Indians Acquire Kevin Slowey: A Solid Deal for Cleveland

Just after the Indians (and the world) learned that the pitcher we had all known as 28-year-old Fausto Carmona was really 31-year-old Roberto Hernandez Heredia, they had added a new starter to compete for his likely vacant rotation spot.

On Friday, Cleveland sent reliever prospect Zach Putnam to the Rockies for right-handed starting pitcher Kevin Slowey and $1.25 million cash. The move reportedly wasn’t a reaction to the news about Carmona, which had broken a day earlier—”We’ve actually had dialogue with the Rockies for the better part of the offseason,” GM Chris Antonetti said—but Slowey is now a potential fit to fill a hole that did not exist a week ago.

Whether or not the deal was reactionary, one thing is clear: it was a great move.

On the surface, the acquisition might not seem like much to write home about. Slowey, 27, had a disappointing year with the Twins, going 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA in an injury-plagued 2011 season, including a Sept. 16 outing against the Tribe in which he allowed five runs on seven hits in four innings.

In addition to his health problems, Slowey’s struggles were largely caused by bad luck. He is a relatively hittable pitcher, but even so his .330 BABIP was probably undeserved. And his 58 percent strand rate was far worse than what he normally posts, suggesting a healthy dose of positive regression is in order for 2012.

So what should be expect from Slowey next year? Before last year, he had a 4.41 career ERA with a 1.28 WHIP, a 6.9 K/9 rate, a 1.5 BB/9 rate, and a 1.4 HR/9 rate. Even including 2011, according to FanGraphs he’s been worth almost exactly 2.0 WAR per 150 innings.

In other words, if Slowey makes the rotation he will probably be like Josh Tomlin 2.0: a roughly average hurler with hittable stuff but great control. Which, nostalgic visions of 2007 aside, is probably better than we could have reasonably expected from the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona. And it’s definitely good enough for him to be a solid back-end starter.

Thanks to the money the Rockies threw in in the trade, the Indians are paying Slowey only $1.5 million for 2012. That could be a huge bargain. Based on FanGraphs’ win valuations, if he plays a full season a league-average pitcher would provide his team with about $10 million worth of production. And even if Slowey struggles or gets hurt again he could still be a good investment—especially if the Indians end up with enough surplus pitching (if Carmona Heredia comes back, or if David Huff or Jeanmar Gomez take a step forward) that they could potentially flip him at the deadline.

In exchange for two years of Slowey (he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2013) Cleveland had to part with Putnam. The 24-year-old righty is a good get for Colorado; Baseball America just called him the 10th-best prospect in the Indians organization, while John Sickels and Kevin Goldstein both named him as an honorable mention on their lists. But Putnam’s upside was limited as a reliever, the Indians have plenty of young bullpen arms in the minors, and pitching prospects may be the most volatile commodities in baseball. So if Slowey returns to his old form—or anything close to it—he’ll be more valuable to the Tribe than Putnam.

If Slowey gets injured or struggles this trade will look like a mistake (though that caveat could apply to just about any deal in baseball), and if Heredia comes back or an internal option proves to be a viable replacement then perhaps the deal will have been unnecessary. But if you give Slowey the benefit of the doubt going forward, then the Indians just dealt from a position of great strength to nip their potential pitching problem in the bud. Nice move by the Tribe.

What do you think of the deal for the Indians?

  • Meh (44%, 12 Votes)
  • Solid (41%, 11 Votes)
  • Bad move (15%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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Tags: Kevin Slowey Zach Putnam

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