Tribe Happenings: Rotation needs an Extreme Makeover
September 16, 2012
Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…
Rotation needs an Extreme Makeover
As everyone tries to get their bearings after the Indians season was sent into a tailspin six weeks ago, it is time to start looking at the offseason and what the Indians need to do to win in the immediate future.
If the Indians want to get this thing going in the right direction as quickly as possible, they are going to need to pour almost every available resource they have this offseason into fixing their starting rotation. This is a task probably best suited for ABC and their crew from “Extreme Makeover”, but nonetheless, it is a task the Indians need to tackle head on this offseason to get things going in the right direction.
There is no doubt the lineup is a concern and there are holes that will need to be addressed there, but it has been proven time and time again that when you get good, consistent starting pitching that keeps your team in games that you can win a lot of games even while scoring only three or four runs in a game. When you have a good bullpen to back up the starting rotation – something the Indians have – then all the better.
Take the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays for example. Both teams have been as bad as the Indians offensively this season, but because of their starting pitching they are in the thick of the playoff race deep into September.
Entering play on Saturday the Indians were 60-85 while the Athletics were 83-61 and the Rays 78-66, and offensively all three teams have been poor this season. The Athletics are 11th in the American League in runs (610), the Rays 12th (599), and the Indians 12th (576). The Indians are 9th in the league in batting average (.247), the Rays 12th (.238), and the Athletics (.236). The Indians are 8th in the league in on-base percentage (.319), the Rays 10th (.314), and the Athletics 13th (.307). The Athletics are 10th in slugging percentage (.398), the Rays 12th (.385), and the Indians 13th (.381). And maybe the most important team stat, the Athletics are 11th in the league in OPS (.705), the Rays 12th (.700), and the Indians 13th (.700).
In a nutshell, all three teams have subpar lineups.
But the big difference – and the reason why the Athletics and Rays are so much better than the Indians right now – is that the Indians have one of the worst starting rotations in the league while the Rays and Athletics have two of the strongest. Rays starters are 1st in the American League in ERA (3.40), the Athletics are 2nd (3.68), and the Indians 13th (5.29); Rays starters are 1st in the league in batting average against (.241), the Athletics 7th (.260), and the Indians 13th (.284); Rays starters are 1st in the league in OPS against (.682), the Athletics 2nd (.699) and the Indians 13th (.803); Athletics starters are 3rd in the league in strikeouts per walks (2.78), the Rays 5th (2.77), and the Indians 13th (1.77).
There is your difference right there, and why the Athletics and Rays are still playing for something this season and why the Indians are just playing out the string.
It is also why if the Indians want to get the ship righted this offseason as quickly as possible that they need to upgrade their starting rotation and make several shrewd decisions with who will occupy the five spots next season. As far as I am concerned, the only pitcher that should have a lock on a rotation spot for next season is right-hander Justin Masterson, although an argument could be made even he shouldn’t. After Masterson there should be an open competition between all the others to fill one or two spots at most, and then they need to go out and find at least two reliable starting pitchers via trade or free agency to fill the other spots.
As mentioned in this space a few weeks back, the Indians have to make a decision on right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez ($5.75M) and Roberto Hernandez ($6.0M) on whether to pick up their club options for next season. Some people say they should pick up their options because of their talent and potential, which is true, but a big reason for the struggles of the starting rotation the past two seasons has been due to the inconsistency and poor pitching from both pitchers. Knowing that, it may be best to wipe their hands clean and move on from both players, and at the very least one of them (likely Hernandez).
If they keep Masterson and Jimenez, and then go out and acquire at least two legit starting pitchers to round out the top four of the rotation, the team could improve a lot with those two moves alone. And that’s without even touching the offense yet. They can leave the last spot in the rotation open for a battle in spring training between right-handers Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, and Jeanmar Gomez, and maybe even lefty David Huff could be in that competition.
And of course right-hander Carlos Carrasco could factor into the mix, although considering he did not pitch this season he will probably be limited to about 150-160 innings next season. Knowing how the Indians do things, they will probably manage his workload on the front end and have him open the season in extended spring training and then make hi available as an option in early May.
Bottom line, they absolutely cannot go into next season with a five-man rotation that includes two Jekyll and Hyde pitchers like Jimenez and Hernandez, a guy coming off a major arm surgery in Carrasco, and inconsistent, unproven young pitchers from the likes of McAllister, Kluber, Gomez and others.
They have to go out and be aggressive and acquire at least two starting pitchers this offseason to stabilize their greatest weakness as a team. Those pitchers don’t need to be elite, they just need to be steady, proven pitchers that can come in and give them consistent, reliable outings each time they go out there.
That will go a long way at getting them back on track as a team. They need more than a few starting pitchers to get the team back into contention, but it is a great place to start their Extreme Makeover.
As for the offense…
While the starting pitching has been the Indians’ biggest problem area this season, the offense is not that far behind.
The Indians should spend most of their resources on upgrading the starting rotation, but they should definitely pay attention and get creative in finding ways to help strengthen the lineup. At the moment the Indians have two gaping holes in left field and first base they have to do a much better job of filling this offseason, something they failed to do last offseason.
They do not have internal options to fill left field and first base on an everyday basis. Sure, the likes of Russ Canzler and Ezequiel Carrera have looked good in spurts, but the more they play the more they prove why they are better as bench and depth options playing two to three days a week rather than six to seven days a week. The Indians need more proven production from both positions, which will be difficult to find on a limited budget that will probably be almost wiped out by much needed pitching upgrades.
But it can be done.
They need to rethink their process and how they evaluate talent based on both subjective and objective data and try to find those diamonds in the rough that some other teams have been able to find of late. The mega free agents are not the only ones that can bring a positive impact to a team.
Look at how deals for players like Cody Ross, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Doumit, Eric Chavez and others have worked out for teams that signed them to one year deals this past offseason. Sure, for some of those guys there was a lot of luck involved, but all of the front offices involved in those deals are good, savvy groups, so maybe the Indians can take something away from each of their processes.
If the Indians are able to parlay a few additions to the starting rotation with two solid but unspectacular players in the lineup, then they could have something to work with next season. That may be wishful thinking, particularly for a team working with a shoestring budget and a passive front office when it comes to making offseason moves, but the hope is they will take off the kid gloves this offseason and be a lot more aggressive.
The Indians have a solid core of pieces in place with the lineup already with second baseman Jason Kipnis, center fielder Michael Brantley, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and catcher Carlos Santana. Those are five solid players which serve as a good foundation to build upon with the lineup.
Another player who could give a boost to the lineup and be another core piece going forward is third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. It is now or never with Chisenhall at third base, and unless he is hurt next year he should be the starting third baseman for the Indians next season. If he can stay healthy and continue to improve against left-handed pitching, then he has the potential to impact the lineup with his good bat.
Remember, Chisenhall does not even turn 24-years old for another three weeks, so he has yet to tap into his true potential at the Major League level. Injuries the past two seasons have held him back, but when he has played this year he has performed as he is hitting .287 with 4 HR, 11 RBI and .809 OPS in 30 games this year for the Indians.
It is time to sink or swim with Chisenhall and stop messing around with Jack Hannahan at third base. Hannahan is a good guy, great teammate, and a good defender, but he kind of symbolizes a lot of what is wrong with the Indians’ approach to filling out their Major League roster. He’s a fringe Major League player that should be on the bench whose limitations come to the forefront when pressed into a starting role.
With both Santana and Kipnis a year older and more experienced, the steady Cabrera, Choo and Brantley, and the potential impact of Chisenhall, the Indians have some pieces in place with the lineup for next year and beyond. But there is work to be done there, especially if they were to trade Choo this offseason, so it will make for an interesting offseason to see what changes – if any – they make with the lineup.
Low point for fans
Things have fallen so hard and so fast over the past six weeks with the Indians going from the fringe of contention to league doormat. With the way the Indians have cratered this season, all of the question marks with the roster, and few players on the minor league front ready to step in and immediately impact the team, it has been a long time since people have been so down on this organization.
The Indians have had their recent struggles, but none like this. In 2003 when they struggled through a rebuilding year and went just 68-94, but that was an extremely young team and the future was bright with all the young talent that they had on the roster (I still wonder how they did not win a World Series in 2005 or 2007 with that pitching staff). They also went 65-97 just three years ago in Eric Wedge’s last season as manager of the team.
You have to go back to 1991 when the Indians went 57-105 when the Indians were this bad and the future was this uncertain. The current Indians look a lot like that team, though it remains to be seen what the likes of Kipnis, Santana, and others become as that 1991 team had the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Charles Nagy, Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga who were either coming up in the minors or were not yet established big leaguers.
No matter how you look at it the Indians are at their lowest point as an organization in over 20 years. They are on the verge of losing 93 or more games for the third time in the last four seasons, and they have only two winning seasons in their last 11 seasons.
It has been a tough time to be an Indians fan the last 11 seasons. With so much losing year after year, the team only investing in one major free agent during that span (Kerry Wood), and seeing almost every good player being traded for prospects, the patience of the Indians fan is completely used up. Even for a Tribe optimist like me it is hard to be very positive about anything.
Considering where the fans are with this team and how apathetic people have become, you have to think that some serious changes to the makeup of the coaching staff and/or front office are coming. Whether it is right or wrong, drastic changes to the coaching staff and front office may be the only way to bring hope to a fan base that does not care anymore.
We are down to the final two weeks of the season. While the Indians are no longer playing for a chance at the postseason, how they finish will affect where they select in next June’s MLB Draft.
As things currently sit, the Indians would select 5th in next year’s draft. Both the Indians and Twins are tied for the 4th spot with 60-86 records, but the tiebreaker goes to the team with the worst record the previous season. Last year the Indian went 80-82 and the Twins went 63-99, so it is why if the Indians tie with the Twins that the Twins would get the higher (better) pick.
Huff is taking over Gomez’s spot in the starting rotation and will make his first start on Tuesday against the Twins. He will be limited to 75-85 pitches his first outing to get him built back up. … Cabrera returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing about a week with a sprained right wrist and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. … Brantley is out of the lineup and is day to day with a strained left pectoral muscle. … Infielder Jason Donald was struck on the hand by a Justin Verlander fastball on Friday night, though was lucky as he only suffered a contusion to his right wrist and is day to day. … Designated hitter Travis Hafner is expected to take batting practice this weekend. The Indians are hopeful that he will return from his back injury before the end of the season. … Carrasco threw another rehab outing on Friday night for Akron and in 2.0 innings allowed four runs on four hits, a home run, no walks, and had one strikeout.
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I just don't think the Indians can find the quality of help for the ML roster to trade Perez and Choo. Maybe next year if they cannot contend at midseason but good ballplayers are in short supply on the Indians.
"Trying to figure out how the Indians replace the FO and manager and sign 8-10 quality players for the 25 man with the limited budget and expect anything better than this year and last."
And all I am saying is I never said they will "sign" 8-10 players. There could be 8-10 "moves" made for sure though. But they absolutely will not sign 8-10 players in FA.
It sounds like your are prepared to "blow up" the Indians FO, ownership or anything just to get a massive change. It sounds similar to the Browns formula, which has not been real successful. I am not sure it can work successfully with "have not" franchises but I suppose there have been some. But whatever you do, you cannot change the fact that it is being done in Cleveland. I cannot think of another city in the USA that has three such inept major sport franchises. Is there a correlation between the city and the lack of success from its professional teams?
And, it remains to be seen how exactly they attack the offseason. They failed miserably this year. Perhaps their strategy will change and they are more aggressive in FA and trades this offseason. Perhaps they just stay the course. Who knows. But I have a feeling some major changes are coming this offseason be it to personnel making decisions, coaching the players, and/or the philosophy with player acquisitions as well.
Adding two run-of-the-mill starters won't make them contenders.
The only reasonable course I see is to trade Choo and Perez for the highest upside prospects they can bring, even if they're in A/AA ball like Sizemore, Phillips, and Lee were when we made the Colon deal. Give McAlister, Kluber, Salazar, Barnes, Carrasco and Gomez major league opportunities as soon as possible. Hopefully we end up with two or three good long term starters out of that group.
Draft starting pitching. Then draft more starting pitching.
In that regard, I'd rather see them make a play for 1 good pitcher, rather than sign two "innings eaters". Don't be afraid to commit 8 figures on a short-term deal. It's better than signing 2 guys who are marginal upgrades to Kluber/Jimenez whose combined salary is the same.
Rondon is a minor league free agent.....but I see him getting the same treatment as Adam Miller two years ago. Miller was a free agent after the 2010 season, but resigned with the Indians since he was still coming off injury and really only the Indians knew if he could pitch since they were the only ones able to see him since others teams could not scout him. So I would be surprised if Rondon is not back on a minor league deal for 2013. But if he is healthy, he could certainly be a pen option in 2013.
Art, I agree on the Athletics method, and really, they probably were more lucky than they are geniuses. I do think the Indians need to go with some of their young arms, but it is imperative that the Indians do their due diligence and make a few FA pickups for the starting rotation along the lines of what they did with Colon and McCarthy. You fail much more than you succeed with those kind of deals, but it is about time the Indians catch a break there and find a diamond in the FA rough like they did with Millwood a few years back.
If the Indians do trade Perez and Choo like I think they will, they could potentially get a ML caliber OF for Perez (to replace Choo) and a ML starting pitcher for Choo. And, maybe a prospect or two as well that comes out of those deals. They have to hit on whatever they get for them.
No one is saying the Indians have to sign 8-10 players. I don't think signing two FA starting pitchers and two FA bats is asking a lot.
And Ubaldo is untradable. Almost no value on the market, even if he has 1-2 good months. No one has any faith he can sustain anything.
Maybe if we start Salazar, Barnes, Carrasco, and Rondon next year they tear it up, but I'm just not a believer. However, I really don't want to see Hernandez slog his way through another season with an ERA north of 5.00.
I think we should go with Masterson and Ubaldo, followed by three yutes. McAlister and Kluber have earned the first shot. Carrasco is next. Hopefully somebody else emerges from the minors, like that Quintana guy in Chicago.
If Ubaldo has a good month, try to move him.
Now or never for Chisenhall? Too soon for that.
McCallister belongs in the rotation next year.
Masterson, probably, should be in it.
Jiminez should be retained and traded if possible.
Kluber vs. Huff vs. Salazar vs. Murata vs. McFarland for 3 spots.
Lose, develop, draft high, sign FA's, aim for 2014.
If you are going to re-do or re-shape this team, maybe the best thing is to do it now, get rid of these players, trade the usable parts (Choo and Perez) and look for suitable players to fill in for a few years until the young ones mature. Boy, Willingham and Headley would have looked good. I would find it easier to support the Indians if they did the rebuild now and played young players that at least have a chance to develop. The group brought in this year have been a collective flop, save Rogers, so do it now, can Shapiro, Anonetti and Acta, Bring in John Farrell as G.M., let Sandy manage the young players, and roll the dice. Of course, there is one other option..... hire Billy Beane !!
Also, I want to point out that only one of those rookie starting pitchers was considered a "plus" prospect prior to this season, Jarrod Parker. If you look at the deals Beane did this past year, two of the three "top ranked" starting pitchers he acquired have yet to even see the majors, AJ Cole and Brad Peacock.
I mention this because of how we are discussing assembling a staff for next season. The A's did it on the cheap, even their veteran pitching this season was only the $2.0 million paid for a one year rental of Bartolo Colon and a $4.3 million payment to the previously discarded Brandon McCarthy.
I seriously consider adding him to the 40 man roster. I think he has a major league future in the pen.
Any possible free agent pitching pickups for next year? As long as he's able to pitch after the head injury, I would think they could possibly go after Brandon McCarthy. The shoulder and now this latest injury will drive down the price into Indians length and range.
For outfield, I'd go after Victorino, with his age and coming off a down year, and the Dodgers unlikely to pursue him, I would think his salary would be in the Indians range, and even this year he killed left handed pitching. Bring Sizemore on a minor league deal, see if he can DH. They don't need to worry about 1b because they have Lars Anderson.
McCarthy, Masterson, Carrasco, Jimenez, McAllister. It's time to move on from the idea that Gomez can be an effective major league starter, and we moved on from that idea about Huff 2 years ago. I'd say Kluber and Scott Barnes are the two in-house options to fill in, but they unfortunately messed with Barnes this year and likely hurt his development as a starter. Kluber has some talent but is so unreliable ... I'd see his future more as a reliever. But probably open the season with Kluber, until Carrasco joins them.
What are the thoughts on Rondon? It seems his command has been decent, which is surprising given the long layoff from some pretty nasty injuries. If he remains healthy, is he an option for the bullpen next year if/when they trade Perez?
I really think if the FO would have read all the suggestions in the IPI forums last off season, we would have had a better club.
I respectfully disagree. I don't see the benefit of having McAlister and Kluber go back to Columbus while somebody like Jake Westbrook eats innings in Cleveland. These guys are ready to sink or swim in the bigs, and they've earned a shot. Start them every five games and see if they can establish themselves as legit ML starters or if they're Jeremy Sowers.
That gives us a rotation of Masterson, Ubaldo, McAlister and Kluber, with Carrasco being added in June. So we just need a 5th starter for April and May. Since we're not contending next year anyway I'm fine with Gomez or Huff filling in until they bring up Carrasco.
With no need to acquire veteran ML starters, the resources the Indians have can be used to fill the holes at first base and left field, or to acquire high upside starting pitching prospects. They have Choo and Perez to trade and some money freed up by the expiring contracts of Hafner, Sizemore and Lowe. Use the money to fill the holes in LF and 1B. Use Choo and Perez to get some high powered arms for the future and begin the extreme makeover.