If you’ve been following Cleveland sports (or sports in general) recently, you’ve probably heard all there is to hear about Johnny Manziel and LeBron James.
But you’ve probably also heard about how the Indians have struggled to find contributors out of their starting rotation.
Corey Kluber has been by far the Tribe’s best (and most reliable) starting pitcher, as he currently carries a 2.95 ERA (including an even better 2.69 FIP) in 21 starts and 140 1/3 innings. Over that time, he’s racked up 152 strikeouts and has only walked 33, good for a filthy K/BB ratio of 4.61.
In addition, Trevor Bauer has been solid this season as well. Despite beginning the season with Triple-A Columbus (where he dominated), Bauer has made 13 starts for the Indians this season and has a 3.89 ERA over his 78 2/3 innings with the Tribe. He’s struck out a healthy 75 batters and appears to have managed to clear up his control issues — he’s only walked 28 batters this season, despite having walked 29 in his first 33 1/3 career innings in 2012 and 2013.
But other than those two, the Indians’ rotation hasn’t exactly been a shutdown unit. The Tribe’s starting pitchers rank 26th in the majors with a collective 4.46 ERA — and that’s including Kluber and Bauer. The two have combined to allow 80 earned runs in 219 innings, while the rest of the Tribe’s rotation has combined to allow 201 earned runs in 347 2/3 innings (which is roughly a 5.20 ERA).
Josh Tomlin‘s 4.48 ERA over his 13 starts this season isn’t horrible, though it ranks third among Indians starters — which is a problem. He’s also allowed a troubling 14 home runs in his 13 starts. T.J. House has looked impressive at times, but has been inconsistent over his 9 starts. Advanced metrics aren’t thrilled with what he’s done, either. Zach McAllister has an ugly 5.28 ERA in his 12 starts this season, though a 3.95 FIP suggests he’s been much better than that. However, the Indians apparently aren’t enamored with his performance, as he’s bounced between Cleveland and Columbus in 2014. Almost everything that could possibly have gone wrong for Justin Masterson this season, has gone wrong. Danny Salazar completely dominated hitters last season, but struggled in 8 big league starts this season. He was eventually demoted to Columbus, but has been promoted to pitch Tuesday against the Twins.
Clearly, the Indians would be smart to consider rotation upgrades, and while they have plenty of promising candidates that are capable of a turnaround, adding another option would be a good idea.
The Indians could gut their farm system and use a quarter of their payroll next season on David Price, but despite the fact that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, that wouldn’t be the smartest move.
They could try and make a deal with the Phillies, but the chances of them moving Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels seem about as likely as Tupac coming back (as much as you hope it could happen, it probably won’t). They also have Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez, if you’re into that.
Despite a fairly underwhelming market for starting pitchers, there are still a few interesting options out there for teams like the Indians to consider.
One such option is Oakland’s Tommy Milone. A former highly-regarded prospect, he was acquired by the A’s from the Nationals as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade in 2011. He’s made 75 appearances (73 starts) for the A’s since being acquired, and has posted a 3.84 ERA (4.17 FIP) during his 442 2/3 innings with Oakland.
Unfortunately for Milone, Oakland has tons of rotation depth (and they’ll likely get Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin back from injury sometime next season). He recently lost his rotation spot and was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento after the team acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — despite the fact that he posted a 2.62 ERA over his previous 11 starts.
That prompted Milone to ask the A’s to be traded, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal. He’s still just 27 years old and is under team control through at least 2017, making him an attractive option for the Indians (and plenty of other teams).
He has fairly significant home-road splits over his career, which makes sense considering he’s pitched a lot in Oakland’s pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum. Advanced metrics are somewhat conflicted on him as well, but after being adjusted for factors like ballpark and league, they typically suggest he’s roughly a league average starter.
I know, “league average starters” don’t win championships. But frankly, the Indians have received well below league-average production after Kluber and Bauer, and acquiring even an average starter like Milone (who has likely reached his ceiling, but could have some upside left) isn’t a bad alternative to emptying a farm system to acquire a top starter — not to mention the fact that his price tag will be significantly lower.
As an option for the back end of a rotation, teams could do much worse than Milone.
The A’s have already been getting calls about Milone, but the team is in no rush to meet his demands and trade him.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 21, 2014
If Oakland changes their stance, however, Milone would be a good fit for the Indians. He allows his fair share of home runs and isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, but he has terrific control and doesn’t allow too many hits, either. He won’t be mistaken for an ace, but you know what you’re getting with him.
Our own Evan Vogel recently mentioned Milone as a potential candidate to help the Indians, and while he won’t single-handedly take the Indians to the playoffs, he’s a fairly reliable pitcher — which is something the Indians could use. He could also benefit from having a permanent rotation spot moving forward, which is something the Indians should be able to offer. He’s also young and under team control for several more seasons, making him an attractive option for the Indians.
As Evan mentioned, most starters on the market will be more expensive than usual as a result of the lack of quality options available, so it’s definitely a seller’s market.
But if the price is right on Milone, the Indians should pounce.