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Orbiting Cleveland: The Indians' future hinges on Salazar

No player has the potential to impact the team's chances for future success more than Salazar

Orbiting Cleveland: The Indians' future hinges on Salazar
March 14, 2014
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Baseball is a team sport.

When it's played at its highest level, a group of 25 men are doing everything within their power to earn a victory.

Yet, as we all know, some players can have a greater impact on how well a team performs. Take Clayton Kershaw, for example. Think the Los Angeles Dodgers win as many games without the power lefty?

Highly unlikely.

That then brings us to the Cleveland Indians.

When Terry Francona was brought into the fold as the team's manager, one of the goals was consistent winning. In other words, the front office hoped to put together a team that would remain competitive year after year.

That's a task that's easier said than done, especially when you're a small market team like the Indians, but it is certainly a valid expectation. So far, Francona has gotten off to a good start as the Indians won 92 games and secured one of the American League's two Wild Card spots in 2013.

The team will look to build off that success in 2014 and in the years to come, and a number of the Tribe's current players and prospects will play a key role in how much success the team ultimately has.

But is there a particular player that is most important to the future success of the Indians?

This question is dissimilar from the idea of an MVP. Rather, this question points toward any player, current Major Leaguer or prospect, who has the ability to have the greatest impact toward the team's success in the future.

This past week on the IBI's "Spring Training Invite," this topic was briefly discussed amongst myself, Jake Dungan, Jim Pete and Michael Hattery. It's an interesting topic, and there really is no right or wrong answer.

There are a variety of options, that's for sure.

Some might point to Francisco Lindor. The team's No. 1 overall prospect has moved quickly throughout the system, and there's a good chance that he finds himself in Cleveland at some point this season.

He hit .303/.380/.407 in 104 games between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron last year, and his defense is simply exceptional. If he is everything that he's been made out to be, he should be a real difference maker for the Indians, and he could make that difference soon.

But there are also reasons to temper our enthusiasm with Lindor as well.

For starters, he's a shortstop and a defensive-minded one at that. His offensive game is good, but he does not profile as an offensive player capable of leading a team to the playoffs season after season.

He will likely be a good player, but he's probably not a franchise centerpiece. In fact, a sports writer who covered Lindor last season said the following to me about the shortstop.

"He'll be good, that's for sure, but it's tough to get too excited about a player who profiles to be another Yunel Escobar in the Major Leagues."

Too harsh?

Perhaps. However, that comment does seem to bring us back to Earth a bit in regard to our expectations for a shortstop with Lindor's skillset. Escobar has been an above-average shortstop every season since he's made his Major League debut.

However, no one has ever mistaken Escobar for a franchise player. Lindor may turn out to be a much better player than Escobar; he certainly has more speed. Or Lindor could turn out to be exactly what Escobar is: a very capable, above-average Major League starting shortstop, but not a franchise changer.

How about a prospect like Clint Frazier?

The Indians' struggles with developing outfielders have been well-documented. In fact, that's why we've been forced to watch guys like David Dellucci and Jason Michaels play over 100 games in recent MLB seasons.

However, Frazier is supposed to be a guy capable of changing all that. His skillset is reminiscent of Grady Sizemore, and some have even gone as far to compare him to Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout.

If he can ever tap into his potential, he could become a franchise-altering type player. Yet, the problem is that Frazier is still barely 19 years old. He is a long ways away from ever making an impact in the Major Leagues, and there are just too many question marks.

What about a guy like Jason Kipnis?

The second baseman made his first All-Star game this past season, and he's not eligible for free agency until 2018. There are reports that he and the Indians could be working on an extension, so he could remain in the fold beyond that.

Over the past couple of years, Kipnis has been the pulse of this Indians team. They seem to go as he does, and there have been several stretches where he seems to almost single-handedly lead them to wins.

Without a doubt, he is a special player and a special second baseman.

It's almost impossible not to like what Kipnis brings to the table. He's a leader, he has above-average power, he can run a bit and he gives it his all on the diamond.

Certainly, it could be argued that he might be the most important offensive player in regard to the Indians' future, but we're talking about just offense.

Defense and pitching are the other two facets of the game, and exactly how does the saying go? It's something like "Pitching wins championships," and that's been the case in recent years.

In fact, let's test that theory. Here are the ERAs for the last 10 winners of the World Series.

  • 2013: Boston Red Sox (3.79 — 14)
  • 2012: San Francisco Giants (3.68 — 7)
  • 2011: St. Louis Cardinals (3.74 — 12)
  • 2010: San Francisco Giants (3.36 — 1)
  • 2009: New York Yankees (4.26 — 12)
  • 2008: Philadelphia Phillies (3.88 — 6)
  • 2007: Boston Red Sox (3.87 — 2)
  • 2006: St. Louis Cardinals (4.54 — 16)
  • 2005: Chicago White Sox (3.61 — 4)
  • 2004: Boston Red Sox (4.18 — 11)

So, in the last 10 years, only once did a World Series winner's' pitching staff rank in the lower half of the MLB's 30 teams (2006).

That's not necessarily proof that pitchers are more valuable than offensive players, but it does go to show that pitching is still incredibly valuable.

For the Indians, their most valuable pitcher from last season that remains on the team is Justin Masterson.

Masterson went 14-10 last season with a 3.45 ERA in 2013. For his efforts, he earned his first All-Star Game appearance, and he would have definitely eclipsed 200 strikeouts and innings on the season had it not been for an injury he suffered in September.

Clearly, he is an incredibly valuable player, and it would be hard to imagine the Indians without him. However, it's also impossible to say that he's the most important player to the Indians' future, especially when the team does not control him after 2014.

Masterson has said that he wants to stay in Cleveland and has even gone as far to offer a hometown discount. It seems as though there's a good chance that a deal could get done, but until that happens, it's nothing more than wishful thinking.

This then brings us to our next candidate: Danny Salazar.

Ding, ding, ding. We may have a winner.

Is it outlandish to say that a starting pitcher with only 52 career Major League innings could be the most important player to an entire MLB franchise? Apparently not to some.

On this past week's edition of "Spring Training Invite,"Hattery, Pete, Dungan and myself unanimously agreed that no player is more important to the Indians' future than Salazar. It's hard to believe that the four of us could come to such a concrete conclusion, but that speaks to the potential that Salazar possesses.

For as bad as the Indians have been with developing Major League outfielders, they've arguably had even greater struggles in regard to starting pitching.

Since C.C. Sabathia, the Indians have been incapable of developing a power starting pitcher with ace-like upside.

Until now.

Salazar was simply brilliant last season as he combined for a 2.71 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 93 innings between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. He was equally impressive in Cleveland as he struck out 65 batters in his 52 innings.

Salazar has never been included in any major publication's top 100 prospects list, but make no mistake about it, this is a special player.

Because of his history of injuries, the Indians were always very cautious in their approach with Salazar. His innings have been monitored heavily throughout his minor league career, which seemed to lead to him flying under the radar.

Not anymore.

He burst onto the Major League scene last summer, and it was beautiful. To put it into perspective, his 100-mph fastball is only the second-best pitch in his arsenal. That's how filthy this guy is.

There are still questions as to how Salazar will hold up during the course of an entire Major League season. The Indians have remained cautious with him this Spring Training and that will probably be true during the regular season.

However, given his potential, it's fair to say that Salazar has only scratched the surface of what he can ultimately become. Every team needs a front-of-the-rotation ace with the ability to cut up hitters like a Thanksgiving turkey. Salazar can do that and then some.

This is high praise, indeed. Some might even say it's irresponsible to give it to a player with such limited Major League experience.

However, it is necessary praise. Just as it is necessary for Salazar to continue to progress if the Indians are to have any chance at sustainable success in the future.

Teams dream about acquiring a player with Salazar's upside, but the Indians need not dream anymore.

Plain and simple, Danny Salazar is the type of player with the ability to make all of the Indians' dreams come true.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
March 17, 2014 - 10:24 AM EDT
I definitely agree that Salazar's development is a huge key for the Tribe going forward.

But I think guys like Kluber and even McAllister are just as important. Sure we got those guys in trades, but they were developed by the Tribe, especially Kluber. When the Tribe got him he was in AA and considered maybe a BOR guy that could be a good setup guy with his stuff. Now the question appears to be can he be an Ace or is he simply a good #3? Tribe never seems to get credit for developing guys they get in trades.


Definitely agree though that Salazar is a huge key going forward...has the biggest potential of our pitchers. Really need him to step up big time...though as Tony said, maybe not the biggest key for 2014, but long-term we need him to be the real deal.
Joe Chengery
March 16, 2014 - 9:43 PM EDT
Of course, it's more than just Salazar, just as the Red Sox were more than just Pedro and the Tigers are more than just Verlander; I think the key, though, is the impact that a true ace can have on the rest of the rotation, especially since we know how the lack of a true ace hurt the 90s Indians, and was maybe the main reason why they didn't win at least one World Series in the 90s/early 2000s. That's why I think many are excited to see what Salazar becomes because he has that rare combination of stuff, command and makeup that true aces are made up. Personally, I think he has a better combination of those three elements than either Colon or Sabathia did- both of them struggled with command and makeup; Salazar's command grades out being better (has always been a strong suit; to this point, Salazar's makeup seems stronger, as Colon always had concerns about being the ace and pitching inside. Sabathia also had issues with pitching inside, and he has never seemed to match up well with opposing aces that well: Verlander, Price, Beckett, etc.

Does that guarantee that Salazar has better makeup? No, but early indications are quite good, and why I think many people are excited to see what he becomes, as we have not seen a pitching prospect of this caliber in these parts in decades.
Joe Chengery
March 16, 2014 - 9:33 PM EDT
Tell me what starter doesn't struggle when he first comes into the league? Recall when Verlander came into the league - he struggled, especially against the Indians. Yet, his ceiling was still considered to be quite high (why he was the #2 overall pick out of Old Dominion), and he's been the Tigers' ace for the past several seasons.

Some of you guys are making it sound like Salazar was some mirage and now the league is going to figure him out and tattoo him or he is going to fall apart, even though he's been healthy for, what, the last 2.5-3 years? Is this that "Cleveland pessimism" rearing its ugly head or something? :-)

Is the league going to make some adjustments to him? Sure. Is he going to have some outings that aren't that good and maybe even where he is knocked around a bit? Sure. But, as long as Salazar is healthy, the guy's ceiling is high, and seeing qualities comparable to Pedro's are not hard to see, as I mentioned in my last post. In addition, Salazar too is bound to make adjustments (he already was last season), so even if/when the league makes adjustments, Salazar is bound to make some too as he gets to know the hitters better.

The biggest question/threat in my mind is Salazar staying healthy. With Salazar's stuff and command, if he stays healthy, I think Salazar has a good chance of winning 10+ games in 2014. Yes, he'll have some starts that aren't as good and have some rough patches, but his stuff, command, and makeup make me think that he'll be able to handle the adjustments the league makes to him easier than other pitchers who don't have the combination of stuff, command, and makeup he has. The biggest issue/concern to me is his health- if he stays healthy in 2014, I think Salazar can turn in a very good, very solid 2014, and I do think his ceiling is very high and very bright. I think just about anyone who looks at the combination of stuff, command, and make-up see that (Miguel Cabrera said essentially the same thing last year, as did Jim Leyland).
What Da?
March 16, 2014 - 5:38 AM EDT
Two gems from Hiram on Twitter:

"I could see Tomlin winning 15 games over the entire year"

"I think Carrasco will be no worse than the #2 by mid year. #1 by end of year"

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Put this down in "reasons to laugh at him whenever he speaks."

WHAT DA?.....
Hiram
March 15, 2014 - 12:25 PM EDT
Tony,

I certainly understand the Importance of Salazar with his talent and stuff. He has a chance to be another Bartolo Colon and be here for years to come. I do think it's a bit over da top because we are starting to see the fruits of the Indians labor with pitching coming thru the system via drafting and via trades which speaks volumes of the drafting and the player development of the franchise .

If you will, let's look at the Indians rotation with Masterson who came via Boston, whom they've developed into a very solid top of the rotation starter, Kluber who looks like he will be a consistent 14-16 game winner whom they got when he was in AA, Salazar of course, Tomlin who before injury looked to be a very solid and dependable start. Bullpen: Cody Allen and Vinnie Pestano whom they drafted, developed into top setup men, Brian Shaw who looks rock solid.

Then we got guys like Anderson, Bauer, Crockett and others who are working their way thru the system and we all know they will look to add some more high end starting pitching in the next draft.


I don't want to sound overly critical but at the same time I do think we need to watch ourselves in putting too much of a team on a single player because we are already seeing the components of what it takes to be successful coming thru the Indians system and if something does happen to Salazar as devastating of a blow it would be they need to pick up the pieces and keep developing like they have been doing
Pathofkindness
March 15, 2014 - 12:00 PM EDT
Oops, meant to write: "Low expectations and being pleasantly surprised if and when we see actual results, rather than building him up to be the next Pedro Martinez when he's made a total of ten starts, is best."
Pathofkindness
March 15, 2014 - 11:55 AM EDT
Ok. Whatever.

Odd article. Is there something new being offered here? If so, I can't see it. And to say that "pitching is still valuable" is like, what? Did someone say it wasn't?

There's really no question that Salazar developing into a FOR pitcher for the Tribe is very important. You could say extremely important and even critical for the success of this team.

That said, it's a team sport and no one player has the ability to "make dreams come true." That's why you don't hear Francona or Antonetti talk about him very much publicly, and this, IMO is very smart and the way to go.

Better to keep expectations low. There's a pretty good chance that Salazar is going to struggle some this year. And a decent chance that he will have a hard time staying healthy.

Low expectations and being pleasantly surprised if and when we see actual results, rather than building him up to be the next Pedro Martinez when he's made a total of ten starts is, yes, clearly over the top.
Not Hiram, Thank Goodness
March 15, 2014 - 7:48 AM EDT
Damn trolls, especially Hiram. If that's THE Hiram, and he ripped on this writer for being dramatic. Seriously, you have to be kidding me. How long will it be before he proclaims Tomlin and Carrasco 20 game winners and making a run at the Cy Young. How long will it be before he says that Lonnie Chisenhall will hit 40 homers and be the next Thome? How long will it be until he says Jason Kipnis should hit sixth or seventh in this lineup because he strikes out too much?

Oh yeah, he's already likely said all of that. Just goes to show you that it doesn't take intellect to become a presence on twitter, or in the Cleveland community. You just have to talk, alot.

And say da. Shows you have cred.
Leonard Davis
March 14, 2014 - 10:26 PM EDT
Joe Chengery = a boss do what a boss do
Joe Chengery
March 14, 2014 - 9:53 PM EDT
Definitely agree with Tony: Salazar has the potential to be a HUGE difference maker- think of if he turns out as projected how the future Indians' rotation looks as compared to it without him. The only other one who could impact the rotation in that same way is Bauer because of the stuff and ceiling (all due respect to Kluber, McAlllister, Carrasco, and Anderson).

Personally, Salazar 's makeup, build, demeanor, and ceiling remind me of arguably the best pitcher in the last 20 years, at least, and he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this upcoming season: Pedro Martinez. It probably also has to do that both are Dominican, along with the similar build and similar, smooth delivery. If Salazar is anywhere close to that, even in the same zip code, as vintage Pedro, and this Indians' rotation takes on a totally different look.

I think it would be a safe bet that the World Series drought would already be over if that Pedro had been with the 90s and early 2000s Indians (and those teams were better than the Red Sox teams Pedro was on in the late 90s, early 2000s Red Sox teams that couldn't get past the Yankees; I think those Indians teams, especially with Pedro, would have gotten past the Yankees). Winning one to three World Series with Pedro on those Indians' teams would have certainly been doable, as the one knock on those solid Indians' starting staffs was the lack of a bonafide ace, and this often led to the Indians falling behind in a series because they couldn't match up with the opposing team's ace in terms of pitching, and the offense couldn't do enough damage against that ace.

Imagine the Indians having a bonafide ace (or even two) leading off a series. Granted, our offense isn't as potent or star-studded as those teams were, but potentially a more fundamentally sound team and with a better tactical manager than either Hargrove or Manuel, the Indians can definitely be in position to end that World Series drought if Salazar does live up to his ace ceiling. Granted, expectations have to be realistic and be brought along gradually, as he is quite young, but I truly think Salazar's potential is that high because his stuff is off the charts, as is his control and makeup.

You don't find or develop pitchers like that that often, so you better believe that Salazar's development and future are very important to the Indians' future, and likely is the most important distinction between having a potentially very solid young rotation and a potentially very dominating young rotation. Bauer can add to this, but Salazar has already shown a solid period of that already, and he's just getting his feet wet at the ML level, so adjustments and improvement are not out of the question, especially at his young age. It will definitely be interesting and exciting to see how he progresses and how he impacts the Tribe going forward. Let's hope he lives up to the potential.
Tony
March 14, 2014 - 9:12 PM EDT
Salazar is huge for the Indians in a lot of ways. Obviously, he would be a very inexpensive starting option for the next 2-4 years if he is healthy and proves the real deal. That's huge in itself. On top of that, he would fill a big need in the rotation and becomes a big gun near the top. It also helps give the Indians some confidence that their scouting and player development staffs may be turning things around as they have not had a lot of luck with drafting/signing and developing pitchers of late.

So you better believe Salazar is a key piece to the future of this team. In 2014, maybe not as much (though still very important) but long term he's huge. Yes, some of the commentary all over the blogosphere and social media and maybe even here at IBI is a little over the top with Salazar as the expectations may be getting to an insane level where all he can do is fall below them......but he's a good pitcher, can impact this club, and can be the lynch pin to this season and season's beyond this season.

That sounds pretty damn important to me.
Rick
March 14, 2014 - 7:11 PM EDT
If the Indians had 15k season ticket holders Masterson would be already signed. If they had 20k season ticket holders Kipnis would be with him.

I agree Salazar is important. But nothing matches fans coming back to the ballpark in large numbers.

If you get the gate back into the top ten - you can spend with just about anyone - including the Tigers.
Al
March 14, 2014 - 6:43 PM EDT
To the unhappy whiner at DW wishing upon a star, I hope it falls out of the sky and hits you!! Why bother passing on all your negativity? Do you have issues?
Hiram
March 14, 2014 - 6:35 PM EDT
The headline and talk that the future of the Indians depends on Danny Salazar is waayyyyy over da top. Even if he's tremendous you need a TEAM and you need it for the entire season. Can we get a little less dramatic, PLEASE
At Disney, wishing upon a star
March 14, 2014 - 5:48 PM EDT
Salazar for ace, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Seriously sick of the optimism here. You'll be lucky if he's healthy for a month, let alone for a season.

Make all the Indians' dreams come true? That's asinine.

BLOG AWAY!!!

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