Compared to other recent offseasons, the Indians currently find themselves with an embarrassment of riches. They have a predetermined starter at every defensive position and designated hitter. They have three rotation positions securely assigned and at least six viable candidates for the other two spots. The bullpen is loaded. Mike Aviles is a better bench player than they have had in years, and Nick Swisher is a de facto fourth outfielder. There are a number of other good options for the remaining bench spots, to the point that it is hard to imagine a situation such as often happened last year where we had players who appeared overmatched by major league encounters.
While there is much cause for excitement, it would be a stretch to consider the Indians a legitimate contender. In today’s game any team who can stay above .500 until Labor Day and then get hot is a contender, but to really be in the race a team needs to aim for ninety wins, and the Indians do not have the starting pitching to achieve that. Of all the candidates for the rotation, only Justin Masterson would be likely to make Detroit’s rotation. There is every reason to believe that a year from now Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Zach McAllister will be able hold their own in any rotation, but until they establish a track record they are at best fourth starters. Brett Myers has never been more than a fourth starter, and Ubaldo Jimenez needs to put together two good starts in a row before he can think about being considered a frontline starter. The rest of the candidates for the rotation are either coming off injuries or have no real experience.
There have been rumors that the Indians will use the depth they have created with their free agent signings to acquire starting pitching. The offseason has been so unpredictable that it has become difficult to know which rumors are credible—at one point we did not think the money was there to sign Nick Swisher, let alone Michael Bourn. My caution would be to go for quality rather than quantity. The depth of the starting rotation is fine; there are enough pitchers in camp of major league quality to fill the rotations in Cleveland and Columbus.
What is needed is one guy who can go into a matchup with anyone in Detroit’s rotation (save Justin Verlander, of course) and not seem like an underdog. It could be a guy near the end of his contract; that would actually be preferable, since Bauer and Carrasco should be ready to blossom and there is already a built-in increase in our payroll for 2014 with Bourn’s back-loaded contract and the arbitration eligible players already here.
The good news is that the Indians have been thinking big all offseason, in contrast to the Casey Kotchman-level thinking of prior years. In many other seasons Ben Francisco would have been the biggest name on the list of acquisitions. Rather than trade Shin-Soo Choo for three or four second-rate prospects who spend years dominating the International League, we got the one of the ten best pitching prospects in all of baseball. Instead of stockpiling replacement level players to fill roster spots, Chris Antonetti got three hitters who will be in key roles and be significant upgrades over their predecessors. The defense, power, baserunning, and depth will all be measurably better than last year.
Given all the progress that has been made, it simply doesn’t make sense to go into the regular season with nothing more than hope for the starting rotation. Based on salary and the remainder of the rotation, the Indians are obviously hoping that Ubaldo Jimenez performs as a viable number two starter behind Masterson. The honest truth is that this is a mistake. Jimenez has been a steady state of decline since starting the All-Star game in 2010. Counting on him to play a major role makes no more sense than doing the same for Scott Kazmir or Daisuke Matsuzaka. They are all guys who were elite pitchers several years ago but no longer are. The biggest difference is that Jimenez makes $6 million, so keeping him on the roster prevents the team from spending money on someone who could actually help.
Unless the Indians are able to increase payroll even higher, trading Jimenez in a salary dump for whatever prospects the Indians can get so that they can spend that six million on a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher such as Kyle Lohse is a sensible move. This will require the admission that the Jimenez trade was a colossal blunder—although at this point Drew Pomerantz is no better—and it also carries the risk that Jimenez will go somewhere else and win eighteen games. But if that happens he will get a huge free agent contract and be gone anyway, so that is a minor gamble.
Do the Indians need another starting pitcher?
- Absolutely (74%, 432 Votes)
- No, but it'd be nice to have one (22%, 131 Votes)
- No, it would be a waste of money (4%, 21 Votes)
Total Voters: 584