In the Tuesday edition of The Plain Dealer, there was a profile of the Indians’ four free agent pitchers. Which of the following hurlers (Kevin Millwood, Scott Elarton, Bob Wickman, and Bob Howry) will be wearing a Tribe uniform in 2006? Here is what I believe the Tribe will do in the off season with the pitching staff.
First, it is doubtful Cleveland can keep Kevin Millwood. After leading the AL in ERA at 2.86, he is probably the best of a slim crop of free agent starting pitchers. Adding to the problem is that his agent is professional pain in the ass, Scott Boras. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro doesn’t like giving multi-year contracts to pitchers (I agree with him), and with Millwood being 30 years old, and looking for a three or four year deal, Millwood is going to be pitching elsewhere in 2006. Shapiro may look to swing a trade for a pitcher in the last year of his current contract, or search the free agent market for some bargains.
If Millwood leaves, Cleveland will make a concerted effort to retain Elarton. The big righthander was 11-9 with a 4.61 ERA in ’05, solid numbers for a back of the rotation starter. He seems to be over the shoulder problems he had several years ago, as he threw over 180 innings this year. Elarton could likely be resigned for a two year deal at a modest price. He could remain the fourth or fifth starter.
In the bullpen, after saving a career best 45 games, if Wickman decides to pitch in 2006, he will likely want one last big payday. He won’t get it from the Indians. So figure Wickman in a another uniform, unless he decides to retire. That means Shapiro will make every effort to keep Howry, who appeared in a career high and team record 79 games. Howry has closer experience, saving 28 games for the White Sox in 1999.
Bullpen success is a hit or miss proposition, but Cleveland looks to be in good shape if Howry is the new closer. Matt Miller and Arthur Rhodes will be back, and Fernando Cabrera looks to be in line to share the set up man role with Rhodes. Rafael Betancourt will be back as well, but David Riske likely will be non-tendered. I would hope the team can keep lefty Scott Sauerbeck as well.
If Shapiro cannot make a trade for another starter, the team will look to farmhands Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Sowers, and Jeremy Guthrie to fill the fifth starting spot. Sowers and Carmona are the names to watch. Sowers is a strike throwing lefty who pitched at Class A Kinston, Class AA Akron, and Class AAA Buffalo in ’05, going a combined 14-4 with a 2.37 ERA. Carmona is a sinker baller who went 13-9 with a 3.68 ERA at Buffalo and Akron.
The hot stove league starts right after the World Series ends, but don’t be surprised if the Tribe pitching scenario plays out this way in the offseason.