The Cleveland Indians ended 2012 with a bang by signing Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million contract, and it turns out they weren’t done shopping—just a few short hours into 2013, news broke that the Tribe had signed right-handed pitcher Brett Myers. Nothing will be official until Myers passes his physical and as of this writing the financial details are unknown, but it is a one-year deal with a team option for 2014.
Cleveland hadn’t been connected to Myers at all this offseason prior to the signing, but this wasn’t really a surprise. The Indians were known to have been seeking a veteran starting pitcher to bolster their rotation for 2013, and though Myers spent this past season in the bullpen with 249 career starts and a 101 ERA+ he certainly fits the bill. However, just because an acquisition like this was expected doesn’t mean it makes sense, and I’m not fully sure why the Tribe decided to do it.
Let me first say that I am reserving judgment on this deal until the rest of the details come out. If the Indians are getting Myers for say, $500,000 (with the 2014 option at a similar price), then it’s a worthwhile signing, end of story. If they’re guaranteeing him an eight-digit salary for 2013 then it’s a bad deal, period. We’re all working with limited information for the moment—ignoring finances is an unavoidable simplification of the situation, but it is a simplification nonetheless.
And so, the pertinent question here is: Do the Indians need another starting pitcher? I know the instinct is to say yes, but suppress that reflex for a moment and really think about it.
With Myers in the fold, the Tribe’s 2013 rotation is essentially set. Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Brett Myers, Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Carrasco. Quibble with the order or replace Carrasco with a dream acquisition of your choosing, but unless Jimenez is moved to the bullpen the starting five looks to have taken shape. Maybe it’s not yet etched in stone, but the metaphorical sculptors have at least traced out the carvings. The uncertainty is gone. But is that really a good thing?
What does that mean for Corey Kluber? He clearly has nothing left to prove in the minors after posting a 3.59 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning in 21 starts for Columbus last year. He got roughed up at times through his 12 MLB starts in 2012, but he showed good command and strikeout stuff. He’s a 26-year-old starter who posted a 3.87 SIERA last year. It would be unwise to count on him to be an effective pitcher in 2013, but doesn’t he deserve a chance to prove himself?
What about Trevor Bauer? With apologies to Swisher he’s the most exciting acquisition the Indians have made this winter. There have been rumors that he will start the season in Triple-A, in which case he wouldn’t be part of a rotation logjam on Opening Day. But even if he does open the year in Columbus (which is far from a guarantee), you can bet he won’t be in the minors for too long. Which established starter will be demoted when he gets called up? Or worse, would Bauer be stranded in Columbus longer than necessary (as Jason Kipnis was) for the sake of not upsetting the established order?
There are other potential rotation options, too. Jeanmar Gomez has some potential. David Huff has pitched well in limited MLB action over the last two years. Paolo Espino might be worth a look. The newly signed Scott Kazmir definitely isn’t a reliable option, but what if he regains his mojo? I’m not saying any of these guys are solid options, but isn’t there anyone among them who could be handed the ball in the unlikely event that neither Kluber nor Bauer can fill a hole in the rotation?
Few would doubt that Myers will be one of the Tribe’s five best starting pitching options, but I think the general Cleveland sports zeitgeist overestimates the margin. I can’t tell you who would have won the rotation spot that is now reserved for Myers, but odds are that whomever the best of Kluber, Bauer, Gomez, Huff, Espino, and Kazmir is would be in his same league. Bringing in someone else has an opportunity cost of everyone else’s potential production.
It’s nice to see the Indians continuing their aggressive search for talent, and the roster certainly looks better with Myers on it. But contrary to popular belief starting pitching really wasn’t an area of strong need for the Tribe, and making a significant monetary investment in him might not be the best use of the team’s limited resources.