By Matt Loede - 92.3 The Fan's Indians Beat Reporter

CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – As both GM Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona pointed out during Monday’s end of the year chats with the media, the Indians pitching rotation sure does look a lot different from 365 days ago.

It was last season when the year ended that the staff looked like a complete mess.

Justin Masterson was coming off a 15-loss season, while Ubaldo Jimenez led the AL in losses with 17.

After those two, it seemed like a jumbled mess of players that no one really knew if they could pitch on a team that was going to be a playoff contender in the American League.

What a difference a year makes.

Both Antonetti and Francona seemed to be beaming over their pitching staff, this less than a week after the team lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card Game at Progressive Field.

The rotation will have two big players that could leave and go elsewhere in Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, but there’s also depth which give the Indians a much better chance no matter what happens in the offseason.

“We’re going into the offseason in a strong position,” Antonetti said. “A lot of quality options, better than heading into last offseason.

“That said, we’re going to look for opportunities to improve, and to improve on the group that we have.

“That could be bring back some of the guys that were in the rotation this year, or finding some guys externally via trade or free agency.”

Jimenez is the big question mark, as the Indians have to be 100 percent sure if they make a huge offer to him that he is still the pitcher that was lights out in the second half of 2013, and won’t slip back into bad habits.

Antonetti seemed to trust that Jimenez is ready to be a good pitcher for a long time to come.

“He worked tirelessly to get more successful,” Anotnetti said. “He deserves a ton of credit along with (pitching coach) Mickey Calloway, Kevin Cash (bullpen coach), and our pitching coaches to help provide him direction.

“The one thing that never wavered with him is his commitment to getting better. He earned it, it wasn’t something that happened by chance.”

Should Jimenez, who Francona said “definitely sounded to me like he wanted to come back,” leave the team, the club will have options.

Provided at least the first three pitchers in the rotation are set (Masterson, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber), the team has a number of pitchers that will fight for the two spots that could be open if Jimenez and Kazmir leave.

Danny Salazar started the wild card game, and should get the best shot to be one of the last two in the rotation should those spots be open.

Then there’s Carlos Carrasco, who has had plenty of ups and downs, but the club is far away from giving up on him as a starter.

“We want to create innings for Carlos Carrasco, that’s what we think of him,” Francona said.

Then there’s the case of the waiting for Trevor Bauer, who had four starts with the big league club in 2013, going 1-2.

Many felt it would be Bauer, not Salazar, who would be with the team making starts in a number of games in the second half of 2013.

“We have Trevor Bauer, who we are desperately wanting to see get to that point,” Francona said.

The team even made a minor move on the day of the wild card game, picking up former Phillies pitcher Tyler Cloyd, who was actually the Phillies minor-league pitcher of 2012.

“From last year to now, there’s a lot of reason for optimism,” Francona said of the rotation.

“Is it April 1st? Maybe not, but that’s okay too. The cupboard isn’t bare, but we also know that you probably need more than five starters to get through an entire season, we will get to work.”

Francona is right, the cupboard isn’t bare, but just like last spring when Kazmir stepped up as the number five while the writing was on the wall early that Brett Myers wasn’t the answer for the rotation, it will be fun to watch how it all plays out.

Pitching is hard to come by. Starting pitching was the strength of the Tribe in 2013, and now the question is, can they find a way this offseason to repeat the feat next year?

“It’s a good starting point heading into the offseason,” Antonetti said.

Follow @Loede923TheFAN

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