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IBI Power Poll: Who will be the Indians fifth starter?

Is it a known commodity, or have we yet to meet him?

IBI Power Poll: Who will be the Indians fifth starter?
December 22, 2013
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In this week’s power poll, we are going to take a closer look at the starting rotation, and in particular, which starter is going to take over that #5 slot in the rotation. Before we get there, let’s take a look at last week’s power poll, and the rather interesting results.

Last week, the Indians had yet to make any moves of significance after they had signed David Murphy in November. I decided to open up the power poll by giving the Indians Baseball Insiders’ readers a chance to make some moves of their own. Here’s a quick look at the top nine selections in this past week’s voting:

Sign a mid-level, free agent closer/reliever (Axford, Rodney, Crain, FRod)  73 13.49% 13.49%
Sign what you have long-term: Justin Masterson  69 12.75% 12.75%
Trade Asdrubal  69 12.75% 12.75%
Trade Drew Stubbs  52 9.61% 9.61%
Trade Michael Bourn  38 7.02% 7.02%
Wait and hope for high price starter to drop in $ or years  38 7.02% 7.02%
Sign a low-level, free agent starter (Hanson, Marcum, JWilliams)  37 6.84% 6.84%
Sign a high priced, free agent starter (Ubaldo, Santana, Garza, Arroyo)  30 5.55% 5.55%
Sign a mid-level, free agent starter (Maholm, Hammel)  21 3.88% 3.88%

There wasn’t a majority, as will tend to happen with so many selections, but the top three choices by Cleveland Indians’ fans were very clear.

First, the Indians needed to sign a mid-level, free agent closer, with the ones I’ve listed being John Axford, Fernando Rodney, Jesse Crain and Francisco Rodriguez. The Indians didn’t waste any time viewing our poll, seeing what we wanted, and going out and making a deal.

On Monday, it was announced that the Indians were going to sign former Milwaukee Brewers’ and St. Louis Cardinals reliever, John Axford. Axford may not have been the top choice for many Indians’ fans, but he certainly was a much more cost-effective signing than some of the other choices out there. The question with Axford is really with regards to his upside, and if he truly has any.

None of the other players listed have signed yet, but it does appear that Fernando Rodney may be about to hit a gold-mine after Grant Balfour’s deal went into a garbage can after the Orioles didn’t like what they saw after his physical.

Rodriguez has had moderate interest thusfar in the offseason, but it’s clear that teams are waiting to see what the market makes available after the top names fall off the market.

Jesse Crain has reportedly had several offers that he’s mulling over, but his market has been relatively quiet up to this point.

My gut feeling here is that the Indians may not be finished signing bullpen arms. If they could get Crain or FRod to sign a one-year, low-cost deal, I think they would do it. Another interesting name out there is Joel Hanrahan, who missed most of the 2013 season thanks to Tommy John surgery. It’s unknown if Hanrahan will pitch in 2014, but I could see the Indians taking a low-cost flier on either Hanrahan or Crain, gambling on health at some point during the season.

Justin Masterson is clearly on everyone’s mind this offseason, as he has only one year left on his contract and will command big dollars once he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. Indians fans know this story all too well, as we’ve seen players come to this point several times, and have often seen them walk without a deal if the team performs well throughout the season, or get traded at the deadline if the team isn’t performing.

It’s clear that fans want Justin Masterson signed to a long-term deal.

I’ve made my thoughts fairly clear on this point. The Indians tend to not offer the type of money and years that Masterson will likely command in free agency. I’m a firm believe that he’ll be looking at a five-year deal that’s in the realm of $75-$90 million, or more if he has a fantastic year.

The only comparable deal for a starter in recent years was a three-year, $33 million extension for Jake Westbrook at the start of the 2007 season. The deal had come after the Indians had already signed Westbrook to a one-year, $6.1 million deal for his last arbitration year in 2007, before signing the extension. It was believed that some of that $33 million was frontloaded into that $6.1 million season, essentially giving him a raise during that final year of arbitration.

Could the Indians offer Masterson a three-year extension for $45 million? Sure they could. Would they go ahead and give Masterson $10 million this year on top of it? They will do that. Would Masterson sign a four-year, $55 million deal right now to stay with the Indians?

I can’t believe that he would. The Indians could bump up that $10 million this season, or perhaps front load it, as they did with Westbrook, but I’m certain that Masterson’s agent understands what he’s looking at. Masterson compares favorably to many of the starting options that will be available, and the market should be hot and heavy. My best guess is that to even get Masterson’s agent to listen this year, they’ll have to offer a four-year extension on top of his 2014 pay.

I still think Masterson will hold out for a five-deal.

Regardless, January and February will be a very interesting time for the Indians and Justin Masterson. January 14th is the salary arbitration filing date, and on the 17th, figures will be exchanged. Arbitration hearings begin on February 1st, and you can bet that the Indians will be talking to Masterson and his agent for a one-year deal, and an extension on top of that.

We’ll see if the Indians new philosophy carries over to pitchers, and perhaps we’ll see if Terry Francona may not have a play in this as well.

Might Masterson take less years to pitch here in Cleveland? We probably know the way that story ends, but after the 2013 season, I’ll believe just about anything.

Tied with Masterson was dealing Asdrubal Cabrera, and I really believe this is something we could see any time from now until the end of March. I know there are a lot of folks hoping for a bounce back year, and it certainly could happen, as Cabrera is entering his prime years as a player. The Indians could move him in a salary play, especially if something is happening with either Masterson, or Ubaldo Jimenez, or both.

Trading Drew Stubbs and Trading Michael Bourn were both next, significantly below the other three. Stubbs was dealt for lefty reliever Josh Outman, essentially nullifying the Michael Bourn deal. You can argue about the return, and I get that, but the Indians did solidify their bullpen utilizing a piece that they just didn’t need any more. The move may also signify that the Indians aren’t looking to dump payroll to acquire other players, as I’m sure a team or two would have been interested in Bourn.

Next on the list was waiting for a high priced starter to drop in money or years, and that’s still a possibility, although there are a lot of intangibles to this. Too many to get into in this piece, and that would just be talking about Ubaldo Jimenez.

Steve Orbanek made note of why the Indians will likely sign their enigmatic starter before the season starts.

Finally, Indians fans made note of signing a low-level free agent starter, and I mentioned Tommy Hanson, Shawn Marcum and Jerome Williams as possibilities. Obviously, the Indians addressed this with the signing of Shawn Marcum.

Not too bad for a Sunday. Three moves that were made over the next four days were in the top six picks (thinking that trading Stubbs and Bourn were a one or the other type of move) that were selected in the last poll.

Let’s move on to this week.

The top-four of the Indians rotation looks to be set in stone, with Danny Salazar, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister taking the reins. Who will be the fifth starter?

The Candidates:

Carlos Carrasco: The talent is certainly there, but can he finally mature mentally to become that ace that the Indians have so patiently been waiting for? It appears as though he is a pet project of Terry Francona right now, who essentially said it was his time, and his job to lose. Will that confidence help him, or will it blow up in the Tribe’s skipper’s face?

Shawn Marcum: We all know Marcum’s story by now. He went 1-10 last year before having Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. Will he be healthy? Won’t he be healthy? How many starters have ever come back from the surgery? Marcum’s a good pitcher, and can be great, but there are a lot of question-marks about him.

Josh Tomlin: Do you remember when Tomlin was known as the guy that went at least six innings in every start? I vaguely do to. I know everyone is rooting for Tomlin to be the #5 starter, but can he return to even that form at this point? He’s certainly a valuable member to the pitching staff, but I’m not sure it’s going to be as a starter.

Trevor Bauer: What a deal that was last year, huh? Did you think that Trevor Bauer was going to be worth less than Drew Stubbs or Bryan Shaw or even Matt Albers? He was everything we thought he would be on the bad side of the deal, but has been working on his mechanics, and appears to be returning to form. Of course, who’s making these statements? Can Bauer reacquire his value?

An unknown move: Will the Indians re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez, or do something surprising, like sign Matt Garza? Or, is there another move that will be made, perhaps in a trade for Asdrubal?

Make your pick, and leave your comments below!!!

Have a Merry Sunday…everybody!

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

J. Sen
December 25, 2013 - 2:27 AM EST
Why is the Tribe FO waiting around for Masterson to leave? His market value will very soon be more than the Tribe will ever pay. Trade him now and squeeze the buyer for every prospect available. Tribe needs a power bat, a starter, pen arms......what is the FO waiting for? I can live with a 2014 that doesn't include Masterson, because even with him, Tribe is unlikely to win the division.
S R Khan
December 25, 2013 - 2:21 AM EST
Isn't the era of the soft tosser about over in Cleveland as elsewhere? When Tomlin was at the peak of his game, his ERA was about 4.15 and he was prone to the HR ball. All of the Tribe starters last year (except Kaz, and he was approaching it) had ERAs less than 4 and the ability to throw pitches 94+ mph regularly. IMO Tomlin will not be in the rotation. Marcum and Carrasco have the inside track, but I'm hoping Bauer wins the spot. The kid has balls of stone, and just needs better control to bust into MLB for good.
Robert
December 22, 2013 - 11:23 PM EST
Thanks Willie! Didn't know that about Hultzen.
Willie
December 22, 2013 - 6:14 PM EST
Hultzen is out for the year, with shoulder surgery. Hultzen was injured late in the season and required surgery.

If they trade Masterson they have to bring back a big league pitcher / player combo. Something like Trevor Cahill or Patrick Corbin and a position player or big league ready arm.

As for the fifth SP slot I'd like to see the Indians go after Eric Surkamp, 25 the big soft tossing (up 80/ low 90) lefty the Giants recently DFA. He should come fairly cheap and may slot better as a bullpen arm long term, but his ceiling is a 4/5 SP.

Personally, I think the longer Ubaldo Jimenez is on the mkt, the better chances are he returns to the Indians. But in the meantime I think the a Tribe will continue to shop among SP like Tommy Hanson, Scott Baker, Jason Hammel, Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, Joe Saunders, Jerome Williams, James McDonald, Jeff Niemann, Kevin Slowey, Aaron Harang, and Clayton Richard.

There are a cpl of young SP that might be available for the Indians via trade. There are rumors Burch Smith (Padres), Lucas Harrell (Astros), and Jacob Turner (Marlins) are available.
Robert
December 22, 2013 - 4:45 PM EST
I voted "a move is yet to be made." I love Salazar, but I'm not as convinced as others that his place in the rotation is "set in stone." I also have a hard time believing that CA is going to sit back and just let Masterson walk at the end of the season, probably because being more proactive would be my preference. So I say sign him or trade before the start of the season. But first try to sign Ubaldo.

Trading Masterson for a young, but ready to pitch in the ML stud (maybe to Seattle for LH Hultzen and prospects?) and creating a pathway for Bauer to get to the big leagues this year would be my vision. That means Ok to start the year with Tomlin or Carrasco (or Hultzen ;--)) as #5, but I do think that Carrasco would be awesome in the pen, and that by the time the dust settles, this could be where he ends up.
Willie
December 22, 2013 - 2:24 PM EST
Walter, I agree, Bauer could really pick up the rotation if he develops. Lets hope the reports that he's looking like he did when he came out of UCLA are accurate.

Btw, here's his most recent youtube video...
http://youtu.be/UmSMSEdyNVU

(I hope he can hit his spots like that on the mound come spring).
Walter
December 22, 2013 - 12:36 PM EST
I'm rooting for any of the 4 (Marcum, Carrasco, Tomlin, or Bauer). I prefer Bauer reason hoping he develops along with Salazar to become the future #1 and #2 starters in the rotation.
Seth
December 22, 2013 - 12:31 PM EST
While I have for the most part liked the small moves the Indians have made this off season, it just doesn't seem to make much sense for them to sit on their hands and hope Marcum/Carrasco/Bauer is enough rotation depth. I just don't see them signing Masterson. If he has another year as good or better than last year, then he'll be worth a big contract, 20+ million a year over 4-5 years. Teams like Cleveland can't gamble that much money. With Masterson in hand for this season, they should be going all in for 2014, as well as fortifying the rotation for his impending departure. Even if you think Carrasco and Bauer will both turn it around and realize their potential, they could still use another starter.
John
December 22, 2013 - 12:27 PM EST
Gutter to the 5th spot
Geoff
December 22, 2013 - 12:23 PM EST
I'm not saying that I am rooting for Tomlin to be the 5th starter but I think of all those mentioned, unless Carrasco really lights it up in Spring Training, Tomlin would be the best bet to be solid and consistent in that roll. Remember, until he was injured the guy was steady as a rock and had very solid numbers and I think, especially with a young staff, that's what you need and want from your 5th starter.
Ron Vollmar
December 22, 2013 - 11:31 AM EST
There might be another starter signed prior to the start of training camp. However, I believe the starter who will join the rotation sometime this year, will be the result of trading Asdrubal Cabrera.

The team needs a # 3 or #4 type starter.

The idea that Bauer or Carrasco could join the rotation is going to happen in May or June, and that will be because of their performance in the minor league and a potential injury.

Once one of them make the rotation, he stays and the rotation improves.
BrianM
December 22, 2013 - 11:21 AM EST
Lots of these polls seem like they have obvious answers to me, but this one is tough.

If I had to guess, I would say the Indians are prioritizing them in this order: Marcum, Carrasco, Tomlin, Bauer. If I had picked who I wanted as the 5th starter, I would have went with Marcum, but I don't think he will be healthy so Carrasco should have the first crack. Its not a bad thing. He has as much talent as most the available FA's.
shy
December 22, 2013 - 11:00 AM EST
Tomlin is the guy, IMO. I was hoping Carrasco would get a shot at closer, but with Axford signed and righties like Shaw and Allen ahead of him as set up guys, and prospects like CC Lee and Austin Adams knocking on the door, looks he gets another chance to start. Carrasco has the better arm but Tomlin is the better pitcher- This is assuming of course they don't resign Ubaldo which is fine w me.
Devin
December 22, 2013 - 10:52 AM EST
Marcum if healthy, if not Tomlin. Carrasco to pen and Bauer as 6th/7th starter in Columbus.

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