I spoke to a man who went to the inaugural last week. He drove all the way to Maryland, paid for a train ticket into D.C., walked from Union Station two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue, and got no closer to the National Mall because the crowds were so huge and he was navigating with two small children. He sat in a sports bar and watched it on TV.
I get the same feeling about the Indians’ offseason thus far: Huge effort, but not quite enough. The point, after all, is to contend, or at least to be playing meaningful games after August 1. With two wild cards and a weak division, any team that is, say, ten games over .500 on Labor Day will be in the thick of it. In looking at the Indians’ roster, they look more like 80-85 wins than the 85-90 they would need to be a borderline contender.
The reason is the rotation. And if I were Chris Antonetti, I would get one more guy.
The goal is to win, and there are too many question marks in the rotation to feel confident that we will see quality starts on a regular basis, which is what it will take to contend. Assuming we get the 2011 Justin Masterson, which is possible but not certain, who else in this rotation is a sure thing? I can see Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco being at the front of the rotation someday, but Bauer is young and Carrasco is coming off surgery, so a scenario where they battle for the fifth spot is probably more realistic. Zach McAllister is a solid fourth starter. Brett Myers was a good starting pitcher in 2010, a decent starter in 2011, and a reliever in 2012. I would pencil him down for twelve wins and be happy with that.
So a realistic option as a number two starter is lacking. One way of looking at it is that of the six guys being discussed (leaving out Scott Kazmir and the rest of the true long shots), at least four would have to achieve their respective best-case scenarios for this rotation to be of contender status. Another way is to look at potential series with the Tigers. Leaving out Justin Verlander, since nobody has a good matchup for him, who could the Indians send up against Doug Fister or Max Scherzer that would not be considered an underdog?
The only name on the roster that makes sense at all is Ubaldo Jimenez. What that means is that the Indians need to decide quickly if the 2013 Ubaldo will resemble the 2010 Ubaldo or the 2012 Ubaldo. Based on the more recent history, I would view him as a fourth starter at best, which means that the second and third spots are still open. You can realistically gamble and hope that someone among Jimenez, Myers, Bauer, McAllister, and Carrasco gets it together and becomes a legitimate number two starter. But gambling that two of those guys overachieve seems like too much of a reach for me.
So I would at least test the water on Kyle Lohse. I know the budget is tapped out, but let’s get creative. Someone is going to sign him to a one-year, $12 million dollar, get 15 wins out of him and look like a genius. It might as well be us. I could make the case that a 90-win team with and $80 million payroll could be more profitable than an 80-win team with a $70 million payroll, but that’s all theoretical. If the money is really a problem, trade Chris Perez or Ubaldo Jimenez for a couple of prospects and spend the money on Lohse. Or bundle Perez and Asdrubal Cabrera together and get a real ace.
Maybe Joe Saunders would be an option, although I would be hard pressed to see him as an upgrade on what we already have. Not Javier Vazquez, or any of the mid-level free agents who would serve no purpose other than to chew up payroll and keep our young pitchers in Columbus. It needs to be a guy, either a free agent or via a trade, that we can realistically write down for 200 innings and fifteen wins. It doesn’t need to be a guy we lock up on a long term deal, either. By 2014 I can see a rotation of Masterson, Bauer, Carrasco, and McAllister being near the top of the league. But we need a bridge to that scenario.
Mind you, I think the Indians have done a spectacular job this offseason. But we can do everything right and we will never match the lineups of teams who can throw money at the Josh Hamiltons and Miguel Cabreras of the world. Our best shot is to have five starting pitchers who are capable of seven solid innings every time out. Realistically, we still have work to do.