There is an old saying in baseball that when you think you have enough starting pitching, you go out and get more.
The Cleveland Indians didn’t heed that advice this off-season.
After last season, when the Tribe’s starting pitching was more than solid, Cleveland lost two starters to free agency: Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. They really didn’t replace either last winter.
When the 2013 season started, GM Chris Antonetti had several alternatives for manager Terry Francona after signing Brett Myers as a free agent and getting Trevor Bauer in the Shin-Soo Choo deal.
The rotation to start the year was Justin Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, Zack McAllister and Kazmir. When the latter had a set back to start the season, they had Corey Kluber and Bauer in reserve at Columbus.
By the end of April, both had made starts in the majors as Myers injured his arm.
Later that season, Danny Salazar emerged as a factor based on his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and started the wild card game for the Indians.
This season, that depth hasn’t been there.
Salazar and Carlos Carrasco replaced the two free agents in the rotation, and the organization had Bauer and Josh Tomlin, also coming back from elbow surgery, in reserve.
Unfortunately, the two replacements (Salazar and Carrasco), both with little experience, haven’t done the job, and with Masterson and McAllister struggling, the rotation is in a state of chaos.
Thankfully, Tomlin has provided his usual performances, he’ll give you five or six good innings, and Bauer has done well in each of his two big league starts.
Salazar is back at AAA and was roughed up in his first start there, and Carrasco seems anchored to the bullpen as a long reliever/mop up man, so there aren’t any more alternatives for Francona unless some sort of trade is made.
Friday night, lefty T. J. House made his first major league start in an 8-4 loss to the Orioles. House did the best he could, but nobody in the organization had him making a start in the big leagues this season, we would bet.
It looks like the southpaw is in the rotation for the unforeseen future, as Cleveland has him listed as the starter Wednesday in Chicago. We would give that start to Carrasco, as crazy as we thought that seemed a couple of weeks ago.
Until Salazar can throw strikes consistently and keep the ball down in the zone (he’s allowed eight in 40 innings pitched this year), Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway don’t have a lot of alternatives. No one is going to trade you a proven starting pitcher.
If the Indians did have to get another starter from Columbus, it would likely be RHP Travis Banwart, a minor league free agent who was in the Oakland system in 2013. He’s 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in AAA, allowing 40 walks in 50+ innings, striking out 38 hitters and walking 18.
The other starters at Columbus are RHP Tyler Cloyd, who has allowed 65 hits in 47-1/3 frames (yikes!), and major league washout Kyle Davies.
So, the only real alternative for the Tribe is to get Masterson and McAllister straightened out and get them pitching like they did in 2013. And Masterson’s drop in velocity is no doubt alarming for the front office.
If they improve, the Indians will have some starting depth back. Until then, Francona and Callaway are scrambling to find starters who can give them solid outings.
Not exactly a recipe for success if you want to make the post-season.