At the beginning of the season I recommended that the Indians waive Ryan Raburn and keep Cord Phelps. Raburn currently has an OPS of .879. More recently I have determined that it was time to cut Scott Kazmir loose. Since then he has given up one earned run in fourteen innings. I also said that Trevor Bauer would be in the rotation by the All-Star break and lead the Indians on a second half rally. That looks brilliant after his 2/3 inning performance Friday night. Oh, yeah, I also said that Nick Hagadone had thrown his last meaningful pitch for the Indians. May have said that twice, in fact.
So why should you listen to me? Maybe I’m due, I don’t know. The truth is nobody knows how the rest of the season will go. Nobody knows what moves will work and what won’t. The people who tell you what moves the Indians are about to make probably also told you the Cavs would draft Nerlens Noel. Just keep that in mind as you read this – it’s a guess, nothing more.
The consensus appears to be that the Indians need another starting pitcher to stay in the playoff race. As much as we would all like to see Bauer or Carrasco or even Salazar grab the fifth starter job and run with it, I can’t say that I would be excited or confident to see either of them pitch in a pressure situation in September. Assuming Zach McAllister returns to the same form in the second half that he showed before his injury, that makes Scott Kazmir the fifth starter. Kazmir has been solid for three consecutive starts now; it is hard to tell whether he has figured out a mechanical issue or will simply continue to have good days and bad as he regains his arm strength after not facing big league hitters for several years.
Which raises the issue: if Kazmir is, at this time, the pitcher most likely to be displaced in the rotation if a trade is made, is there anyone available out there who would be a significant improvement on Kazmir? Let me start out by saying that I hate the trades that give up good prospects to replace a guy with a 4.60 ERA with a guy with a 4.30 ERA. Bear in mind that the difference between a 4.60 ERA and a 4.30 ERA over half a season is about three runs, so the possibility of that sort of trade really making a difference in the pennant race is slim.
So if we are going to trade for a starter, it has to be someone who can make a difference. The name out there right now is Matt Garza. He is 4-1, and his last few starts have been tremendous. At his best, he would line up as the Indians’ number two starter behind Justin Masterson. Garza is a free agent after this season, which really works to our advantage, because he does not come with a long-term cost obligation and the Cubs do not expect a king’s ransom for him.
The name that was tossed out by ESPN as a trade piece for Garza is Cody Allen. The sabermetric trend is to downgrade the value of relief pitchers. I get the mathematical logic. Garza will throw more innings the second half of this season than Allen would in two years, and the Indians could plug any of a half-dozen guys (Kazmir, for one, if he is knocked out of the rotation) into Allen’s spot and not lose more than a run or two over the course of three months. But what I know is that Allen has gotten out of more jams than any other reliever we have this year, and he shows the kind of stuff and the kind of stones that make him a future closer. I also know that Allen will be cheap for a least a couple more years.
This is what it comes down to for me: right now, I would put the Indians’ chances of making the postseason at about ten per cent. That may seem overly pessimistic, but before the season I put their ceiling at ninety wins, and nothing that has happened so far has changed that opinion, in that no key players are exceeding expectations by a significant margin. I don’t see the Tigers winning less than ninety unless Cabrera gets hurt, so our best chance of making the playoffs is as a wild card.
Oakland and Texas are both on pace to win far more than ninety games, so if two teams from the Eastern Division win more than ninety the Indians are probably out of luck. So when I am looking at a potential trade, my question is how much that trade will move us away from that ten percent. If Garza pushes our ceiling up to 93 wins, it probably pushes our playoff odds up to 30-40 percent. That would be worth seriously considering, and I think the front office would probably be more eager to find that missing piece than I would be, since they need to justify the increased expenditures this past offseason and I only need to hope nobody remembers the ridiculous things I write.