CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Baseball, being the fickle game it is, can often bring surprises. The biggest surprise for the 2017 Cleveland Indians is that their biggest purported strength, the starting rotation, has been perhaps their biggest weakness.
After falling out of first place and being swept by the Minnesota Twins, the halfway point nears with the trade deadline a little over a month away, and the team has an obvious hole to fill. It may be the only real hole that would need addressed through the trade market.
Outside of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom have missed time with injury, the rotation has been wildly inconsistent and does not bode well for another pennant run.
Trevor Bauer has emerged as the best and most consistent of the final three slots, with Danny Salazar distant from any sort of health or reliability, and Josh Tomlin not executing the things that make him successful. While Mike Clevinger has proven to be capable enough to fill a back-end role, teams are catching up with him as he gets more starts.
With Clevinger already up and Cody Anderson out for the year, there is not depth or talent in the Indians’ farm system to fill another spot, let alone two in the case of another injury or Clevinger not lasting long term.
The need is not necessarily excessive, as many fans clamor for a “number three starter” behind Kluber and Carrasco, but Bauer and Tomlin have not been far off what a third starter normally achieves, as pointed out in this article from Matt Schlichting of Let’s Go Tribe.
While Schlichting is correct (and it is hard not to be with the wealth of statistical insight he puts forth) that the team does not need to replace Bauer or Tomlin, especially Bauer; the Indians may need more starters as a matter of depth.
Tomlin’s path seems to be trending downward, and the upheaval of players trying to lift the ball does not bode well for his style nor his HR/FB ratio. Perhaps most importantly may be the almost-certainty that the team sustains in injury in the rotation from here to October.
The need may be depth-based, as Ryan Merritt may not be dependable down the stretch.
Luckily, the arms exist on the trade market to get a deal done, though the team will most likely have to make due until late July when the market forms. The pitching issue is not so bad that the team must pull the trigger now, though it may behoove them to do so prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Indians President Chris Antonetti spoke to the potential of a deal on June 27, focusing on the idea that the water line for success has risen for the team in the past few years, thus a standard must be met by an external option to make a deal worthwhile.
“I think we try to take maybe a little bit of a longer view, and not react to anything over a short time-frame,” he said. “I think with the way our team has taken shape this year is there’s a pretty high bar for the guys that we have internally and what we feel they’re capable of producing. So, going out externally to the trade market to try to acquire players, it’s a high threshold to clear, because we do feel like we have some quality alternatives internally.”
Of the names that exist on the block, the best arm is White Sox lefty Jose Quintana. Though the White Sox are in a rebuild, there exists reasonable doubt that he would not be traded within the division, so not to haunt Chicago later down the line.
The San Francisco Giants are in a position to be sellers at any moment, making Johnny Cueto expendable, but because of a tricky opt-out clause, teams would not know if they are getting a one year rental or the remaining 4-years, $88 million left on the righty’s contract.
Because of the unpredictability and potential for diminishing returns from the 31-year old, a trade would be risky for any team, especially the risk-averse, cost-conscious Indians. Ken Rosenthal reports Cueto’s price would be “less than a rental,” making it difficult to find a trade partner.
Cole, a former top overall pick by Pittsburgh in 2011, would be as expensive as anyone on the market, including Quintana. The 26-year old is having his worst year in the majors because of a career high 17 home runs allowed, but does not hit free agency until 2020 unlike the majority of the market. The Scott Boras client is unlikely to be extended by the Pirates.
What complicates a potential deal is that Cole and former UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer do not get along. The pair were the highest-drafted college teammates in MLB history, alongside Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks from Arizona State in 1978.
Gray, like Cole, is arbitration eligible through 2019, and is in the conversation for any team looking for a starter. The 27-year old has also said he is open to a long term extension with the A’s.
He has also dealt with injuries over the past two years, including a stint on the disabled list to start 2017 because of a strained lat muscle.
Gray has joined Quintana atop the wish list of the best team in the American League, the Houston Astros, another team ravaged with pitching injuries and in need of a third arm to add to a prolific top-two.
Other potential Indians pitching targets include the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn, Marlins’ Edinson Volquez, Padres’ Clayton Richard, Braves’ Jaime Garcia, Reds’ Scott Feldman, Giants’ Jeff Samardzija, and Blue Jays’ Marco Estrada. The Rays’ Alex Cobb could be available should Tampa Bay fall below .500.