On Tuesday, the Indians followed up on the acquisitions of Mark Reynolds, Trevor Bauer, and Nick Swisher by coming to terms with free agent pitcher Brett Myers on a one-year deal. In the wake of the news I wrote that signing Myers seemed like an unnecessary move—yes, there was a hole in the Tribe’s projected 2013 rotation, but the team has plenty of intriguing in-house candidates to fill it—but that it was impossible to judge the deal until the financial details were disclosed. After all, need isn’t a vital prerequisite for adding a player if he’s talented and the price is right.
The ambiguity lifted Wednesday morning as we learned that the Tribe had guaranteed $7 million to Myers, who will presumably join Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Carlos Carrasco in the 2013 rotation. And now we can safely say that Indians overpaid for the newest member of their pitching staff.
For starters, it is worth noting that Myers will now take home exactly the same 2013 salary that he would have earned had the White Sox not declined his $10 million option at the end of the season. Yes, $7 million is less than $10 million, but in declining Myers’ option Chicago gave him a $3 million buyout. The buyout money was sunk cost, so essentially the Indians agreed to give him the very same deal that his previous employer refused. This is far from a conclusive evidence on the utility of the signing, but that his former team thinks less of Myers than Cleveland does suggests that he could have been signed for less than $7 million.
But even if Myers really couldn’t have been signed for a penny less than $7 million, is he worth that big of an investment? Doubtful. Myers posted a 3.31 ERA out of the bullpen in 2012, but that masks some concerning trends. His strikeout rate fell to 5.7 K/9 last year while his FIP (4.26, nearly a full run below his ERA) didn’t move an inch from 2011, when he was a starting pitcher. As we’ve previously discussed, it’s much easier to be a reliever than it is to be a starter, so the fact that his DIPS stats plateaued when he moved to the bullpen is worrisome—especially since he could have trouble readjusting to the rotation and (last year notwithstanding) he has a history of underperforming his peripherals.
Two-hundred innings and an ERA in the low-to-mid-4.00′s seems a reasonable projection for Myers in 2013 (his ceiling is higher than that, but his 3.14 ERA in 2010 looks like an aberration). In a vacuum perhaps that’s worth $7 million, depending on how much money the team in question has and how close it is to contention. But it’s not as though Myers is the only thing stopping the Indians from filling out a rotation with five respectable starters. Pick whoever your favorite is of Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, David Huff, Paolo Espino, Scott Kazmir, and any other pitchers the Indians might pick up before Spring Training—that’s who would make the team if Cleveland hadn’t signed Myers. Is the difference between Myers and whoever the best of that group is really worth $7 million for a club that’s strapped for cash? I’m not convinced.
There could be more to the situation that we don’t know. If, as has been suggested, Carlos Carrasco won’t be ready for Opening Day, that changes things. Ditto if the Indians are considering moving Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen or trading Justin Masterson. Maybe they’re planning to trade Chris Perez and move Myers to the closer’s role once Trevor Bauer gets a few weeks of seasoning in Columbus. If the rotation still isn’t set in stone or this is just a prelude to another move this signing would make more sense. But based on what we do know I don’t fully get the thinking behind this deal.
Far be it from me to question the front office’s laudable aggressive approach to bringing in outside talent, but Brett Myers is a solid but below-average starting pitcher whom the Indians are making their second- or third-highest player in 2013 instead of letting [insert your favorite in-house rotation candidate here] get a chance to prove himself in the big leagues. Yes, Cleveland is a better team with Myers on it, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost.