency, so if somehow, someway both are able to find consistency, look out. The secondary key is how Zach McAllister does in what is really his sophomore campaign, if Myers does his job eating innings and providing quality starts in the middle of the rotation, and how Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco do at the backend.

The Indians have six good starting pitchers, but the problem is they can’t rely on anyone as they don’t know what to expect from any of them. Masterson and Jimenez have yet to establish a consistent track record, McAllister has not been around long enough, Myers has a solid track record but pitched in the bullpen last year, Carrasco is coming off a serious arm injury, and Bauer is a highly touted prospect with little Major League experience. So this rotation could either crash and burn, or be pretty damn good. That’s about as wide a spectrum as you can get, which is why their rotation is the wildcard for them this season. As to my prediction on how things go, I think the rotation will find itself and prove to be at least a league average group, which would be a significant improvement from last season.

Joey wrote: I'm glad the [Indians have changed their approach], but why has it taken this long for them to realize that something needed to be done?

Answer: I think it is a combination of two things. One, the crash and burn they had last season from late July through August along with the fade in 2011 season helped change their thinking. The tumble in 2011 was disappointing, but the nosedive the Indians had last year was beyond disappointing and left many with their hands in the air wondering how much worse it could get and that a change in philosophy was needed. Whether that was something the front office realized on its own, or was a mandate from ownership, we will probably never know.

Secondly, things really changed once Terry Francona came on board. I think the crumble this past season finally opened some eyes to considering a new approach, and quite possibly ownership maybe pushed them into rethinking things. But once Francona stepped into the situation things really started to change as he opened them up to a lot of new ideas and ways of thinking, and they have been very receptive to that. I think Francona will end up the biggest acquisition of the offseason for the Indians, and is something we are going to see right out of the gates this season how he has a presence about him and that the way this team thinks and operates is much different than in years past. Will things ultimately be different in the win-loss column? Who knows. But there is a definite change to the way the Indians do things now.

@JohnnyJLow wrote: Do you think the Tribe will add anymore starting pitchers on minor league deals and will Huff (out of options) make the bullpen?

Answer: Yes, I think they will sign at least one starting pitcher to a minor league deal. They have already been tied to Diasuke Matsuzaka this offseason, and there are some other interesting starting pitchers out there like Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wolf, Kevin Millwood, Jonathan Sanchez and others that could be signed to minor league deals. The chances of any of these guys impacting the team is very remote, but teams sign these guys as depth options and lottery tickets as every once in a while one surprises. Out of those guys, I think the best fit may be with Matsuzaka since Francona knows him. I am unsure of their relationship and if it was a good or bad one, but there may be a mutual comfort level there.

As for Huff, I still think he is one of the favorites to make the bullpen this spring. He is out of options and the Indians have had numerous opportunities to designate him for assignment to clear roster space for all the offseason additions to the 40-man roster, but they did not, and to me that says something. It is no secret that the Indians are hurting for left-handed relievers, and while Huff has been very inconsistent the last few seasons as a starter, he has the athleticism and stuff where he might pitch better as a reliever. He has struggled with lefties as a starter, but perhaps a shift to the bullpen will help him. He has the durability and versatility to pitch as the long man in the pen and at the same time serve as the second lefty. There is some value there, and why I think he helps fill two roles in the bullpen as a long man and second lefty.

Mike Reed wrote: Lately there has been a lot of talk about which direction the Indians will go with their DH spot. One name that makes some sense to me that I haven't heard mentioned much is Alfonso Soriano. Early in the offseason it was reported that in an effort to deal Soriano to the Astros they were willing to eat a very large portion of the remaining two years on his deal. … Do you know if the front office has kicked the tires on this idea or if it could be possible as spring training approaches?

Answer: This is a good question, but yes, they have had some interest in the past on Soriano. They were kicking the tires on him last July, so it would be a good guess they revisited those talks at some point this offseason, even if only briefly. At this moment he is not an option for the Indians as they are up against it with their budget and he simply costs too much. He is owed $18 million this season and next season, so even if the Cubs were to eat half of his salary, a team would still be responsible for $9 million each season. It is a big reason why the Cubs have been unable to find a landing spot for him as they would almost have to eat 75-80% of his contract for a team to be interested.

I think Soriano could be an option more toward the trade deadline, as by then he would only have about $25 million left on his deal. If the Indians are in contention and he is playing well, and if the Cubs pick up around half of the contract, the Indians may be fine with picking him up and paying him a total of $10-12 million or so over the final two-plus months of the season and 2014.

Joshua Crites wrote: I believe Asdrubal should be traded. Pitching is the most important part of a team and Cleveland is sorely lacking it. … Bauer is a great first step but we need two to three more high-end prospects. If we can get a few for Cabrera, they should hopefully develop by the time Ubaldo, Masterson and stop gaps like Myers leave. I say develop pitching and buy hitting.

Answer: At this moment the Indians are going to go into the season with Cabrera. He was on the trade block throughout the end of November to mid-late December, but once the Indians traded Shin-Soo Choo, received Trevor Bauer in return, and Arizona found their shortstop, the market for Cabrera really dropped and the Indians need to trade him went down considerably.  Sure, the Indians could probably trade him to someone right now, but they would essentially be trading him for 60-70 cents on the dollar. The offers are just not that strong where the Indians are getting blown away with two high-end pitching prospects, which was the asking price from the Diamondbacks.

Right now, Cabrera has more value to the team going into the season than anything they could get for him, and besides, a trade of him for prospects at this point would kill any momentum they have gained this offseason from a PR perspective.  I do think that if the team tanks and he is playing well come July, that his trade market will jump and at that point they may be able to get those two high-end pitching prospects they covet for him. They wanted Bauer AND Skaggs in a deal that included him and probably the bar is set high. A bar that is unreachable right now.

Brian Meyer wrote: With the additions of Albers and Shaw, along with our strong minor league relief pitching, we have a surplus of right handed bullpen guys. … I'm wondering if the addition of the two players from the D'Backs potentially makes it easier to trade Vinnie Pestano. The market for Chris Perez seems to be down, and Pestano's value may never be higher. Considering the difficulty of signing top tier free agents and our bullpen depth, do we need to consider making Pestano available to help fill holes on the team now and for the future?

Answer: I just see no way the Indians trade Pestano, at least not at this juncture. Two or three years from now? Possibly. But right now? No way. He’s one of the best right-handed relievers in the game, and for what the Indians are paying him (Major League minimum) he is probably the best value when it comes to backend right-handers in the game.  The Indians do want to improve the club in the short term, but they very much have their eyes on the long term as well. It is why they wanted Trevor Bauer so bad.

Pestano is a guy that they can build the bullpen around the next four years, which is very valuable. He is cheap as he will make the Major League minimum in 2013 and won’t be arbitration eligible for the first time until after this coming season. So there is no incentive to trade him right now, and quite simply, they won't get the return for him they would like. It would be a good return, but it wouldn't be a return worth trading him. Right now, if they want to trade any pen arms, it has to be Perez, Joe Smith, or even Matt Albers. All three of those guys help in the short term, but are not in the long term plans since Smith and Albers are free agents after this coming season and Perez after 2014. I could actually see the Indians dangling Albers this spring to a club in need of bullpen help.

@RyanInCle wrote: What are the chances Hector Rondon and/or TJ McFarland are offered back, and would the Indians want them?

Answer: If both are offered back, the Indians would certainly be interested. The Indians probably have the most interest in bringing Rondon back into the fold as they resigned him this offseason and gambled by not protecting him on the 40-man roster. Prior to his winter ball showing in Venezuela he was not on any team’s radar - even the Cubs themselves according to a source with knowledge of the situation - so he kind of came on quickly in the offseason and has a shot to make the Cubs bullpen if healthy. But if he does not make the Cubs’ opening day bullpen or at some point in the season shows he does not belong, the Indians will probably look to just have him come back (if he clears waivers) rather than make a small trade to give his full rights to the Cubs.

McFarland is more of an organizational pitcher, a depth guy for the upper levels that maybe gets a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He may surprise this spring, but the chances are slim he sticks with the Orioles. Remember, a great many Rule 5 picks do not stick and are returned to their original clubs.  But the Indians are pretty deep with like pitchers in the upper levels so they actually may not have room to bring him back, so I could see the Indians and Orioles working out a deal allowing the Orioles to keep him and send him to the minors. Sort of like back in March of 2010 when the Indians traded Rule 5 pick Chuck Lofgren to the Brewers and received an organizational right-handed reliever in Omar Aguilar in return.

@IGetRealLow wrote: Where will Dorssys Paulino start the year, and with Francisco Lindor at shortstop what's his future position?

Answer: Paulino very likely will open the season as the regular shortstop at Low-A Lake County. Obviously, injuries in spring training can affect things, but if all goes well, that is where he is pretty much set to go. As far as a position goes, the Indians are still very committed to Paulino at shortstop. He may outgrow the position or they may have to move him if he and Lindor end up at the same level and both appear on the Major League horizon, but they are still far from having to make such a decision.

Paulino will probably spend the entire season at Lake County, as will Lindor at High-A Carolina, though if both really come on and show consistency in their games both offensively and defensively, the Indians could push them up a level by July or August. There is no rush for either of them, especially Lindor as High-A is an important development level. Paulino still shows the ability to be a shortstop, but if the Indians were to move him off the position, his likely landing spots are third base, second base, or even in left or right field.

@BrianIndians63 wrote: Just curious when the 2013 edition of your book comes out. I'm itching for spring.

Answer: I will have a more formal update later this coming week, but I am almost done with the writing of it, and will shortly move into the actual formatting process and making of it. The book is going to have over 195 scouting reports on Cleveland Indians players from the Dominican Summer League all the way up through the system.  There will be 20 completely new players in the Top 100 that were not even in the organization or had a scouting report written on them in last year’s version, and over 50 other new scouting reports of non-Top 100 players that were not in last year’s book. And, of course, all new and updated scouting reports for everyone else. The hope is that I will have the book completed and ready to go to print right around Valentine’s Day.

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

February 4, 2013 - 12:00 AM EST
Matthew, anything can happen, but I just don't see Huff doing anything this spring to win a spot. No matter how good he pitches, his value to the org as a starter showed itself some last year. Always have to consider how a guy is used and if they are called up and such. I just don't see where suddenly how they are going to trust him to be in the rotation at the outset. I just think in the end, he ends up filling that long man role and second lefty in pen.

I am no Jimenez fan and think he was vastly over-rated by the Indians (and myself) when he was acquired. He was simply way too inconsistent last season and was really bad some nights. But, I am a bit intrigued to see how he does this season. There is absolutely no question he has the upside to pitch much better and be a top pitcher.....but the mental part is the question mark. My hope is that since it is his contract year, he has a very good season to set himself up for a big payday this offseason. Wishful thinking maybe, but that's the hope. He's a lock for the rotation simply because he is making almost $6 million, but if he is awful the first two months I wouldn't be surprised to see the Indians move on from him and either trade or flat out release him.

Chip, you may be right, but Carrasco and Bauer are better pitchers than Kluber and have tons more upside. The one thing Kluber has going for him is a little more experience than Bauer. Kluber would have to be pretty damn impressive this spring and the other pretty awful or hurt for him to make the rotation.....and if he was solid and did not clearly outpitch the others and made the rotation then I would have a serious problem with it.
February 3, 2013 - 11:45 PM EST

What I mean by that is if Carrasco and Bauer can not outpitch a guy who had a 6.00 E.R.A last year we are in trouble. You never know though he cold slot into the 5th spot in the rotation.

One guy who no one mentions that I think could surprise? Josh Tomlin. Says hes healthy and has already got the job done when healthy.Could see him claiming that 5th spot at some point as well.
February 3, 2013 - 11:40 PM EST
@common cents If a pitcher was "finished" just because a disgruntled fan "says so" then Cliff Lee would never become a Cy Young guy. I had to endure post after post about selling him for a "bag of balls" then when he came back everyone acted like "nothing happend". Your opinion is your opinion but only Ubaldo writes the next step not you. I am not saying hes going to be Lee but an average middle of the rotation guy is possible.

@Chip. Perhaps he is, but if Carrasco and Bauer can not outpitch him this year.............. enjoy the fire sale.
February 3, 2013 - 6:52 PM EST
I think Kluber is being sold a little short. He had moments that flashed his potential last year. I don't think Bauer or Carrasco can outpitch him at this point, but thats why they play spring training games.
February 3, 2013 - 6:36 PM EST
I wouldn't describe Jimenez as a lost cause. Certainly he has regressed, and I would have preferred the Tribe move on from him, but he is really a low risk piece with hopes of some reward. Frankly, for what the Tribe has invested in him ($5.75M) the Tribe could / should expect similar production from a FA. Really Jimenez is a moot point...IF he's on great, but if he's off the Tribe can simply say NEXT. The real hope is that he pitches well and is a movable piece at the deadline. Afterall, Jimenez is in essentially his FA yr.
Common Cent$
February 3, 2013 - 3:46 PM EST
Jwahoo, Ubaldo is a lost cause. He's only a few years removed from dominance, but he depended upon 96mph velocity on each fastball he threw to be dominant. Today, he's at 92 and he can't even throw strikes. This rotation should be Masterson, Myers, McAllister, Bauer and Carrasco. Ubaldo is finished.
February 3, 2013 - 3:12 PM EST
@common cents

Ubaldo was horrible last year. But, he is only a few years removed from being a front of the rotation starter. Tons of pitchers have fallen and picked themselves back up. The good thing is we don't need to be a lights out front of the rotation starter. If he can pitch like a middle rotation guy with an ERA somewhere around 4.00 we will be very lucky. My guess is he ends the year with an ERA around 4.20 and that would be awesome. I think Tony really hit it on the head when he said everyone is a question mark but everyone has the "ability" to be an valuable part of the rotation. Now, we just need to add some depth so we can stay afloat until everything (hopefully) comes together. Masterson-Ubaldo-Meyers-Carrasco-Bauer actually has the potential to be a rock solid rotation.
Common Cents
February 3, 2013 - 2:32 PM EST
Oh sweet Jesus, Ubaldo Jimenez is a lock for the rotation? Man, that is ultra depressing. When does the football season start?
February 3, 2013 - 2:22 PM EST
I think this is why you really need to sign one or more minor league starters. I would love to sign Joe Saunders to add a vet lefty capable of eating inngings but the fact he has never been mentioned tells me he is too expensive. I think it makes alot of sense to ease Carrasco into the rotation and in regards to Bauer I want to see him picthing well and the team not tanking before we bring him up. A few years ago everyone and their mother wanted Lonnie Chisenhall to start the year at Third. We would have lost a whole year of having him under contract and he was not ready anyway. Lets make sure Bauer is finished off and its not a waste to bring him up. You know how a team like The Nationals become a huge winner all of a sudden? A ton of losing and making choices that are best for the future.

So, that brings me to my original point. If not Saunders Dice K and Zambrano or Bedard would be good in my book. I would also like Millwood since he has pitched well here before and brings leadership to the rotation. The point of having these guys is not only as a lottery ticket but just so maybe we can have a guy eat inngins until Carrasco or Bauer are ready to come up. This way Kluber and even McCalister are not just handed two starting rotation positions. I also really have one of my gut feelings about Kazmir. Lefties are know to pitch great, fall down and then pick themselves back up. If not in the rotation I think he could revive his career as a "utility" bullpen guy.

If we fall on our face this season. Its very important we get as much as we can to rebuild the farm. Asdurbal, Perez, Masterson will be the big names but Smith, Albers, Reynolds, Ubaldo, and even Aviles should be shopped to add depth to the minors. Not to mention this FO seems to do best with small deals instead of blockbusters. Perez, Asdurbal, Santana all came here on smaller deals.
February 3, 2013 - 2:09 PM EST
I would think trading any of the relievers, even Pestano, would make sense if you were getting something good back -- either a starting pitcher or position player w/serious upside, but relievers don't usually net you much in a trade, so yeah, probably the return would not be there. It seems like Shapiro got burned by so many horrific bullpens that they've now lurched to the other extreme of reliever accumulation (that '06 team's record compared to its run differential is a mystery until you look at the bullpen--Jason Davis and Betancourt managed ERAs under 4!--and then you remember you can only give up so many runs in the 9th before you lose. Probably would've won 90 games that year if they had even an average pen) Generally I think this is wise, and that relievers are underrated (except closers, who are overrated and overpaid), so as long as they don't cost you Chris Perez money, you should hang onto them. Since they are underated, you can rarely get a good deal by trading one.

I was going to say that they should offer Millwood a major league contract, bring him in and that way they can hold both Carrasco and Bauer off for 1-2 months, but I see Millwood retired ... surprised no one offered him a contract, he actually performed better last year than Myers did in 2011. So, since Millwood is out of the picture, I'd like to see Carrasco open the season as the last starter. They can always shut him down in August if he's hung in there to that point. Too soon for Bauer, unless he has an incredible spring he should open in AAA.
February 3, 2013 - 12:55 PM EST
I will probably be wrong, but I have my prediction is that Huff will get the 5th spot out of camp. Carrasco will come up in May, and Bauer will come up some time later in the season, when an injury, trade, or performance requires another starter.

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