Tribe’s Starters Need To Step Up

Last season, the Cleveland Indians went to the seventh game of the World Series despite missing two of its starting pitchers (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) for the entirety of the post-season.

It was a handicap because the starting rotation was considered the strength of Terry Francona’s ballclub.

So far in 2017, that simply hasn’t been the case.

Last night’s start by Danny Salazar just highlighted the issue once again.

The right-hander had early inning issues once again, giving up a three run homer to Jose Bautista after the hitters handed him a 2-0 first inning lead.

Then, after the Indians went up 7-3 with a five run third, Salazar couldn’t finish the bottom of the inning, giving up two more tallies before departing.

With Corey Kluber on the disabled list with a bad back and Trevor Bauer’s struggles being well chronicled, Salazar needs to pitch well to take the burden off the bullpen.

The statistics show the starting pitchers haven’t been that bad on the season thus far.  In the first 33 games in 2017, Cleveland pitchers have compiled 16 quality starts, a percentage that ranks in the middle of the pack in the American League (7th).

However, those numbers are skewed by the dominance of Carlos Carrasco, easily the Tribe’s best starter this year with a 1.86 ERA.

Carrasco has six of those quality starts (out of seven appearances), meaning in the other 26 starts, Indian hurlers have put together just 10 starts of six innings, allowing just three runs.

Kluber has three of those 10, and he’s not pitching right now.

Outside of Carrasco, the other four starters have an ERA of over 5.00.  Josh Tomlin and Bauer both have figures over 7.00.

Some of the issues can be from playing in a lot of hitter havens to start the 2017 season.  Cleveland has played a dozen games in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, and Toronto, all pretty good places to hit.

However, as a pitching staff, the team ERA is better on the road than it is at Progressive Field.

Each of the struggling pitchers seem to have different issues.

Salazar is striking people out (53 K’s in 36-1/3 innings), but has had problems with control, a team leading 18 walks, and putting hitters away.  He winds up throwing a ton of pitches because of the latter.

He’s also had issues in the first and second innings.

Tomlin doesn’t have control issues, but he’s allowed 41 hits in 30-1/3 frames.  Surprisingly, he’s allowed the least home runs among the rotation, and we say that considering his history.

To be fair, since two horrible starts to begin the season, he’s been pretty good in his last four starts (24 IP, 11 ER).

And Bauer was discussed earlier this week.  He has tremendous stuff, but has had extreme consistency issues in 2017.  He needs to start being able to keep his team in a game through five innings to give them a chance to win.

We know that if the rotation straightens itself out and goes two times through it, the Indians could have a 10 game winning streak.  That’s how good they can be at their best.

That the ballclub is 18-15 without them being special is a tribute to how good the Tribe and their bullpen is this season.

MW

 

 

 

Tribe Injuries Cause Fans Angst

With the Cleveland Indians winning the American League championship in 2016, expectations in northeast Ohio are as high as can be.

With these expectations come the worry that sports fans in this area are famous for.  That angst popped up for Tribe fans at the end of last week when both 2B Jason Kipnis and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco were reported to be injured.

Kipnis is dealing with pain in his shoulder area and will sit for two weeks before trying to play again.  Skipper Terry Francona said this will put Kipnis on the disabled list for the season opener in Texas.

Compounding the concern on Kipnis is Michael Brantley’s injury.  Brantley suffered a torn labrum diving for a flyball in September 2015, and missed virtually all of 2016 with the problem and later developed tricep tendonitis.

So, of course, since Brantley missed most of last year, fans and media alike extrapolate that Kipnis will miss a significant amount of time.

Now, we don’t know the Kipnis’ ailment is minor, but Francona did say Kipnis could DH right now, and could play second too, but the team is taking a precaution.  Obviously, it is better for Kipnis to miss the first couple of weeks of the regular season rather than miss a month later.

What is puzzling is the Tribe’s solution to the problem.  To most, the obvious move is to put Jose Ramirez back to his natural position, and use someone else (Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz, etc.) at the hot corner.

However, it seems Tito wants to keep Ramirez at third, and play a combination of Erik Gonzalez, Michael Martinez and others at second.

We understand Francona loves Martinez and values his glove, but the guy is arguably the worst hitter in the majors (his career OPS is 507), so you can’t put him in the lineup on a regular basis.

We would love to see Diaz get the first shot.  He’s been a .300 hitter in the minors (854 OPS in ’16) and reports out of Goodyear say he seems like he’s one of those guys who could fall out of bad and hit a line drive.

Urshela has a very good glove, but didn’t hit (608 OPS) in his brief shot in 2015.  However, he was called up before spending a full season in AAA, and remember, he wasn’t regarded as a top ten prospect in the organization.

Carrasco’s elbow showed some swelling after a lackluster start on Wednesday, and Francona said he will miss a start.

If he has to miss some time, Mike Clevinger should be the choice to replace him, although in the beginning of the year with off days, his absence could be minimized.

Clevinger started some games a year ago, and made the post-season roster, and the front office has slotted him for the “sixth” starter role anyway.  It just may be those spot starts come in April instead of the middle of summer.

Carrasco’s elbow didn’t show any structural damage, so hopefully it’s just some inflammation and he will be fine with some rest.

While no team wants injuries, and the Indians are no exception, having players miss some time early in the year, when the schedule has some off days, is better than being out later in the year, as the Indians found out when Carrasco and Danny Salazar missed time in the playoffs.

Fans should try to relax a little and hopefully the injuries to Kipnis and Carrasco won’t result in a lot of time being missed.

Remember though, the Indians overcame Brantley’s injury a year ago to win the AL Central Division, and the starting rotation’s hurts didn’t stop them from making the World Series.

MW

 

 

Spring Training Is Here!

People who aren’t baseball fans just don’t get it.  We heard a few times on talk radio this week that hosts didn’t understand why baseball people get so excited over camps opening, when the regular season is still six weeks away.

It’s pretty simple.  First of all, baseball is the one sport that occurs pretty much every day.  To be a hard core supporter of the grand ol’ game is to make a daily commitment, 162 games played over 180 days.

Since it is played each day for the most part, it is missed when it isn’t here.  So Tribe fans, still dealing with a heart breaking loss in game 7 of the World Series, haven’t been able to lick their wounds with action on the field since November 2nd.

Second, it’s an early sign of spring, the promise of warmer weather to come, looking forward to warm, summer nights at Progressive Field.

We don’t believe any other sport can offer the regeneration of warm weather to follow.

And Tribe fans are even looking forward more to the beginning of spring training this year because of last year’s success, but also because of the tremendous off-season Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff had, signing perhaps the most prominent free agent this winter in 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion.

They also added to an already strong bullpen by inking lefty Boone Logan as a free agent.  They did have to say goodbye to two large contributors to last year’s success in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, but overall it appears the Indians are stronger than they were when they ended the season.

Baseball fans will be awaiting the first pictures from Goodyear, Arizona, particularly pics of the newest Indians, seeing Encarnacion in Tribe togs for the first time.

We also want to see how our old favorites look in camp, even through many of them were just in town for Tribe Fest at the end of January.

And we are all very anxious to see reports on those players recovering from injuries, mostly Michael Brantley, who missed virtually the entire regular season with shoulder issues.

Brantley’s recovery would be huge, adding another solid bat to an everyday lineup that finished 2nd in the American League in runs scored in 2016.

We will also be interested in the progress of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, two stalwarts of the starting rotation, who missed most of  the post-season fun with injuries.  Neither should be a problem long term, but until they are on the mound in exhibition games getting hitters out, you can’t be sure.

It is also fun to follow the progress of the top prospects in the organization, to get your first look at catcher Francisco Mejia and outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom should get some “A” game at-bats.

And we will get a newer look at OF Bradley Zimmer, who will likely start the season in Columbus, and should be on track to make his big league debut this summer.

Those are just some of the reasons why baseball fans look forward to hearing “Pitchers and catchers report”.  It’s the beginning of eight months of a commitment to the sport.

It’s a sign that winter will soon be over…baseball is back!

MW

 

Tribe’s Strength Is Failing Them

At the All Star break, the Cleveland Indians were sitting in first place with a 52-36 record and considered a favorite for the American League pennant because of their dominant starting pitching.

Two of the rotation members, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar made the AL roster for the Midsummer Classic, and a case could be made for Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51 ERA) as well.

Carlos Carrasco wasn’t considered because he missed a good chunk of the first half with a hamstring injury and Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30 ERA) was pitching as well as he ever had in the big league tenure.

Collectively, Tribe starters had a 3.70 ERA at that point.  Surely, it would be difficult to beat them in a short series.

My, how things have changed.

The Indians still lead the Central Division by 4-1/2 games over the Tigers and 5 over the surging defending champion Royals, but the starting rotation, considered the strength of the team by nearly everyone, experts and fans alike, is leaking oil.  Badly.

Since the break, the Cleveland rotation has an ERA of 4.92, and this isn’t a ten or fifteen game stretch we are talking about.  This span has now lasted 40 games, or a quarter of the major league schedule.

And if you remove Kluber’s sterling second half (5-0, 1.84 ERA) out of the mix, the remainder of the starting pitchers have a 5.87 ERA in the second half.  If this continues, Terry Francona’s team will have a problem getting into the post-season, let alone making it all the way to the Fall Classic.

Here is how the rest of the rotation has fared since Kluber was the winning pitcher in San Diego to give the AL home field advantage in the World Series:

Bauer         2-3     5.20 ERA      45 innings
Tomlin      2-6     7.29 ERA      45-2/3 innings
Carrasco   4-4     4.25 ERA      55 inningsSalazar      1-2   10.70 ERA      17-2/3 innings

Salazar was disabled for two weeks with some discomfort in his elbow, and in his two starts since has lasted a total of five innings.  Today’s start versus Texas is a huge start for him, the manager, and the pitching coach.

Francona didn’t use Mike Clevinger last night because he knew he needed him today in case the right-hander could only give him two or three innings.

Carrasco has been the next best pitcher after Kluber, but he has had starts where he dominates early, and then starts getting hit hard.

Bauer has been a mystery for most of his big league time, but looked to have figured it out in the first half.  In the last month or so, he has started walking hitters again, and has been prone to the gopher ball.  He did out duel Max Scherzer in Washington though.

When he has been good, he’s been very good.  On the other hand…

Tomlin has been awful, with a 7.29 ERA over 45 frames.  In many of the games he has started, he’s given the Tribe no chance to win.  He has been especially bad against the better teams in the AL, and gives up dingers at an incredible rate.

Early in the year, most were solo shots, which is fine, but lately, they have been three run blasts and grand slams.  Those are killers.

Can these guys get it back?

Carrasco and Bauer’s issue seems to be consistency.  They are good some days, but horrible others.  That seems fixable.

Is Salazar healthy?  If so, he’s a dynamic third starter in the playoffs (assuming the Indians make it), capable of dominating opponents.  If not, that’s a huge chasm to fill.

Tomlin has always been a back of the rotation guy anyway, albeit a solid one.  He’s probably not going to start in the post-season anyway.  But the Tribe needs another capable starter from here on out in the regular season.

Another failure Tuesday night vs. Minnesota could force Francona and Callaway to make a change.

Right now, this should be the biggest concern for any fan of the Indians.  The team’s perceived strength as little as six weeks ago, has turned into a humongous question mark.

KM

Carrasco’s Loss A Tough Blow, Not A Death Blow

It was a bittersweet weekend for the Tribe in Detroit.  They swept the Tigers in Michigan for the first time since 2008, but they lost perhaps their best starter, Carlos Carrasco, to a hamstring injury.

Carrasco will miss approximately 4-6 weeks, and already doomsayers are sending a death knoll for the 2016 Tribe.

If there is one area the Indians have shown they have a little depth in their organization, it’s starting pitching.

Heck, the Tribe didn’t even have to go to Columbus to find a replacement for Carrasco, they simply went to the bullpen to find someone who has starting experience, and won 11 games at the major league level a year ago.

We are talking, of course, about Trevor Bauer, who at the tender age of 25, has made 64 big league starts.

Yes, we know about the right-hander’s consistency issues, he seems just a capable of pitching seven strong innings as being knocked out in the fourth.  However, he pitched just eight innings less than the man he replaces in the rotation.

Bauer’s problem has been throwing strikes on a regular basis, but in a lot of ways, he is much like Carrasco was before he blew out his elbow in 2011.

“Cookie” was 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA when he was injured at 24-years-old.  Bauer’s numbers last season when he was 24?  Try 11-12 with a 4.55 ERA.

This is Bauer’s second chance to be a starter.  If he takes advantage of it, the rotation will be even stronger when Carrasco returns to the mound.

We believe Bauer will continue to improve and will be better than he was last season.  He won’t be on Carrasco’s level, though.

If Bauer struggles, don’t forget two pitchers now toiling at Columbus, who could help out.  Mike Clevinger is the organization’s best pitching prospect, and has mostly been very good at the AAA level.

And you can’t ignore lefty T.J. House, who missed most of last season, but came up big down the stretch in 2014.  He is capable of providing solid outings in his arm is sound.

You also cannot forget that starting pitchers only go every fifth day.  Let’s say Carrasco missed the full six weeks, and the Indians would play every day (they don’t) in that stretch, a total of 42 games.

In that scenario, the righty misses eight starts.  Heck, the Tribe has already missed Michael Brantley, their best position player for 16 games and they survived.

Also, this injury would be more devastating to Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway if this were the post-season.

Our opinion is that you get to the playoffs by scoring runs.  It is difficult to qualify for the post-season if you can’t put runs up on the board.  However, pitching is preeminent once October baseball begins.

So, if the Tribe’s offense continues to get better and improves upon last year, they will be able to overcome the loss of a starting pitcher, even a very good one like Carlos Carrasco for a month and a half.

And if the Indians can make the post-season tournament, Carrasco’s arm will have less miles on it than other starting pitchers, and that could be an advantage.

We aren’t minimizing the loss.  Carrasco is one of the best starting pitchers in the American League.

But this is something that good teams overcome.  We still think the Tribe will be just fine.

MW

 

Will Tribe’s Strengths Override Weaknesses

We remember reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and his essays about the Montreal Expos, a talented team that just couldn’t get over the hump and win the division.

If we recall correctly, James’ theory was that even though the Expos had some great players like Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Tim Wallach, and Warren Cromartie, all near the top at their positions in the major leagues, the team was weighed down by the spots where they didn’t have great players.

The Cleveland Indians remind me of those Expo teams right now.

The Tribe has some of the best players in the game at their respective positions:  Michael Brantley and Francisco Lindor were both ranked by MLB Network’s Shredder as the best left fielder and shortstop, respectively.

And Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes are among the best second basemen and catchers in baseball too.

In fact, the network had five Indians among the game’s Top 100 Players Right Now:  Brantley, Corey Kluber, Kipnis, Lindor, and Carlos Carrasco.

That’s a good place to start for any team.  The hope is the weaknesses at the other positions don’t drag the Indians’ win-loss record down.

Without Brantley, it is well documented that Terry Francona has a lot of question marks to deal with in his outfield.  Since Abraham Almonte was suspended, and he isn’t a great answer to any question either, the starting OF looks like Lonnie Chisenhall in RF, Rajai Davis somewhere, and the other spot is wide open.

And outside of prospect Tyler Naquin, the upside for Joey Butler, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, and/or Collin Cowgill isn’t exactly awe inspiring either.

At the infield corners, the Tribe is going with veterans on the wrong side of 30 years old in Mike Napoli and Juan Uribe.  Both have been productive recently, so it’s not exactly a huge risk, but neither is it etched in stone that these two will be productive.

The bedrock of this team is it’s outstanding starting pitching.  But the question that most national pundits have is did the front office get enough offense to take real advantage of arguably the best rotation in the American League.

Look, because of their arms, the Tribe is going to be in most games barring an injury or two.  Kluber, Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer give you a chance to win every night, and Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin aren’t bad either.

However, we’ve seen what the Indians record over the years is when scoring three or fewer runs per game, even with this pitching staff:

2015  18-61
2014  25-56
2013  17-53
2012  16-63

In the last four years, the trend has been an offense scoring three runs or less in about half the Tribe’s games.

Imagine how good this ballclub would be with a consistent and more potent batting attack?

They would be the team to beat in the American League, and perhaps all of baseball.

The front office is also fortunate they don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for that rotation right now.  Kluber, Carrasco and Tomlin are under affordable contracts, and the rest of the hurlers are under club control.

The story of this season is will the weaknesses in the outfield and the possible age on the corner infield outweigh all of the good things the franchise has going for it.

Or can the talented players on the Cleveland roster make up for the weaknesses.

KM

 

 

Lack of Consistency Killing Tribe

It has been well documented that the Cleveland Indians have had issues stringing together wins.  When they emerged victorious both Friday and Saturday in Texas, it marked the first time the Tribe has won two in a row since the first week of the season.

The biggest problem?  Consistency.

Terry Francona’s club simply can’t put anything together on a day-to-day basis.

For example, in their last seven games, the Indians have had games where they are tallied eight runs twice, and another where they scored ten times.  In the other four games?  Cleveland scored one run twice, two runs once, and three runs once.

Since it is difficult to win games where you score three runs or less (although the Tribe did win 2-0 on Corey Kluber’s gem on Wednesday night), this team can’t put together any kind of streak.

The pitching isn’t any better.  In the same seven games, Cleveland hurlers had contests where they had a shutout, allowed two runs twice, and three runs once.  That’s good, right?

Except that in the other three games, the pitching staff allowed eight runs twice and five runs on another occasion.

Even individual players have had the same ups and downs.  Now, we realize that not everybody can be like Michael Brantley, but some of the Indians players have been woefully inconsistent.

While the starting pitching looked to be a strength coming into the year, the main starters have yet to reach a point where they are good most times they take the hill.

Kluber has had four of eight starts where he has thrown six or more frames allowing two runs of less.  The other four appearances?  23 innings pitched allowing 19 earned runs.

Carlos Carrasco has been about the same.  In four of his eight starts (we threw out the game he was hit by the line drive), he has pitched 24-1/3 innings and allowed eight runs, for an ERA of under 3.00.  In his other starts, he has pitched 19 innings, allowing 14 earned runs.

To be fair, Trevor Bauer has been good in five of his seven starts and Danny Salazar in five of his six opportunities.

The fifth spot has been an out-and-out disaster, with southpaws T.J. House and Bruce Chen combining to allow 38 hits in 19 innings of work.

The bullpen has been most up and down as well, with only Zack McAllister and lately Bryan Shaw showing solid efforts on most nights.  Long man Ryan Webb has done his job well also.

That’s not good enough if you want to put together a winning streak.

The hitters aren’t immune either.  Brandon Moss was counted on to be a power presence in the middle of the order, and he does lead the club in home runs (5) and RBI’s (23).  That’s great until you see three of those dingers and 13 of the runs he has knocked in have come in THREE GAMES!

In the other 32 games, he’s hit 2 homers and knocked in 10, which is about what David Murphy has done in part-time duty.

We will leave Jason Kipnis out of this because he’s been torrid for about a two-week stretch, it hasn’t been a select few games.

We know Nick Swisher is battling back from surgery on both knees.  He came into today at 9 for 35 on the year.  He was 7 for 8 in two games, and in the other eight games he appeared in, he was 2 for 27.

Until the Tribe starts getting good performances on an almost nightly basis from their hitters and pitchers, they are going to keep scuffling.

What makes players good is consistency.  Many guys can have a good night every once in a while, and right now, that’s what’s happening here.

It has to change soon, because the other teams in the AL Central are all playing pretty well.

KM

Does Tribe Still Need Pitching

Yesterday was a good day for the Indians’ organization because the ace of their staff, Corey Kluber, won the American League’s Cy Young Award.  He is the fourth Tribe pitcher to win that award, joining Gaylord Perry, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee.

Kluber deserved the honor, leading the league in wins with 18 and finishing second in the AL in strikeouts and complete games.

We knew this last season, but Terry Francona has a legitimate top of the rotation starter going into next season.  The question is, does GM Chris Antonetti still need to add another starter, or should he be satisfied with the performance of the starters over the last two months of the season.

The answer here is you can never have too much pitching, and although the rotation was fantastic in August and September, there really isn’t much of a track record for any of the starters, including Kluber.

Before anyone goes crazy, to us, a proven track record is two to three years at a certain performance level.  And while Kluber has been solid in both 2013 and 2014, the fact remains he threw only 147 innings in the prior year because of injury, and this year he pitched 235 frames.  How will his arm react to the additional workload?

The only starting pitcher who toiled in the major leagues prior to 2013 is Carlos Carrasco, who was tremendous after returning to the rotation last season, but outside of the first half of the 2011 season, before needing Tommy John surgery, has little track record of success in the big leagues.

This isn’t to denigrate Carrasco, who has tremendous stuff.  We are only saying it is a big leap of faith to assume the right-hander will pitch the entire 2015 season the way he finished ’14.

Trevor Bauer has the next most starts in the majors with 34, the same number Kluber had this season.  His career ERA in those appearance is 4.18, which is a solid figure, but not earth shattering.

We like Bauer, and for most of last season he was the second most consistent starter for Cleveland.  But, he’s thrown less than 200 innings (186) at the big league level.  You simply don’t know for certain what he is going to do in 2015.

Danny Salazar?  He has 30 major league starts and 162 innings under his belt.

T. J. House made 18 starts and has just a little over 100 innings in the bigs.

Josh Tomlin and Zack McAllister have more of a track record than the three guys we just mentioned.  Tomlin is 29-28 lifetime with an ERA approaching 5.00 (4.89) in 477 innings.  If he could pitch like he did in 2011 (12-7, 4.12 ERA) that would be nice, but that’s the last time he was effective.

McAllister is 19-25 with a 4.38 ERA lifetime in 65 starts, a total of 363 innings.  He was solid in 2013, but had a mediocre season in ’14.  He showed promise working in relief at the end of the season, and could be taking the same career path as Carrasco.

We wouldn’t want to bank on those two as backups if one of the youngsters falter.

It may sound like doom and gloom, but these are the things Antonetti needs to think about when constructing the pitching staff.  He has to assume things will go wrong.

Think about it, Bauer and House weren’t in the rotation that opened the 2014 season.

That’s why the Tribe still needs to add another starting pitcher, preferably someone who can come in and the management can be reasonably certain they can soak up innings and pitch effectively.

The old adage is still true…you can’t have enough pitching.

KM

Tribe Shouldn’t Trade Starting Pitching for a Bat.

A lot of discussion has gone on over the past few days about the direction the Cleveland Indians need to go in this winter.  While no one questions whether or not the Tribe needs to get more hitting, the question remains, how to do it.

The Indians finished in the top half of the American League in both runs scored (7th) and in ERA (6th), but no one who watched the team play this season has any doubt the ballclub needs another proven hitter and better defense.

One of the ways suggested to get the hitting Terry Francona’s team needs is to trade one of their pitchers, based on the outstanding work of the starting rotation over the last two months.

However, we would suggest this is not the proper move.

First, it would be a repeat of the pattern the Tribe front office used throughout the 70’s and 80’s, when they would  collect hitters and have no pitching.  Then, they would trade those hitters to get pitchers, thus creating a team with solid pitching but could not hit.

And then they would repeat the cycle all over again.

Quite frankly, beyond the five pitchers Cleveland used in the rotation at the end of the year (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and T.J. House), there isn’t a lot of depth in the system.

And of those five starters, beyond Kluber, only Bauer demonstrated effectiveness over more than the last two months in 2014.  This isn’t to say the others are flashes in the pan, it is only to show the lack of an established track record.

We have said this before and will repeat, the two areas where the Indians have some depth is in the bullpen and in the middle infield.

With youngsters on the horizon like C.C. Lee, Austin Adams, and guys coming up like Shawn Armstrong, Louis Head, and Tyler Sturdivant, and the emergence of Zack McAllister as another power arm to use in relief, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Bryan Shaw included in a deal.

Shaw has been used hard by Francona and Mickey Callaway over the past two years, and it may be prudent to sell high on the right-hander before his performance drops from the excess use.

In the middle infield, the Indians have 2B Jason Kipnis, coming off a bad year, SS Jose Ramirez, just 22-years-old, and the team’s best prospect, SS Francisco Lindor.  They also have Ronny Rodriguez and Erik Gonzales, who both finished the year at AA Akron.

Kipnis is established and if the front office wants to make room for Lindor, then Ramirez is a solid trade chip, a middle infielder who has great speed, and hit .262 playing regularly over August and September.  There are many teams around the majors who are always looking for help in the middle of the diamond.

Another possible chip could be reserve catcher Roberto Perez, who hit .271 in 85 at bats backing up Yan Gomes after Carlos Santana was shifted to first base.  Perez is just 26-years-old and probably too young to be in a back up role, so teams looking for catchers could be interested.

Besides, with Gomes getting the bulk of the time behind the plate, the Indians don’t need to look too hard to find someone to play 30-40 games in a season.

There is no question the Indians need to get a bat or two, but dealing a starting pitcher isn’t the way to do it.

KM

 

Indians Have Rotation Woes

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.

MW