It’s no secret the Cleveland Indians had an atrocious starting rotation in 2012. By any measure they were historically bad—whether it’s the 5.25 starter’s ERA spread over 10 pitchers, good for fourth worst in club history (and the Indians have certainly posted some stinker seasons) or the 13.94 baserunners per nine innings, or the 14 games in which a starter allowed at least eight runs. The list goes on, and it’s as depressing and interminable as these guys made it to watch Indians games this summer.
Pitching wins championships more than anything, and for a small market, low payroll team it has to be the focus going forward. Really, it’s amazing that the Indians were in contention at all in 2012 given their staff’s struggles. So the number one thing on the Indians braintrust’s mind this winter has to be putting a strong rotation together, one that can not only give the team a chance to win, but dominate when it has to. After all, this offense can just evaporate at any time.
Step one is cleaning house. This means that coming into Goodyear next spring, at least two men should not be in attendance: Roberto Hernandez hasn’t been a viable starter for two or three years, and Ubaldo Jimenez has been just terrible his entire Indians career. I don’t care what kind of egos or whatever are tied up in these guys—losing can get a GM canned much faster than bad decisions. Shoot, Brian Sabean has made some downright puzzling aquisitions in his time in San Francisco, but he won the lottery with that rotation and now is firmly ensconced.
The option for Hernandez should be tossed in the shredder and the Dolans should bite the bullet and buy Ubaldo out. I can’t help but think this would at least give some hope to the fanbase that the owners care. Seeing Jimenez out there once every five days was just irritating. It was like spinning a wheel of fortune where you can only win a kick in the shins. Jimenez won 19 games two years ago and pitched a no-hitter, so he’ll find work in baseball for the next decade. It just shouldn’t be in Cleveland.
Step two is figuring out what guys in the system are good enough for the rotation. This certainly means Justin Masterson, and besides him I have to give the nod to Zach McAllister. Though his numbers aren’t a thing of beauty, he’s got a nice fastball at 91.8 mph and a two-seamer right at 92, a changeup at 81 with nice break and a nice tertiary assortment of pitches to work with, he’s got the stuff, he just needs the schooling too put it where it needs to be. He won’t be the ace but he doesn’t need to be. Good will suffice, better than a quality start.
Carlos Carrasco is another arm who needs to be in the rotation. We didn’t see him all summer because of Tommy John recovery, but this is the guy who had flashes of absolute brilliance before he went down, including an outing in New York back in June 2011 of seven-inning shutout ball. He can tickle 96 mph on the gun, he has a dirty slider and as long as he doesn’t get too trapped in his own head maybe he can live up to that horrible “Little CC” nickname that got bandied about for a bit. I’m really high on this guy and think he could be a brilliant front of the rotation starter.
The fourth guy I’d plug into the rotation is Corey Kluber, if only because I like his guts. His propensity for laying it over the middle of the plate notwithstanding, Kluber showed time and again that once he’s settled in he can be a strikeout machine. Of course, that’s not what I want him to be, he ends up throwing too many pitches and gets the bullpen tired. But he’s still got a live arm and like these other guys he’s shown a glimmer. That’s all an overly optimistic Tribe fan needs.
But David Huff? How many times have we been tantalized by Huff for a game or three, only to watch him be re-figured out and demolished? I’d say 12. That goes for Jeanmar Gomez too, he just doesn’t have it. Whether they’re Quad-A players or suited to long relief (if nothing else, Huff could be a Phil Coke) remains to be seen, but they definitely shouldn’t be starting.
So there’s four guys to build a rotation. But wait, you might think, that’s just not enough, Merritt. Good counting! You’re right. That’s why the final step (one I’ve already discussed before) is to sign a top flight pitcher in the person of Brandon McCarthy. I love McCarthy, from how he’s embraced advanced statistics to reform himself as a pitcher (he developed a nasty cutter to induce weak contact and keep his BABIP low) to his attitude to his Twitter account. With McCarthy and Masterson leading the way and those other three young guns in tow, the Indians could well contend against the likes of the Tigers and White Sox.
Yeah, it’s a bit overly hopeful. I’m projecting Carrasco to come back like gangbusters, Kluber and McAllister to be something real nice (maybe more than they’re capable of being, but winter hubris is a key piece of baseball fandom), Masterson to return to the 2011 version of himself, and the ownership to open their wallets. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility. You have to believe the Dolans want some real winning to bask in. I’d rather they sign a good pitcher than a DH or something. Not that offense isn’t fun, but if they stumbled into a playoff chase this year with what they ran out there every day, why not some real contention with real starting pitching?
Miguel Cabrera isn’t going anywhere, and someone has to get him out. Pitching is how the Tribe will get to the Promised Land, and this is the group that can do it.