Within the span of a week in early January, the Indians signed Nick Swisher and Brett Myers to contracts totaling $63 million. The reaction to the Myers signing was mixed but was mostly overshadowed by the Swisher news. I wrote at the time that if Myers was the big addition to the rotation it was a bit underwhelming, but if the budget was closed after the Swisher signing it was understandable why the Tribe could not spend more and get a front-line starter.
Now that the Indians have spent another $48 million on Michael Bourn, I’m starting to re-think the wisdom of the Myers deal.
Myers is not a bad pitcher and the cost was probably in line with what he can be expected to contribute, but in a good rotation he would be no better than a fourth starter, and the Indians have six other guys who look like fourth starters. Given the makeup of the roster, if I were going to allocate $20 million between a pitcher and an outfielder, I would have invested more in than the the outfielder instead of the other way around.
I know what the Indians are saying, that they didn’t really have the money for Bourn in their budget, that his price dropped so much that they just had to grab the opportunity. Well, this is still Cleveland. Teams around here don’t spend $48 million on a whim. This is a contract that will be one of the two or three largest on the team for as long as Michael Bourn is here. The Indians have done the math and they know that their budget will handle the contracts of Swisher and Bourn with enough cushion to turn a profit for the next four years. If the Indians draw 1.5 million the next two years we will probably see a massive salary dump at the trade deadline, but these signings would not have happened if the Indians were not confident that ticket revenues and TV money would not support a payroll in the neighborhood of 80 million dollars.
All of these circumstances were in place when Brett Myers was signed. The sale of STO happened a week before Myers was signed. The new MLB TV deal was already in the books. The Choo trade had already happened, so the Indians knew they would not be on the hook for his $9 million salary. At the time Myers was signed, whatever math the Indians did that convinced them to sign Michael Bourn a month later was already in place, which means that they could easily have bypassed Myers and dug a little deeper to sign a true impact starting pitcher like Kyle Lohse.
My suspicion is that the Indians view Myers as a stopgap until Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco show they are ready to face major league hitters every fifth day. They will probably open with a rotation of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Myers, Zach McAllister, and Scott Kazmir and let Bauer and Carrasco spend a month in Columbus getting comfortable. Once the youngsters show they are ready Myers or Kazmir will move to the bullpen or the team will make a trade trade.
It’s not a bad strategy for the back end of the rotation, but a gaping hole remains in the front. None of these guys can match up with even the No. 2 or 3 starters for Detroit, Chicago, New York, Toronto, Tampa, or Texas—i.e., the teams we have to win series against if we want to make the playoffs. Myers is not going to be a difference-maker in those matchups, and if the Indians indeed had the money available to go get a pitcher who would have been a difference maker, they should have done so.
The only way this all works out is if Ubaldo Jimenez gets his act together. Jimenez at least has the pedigree of a front-line starter. If he performs to his potential, Myers or McAllister can be a passable No. 3 and there are enough good arms in camp that somebody will step up and handle the last two spots. If Ubaldo pitches like he did last year, though, Michael Bourn will earn his $12 million chasing down line drives in the gaps because we didn’t invest our money on the rotation.