CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – There is not a whole lot of reason for the Cleveland Indians to go out and acquire a player at most positions before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.
The only spot where the team has needed an upgrade has been at the back-end of the starting rotation, largely in part to a hole created by a former all-star. As the deadline approaches, the Indians’ approach to their roster will largely depend on that man.
Danny Salazar’s struggles were well documented to start the 2017 season before his trip to the 10-day DL, a trip that will hit a full month on Thursday. Now on the cusp of both the deadline and Salazar’s return, Indians President Chris Antonetti and company will have the remaining time to figure out whether to trust their righty or to look elsewhere.
“A healthy Danny Salazar pitching to his capabilities is as good as any player we potentially could acquire externally,” Antonetti said on July 4th. “Danny is a big part of that, his health, his status and how we feel about his ability to impact us in the second half contributes to that. But I think we might look a little more broadly, look at all of our pitching alternatives internally, and then try to develop an understanding on what external alternatives might be available, which guys could improve upon the group we might have currently, and what the acquisition cost might be.”
Salazar has made one rehab start on his way back from the disabled list, allowing three earned over 1 2/3 innings on July 1st at Double-A Akron. The righty did strike out three in that stretch, walking two and hitting another batter.
The 27-year old will make another rehab start on Wednesday, most likely at Triple-A Columbus, according to Antonetti. Salazar will then continue to pitch through the all-star break, as the team continues to condition him to return as a starter.
“I saw Danny today and he had a huge smile on his face,” Antonetti added. “He said, ‘I’m feeling great,’ said, ‘I’m starting to be back to being me,’ which is ultimately what we were looking for. He feels really encouraged by the progress he has made.”
The President also said Salazar was nervous headed into his initial start, with worries about his arm, but that he settled down through an inning.
The front office will have to weigh how Salazar’s health impacts his contributions going forward, but they will not have much time to forecast his performance before having to pull the trigger on a trade or stand pat.
The initial results from Salazar this season yielded career-highs for better or worse, though all-in-all disappointing and likely to be taken with a grain of salt given the state in which he pitched.
The right-hander carried an astonishing 30.9 K%, but was hampered by an 11.2 BB% and 22.4% HR/FB. He also sits fifth in baseball among starters with 50+ innings in contact% at 67.9% and third among starters in swinging strike percentage at 15.8%.
No one needed those numbers to understand the truth in Antonetti’s statement that a healthy and performing Salazar are the best case for the team. Where the numbers may help the team make a decision lie within how much success the righty had within the poor end results, suggesting a minor tweak in command and/or arm health could propel him to a stellar second half.
Or the walks and home runs could persist, which could either compel Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff to make a move, or wish they had.
If Salazar does not pan out this season, the team does have options at the minor league level. Though bereft of much long-term Major League experience, the Indians have seen a fine year from many of their farm-arms, namely lefty Shawn Morimando.
The 24-year old has thrown back-to-back complete game shutouts at Triple-A Columbus, allowing 12 hits over the 18 innings, striking out 18 as well. He allowed just six earned runs over five starts in June, 37 innings worth.
Morimando allowed six earned over 4 2/3 innings, in his only two major league appearances in 2016.
“Shawn has pitched exceedingly well over the course of the last, not just a couple of starts, but over the course of a month or so. He has really continued to make great progress in his development and the way he is attacking the strike zone and commanding his pitches,” Antonetti said, also naming minor leaguers Adam Plutko and Ryan Merritt. “One of the things we need to think about when we think about alternatives for the second half is, how are those guys internally, and we’re starting to feel really good about the options we do have.”
Merritt has two regular season starts for the Indians to his name, including a four-inning start on June 17 against the Twins, in the early game of a double-header. He of course tossed 4 1/3 scoreless in Game 5 of the 2016 ALCS, allowing just two hits.
Plutko allowed three earned over 3 2/3 in his only two appearances in the bigs in 2016.