By Coach Ryan
2013 was a magical season for Chief Wahoo’s Tribe up in Cleveland that unfortunately ended all too suddenly in their one game playoff loss to the Rays. Since then, fans in Cleveland had been hoping for another off season like 2012 that produced players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to beef up the roster. However, the Indians stayed mostly quiet on the free agent market only bringing in players like David Murphy and John Axford to compliment the already existing roster. Although the batting lineup will look very similiar a lot of questions center around Cleveland’s pitching staff due to losing so many key pieces without bringing in new talent. In their defense when there’s teams handing out record deals to second basemen and giving under performing pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez $50 million contracts it’s hard to make a big splash in free agency, especially with starting pitching. This year the Tribe is bringing primarily the same lineup to bat along with a young, inexperienced rotation to the mound, but will it be enough? Spring Training is officially underway and nobody is more excited than I am about the upcoming season. This year I’d like to bring you a three part series examining different parts of this Indians team, up first are the pitchers.
Pitching Rotation- It’s almost impossible to talk about this team’s roster without bringing up what they’ve lost during the offseason, and don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it wasn’t a lot. The Tribe will be without their second and third starters from a year ago after losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, their setup man Joe Smith, reliever Matt Albers, and closer Chris Perez. They were able to fill the closer whole by bringing in John Axford from St. Louis but did next to nothing to beef up the starting rotation. Granted Ubaldo Jimenez is being overpaid by Baltimore after essentially having another good (half) season but they didn’t make much of an effort to stop Kazmir from signing a fair deal in Oakland. On the other hand the Indians had no chance to resign Joe Smith who signed a 3-year $15.75 million contract with the Angels, and fans weren’t exactly screaming after Chris Perez and his pot smoking dog moved to LA. Instead they are promoting from within and will be relying on names that fans saw contributing last year and hoping they can maintain through a full 162 game schedule.
Justin Masterson will be the Ace of the staff which is a no brainer. He ran into some injury trouble last season, although he was able to bounce back and not just pitch well but also emerged as a fan favorite. I still think that Masterson hasn’t hit his full potential yet as a pitcher, which after signing a one year extension with the Tribe could be shown by the right hander this season. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans he has been paying attention to how other starters have been paid, and after the season will be looking to get a contract similar to Homer Bailey’s six year $105 million he signed in Cincinnati. If the Tribe isn’t performing up to par expect him to lead talks around the trade deadline.
After Masterson the two through four spots are pretty solid yet unproven, and will consist of Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, and Corey Kluber. The emergence of Salazar last year was one of the major factors on the Tribe sneaking into the playoffs, and his start in that post season games shows how he is viewed around the clubhouse. My only worry about Salazar is how he will react to pitching a full season as opposed to being viewed as an overachiever who was called up late in the season. Still Salazar has potential to become a top tier AL pitcher and is who I think the Indians will start building around after Masterson’s time is up in Cleveland. McAllister and Kluber combined for a solid 2013 campaign although they both missed significant time due to finger injuries. All three of these guys could warrant a full article about the upside they bring and what they need to work on, but let’s just say their pitching is critical to their success this season. They all are between 24 and 27 years old and if they continue to develop could lead to one of the top pitching staffs in the seasons to come. Hopefully for the Indians they mature and adapt to the grind quickly.
The fifth starter is a battle between Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum, Josh Tomlin, and depending who you talk to Aaron Harang. Although this will lead to some interesting pitching during Spring Training the bottom line is whoever wins the job going into opening day will be swapped out with most of these guys during the season. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway is on record saying that Bauer has worked hard on his mechanics but whether or not he can deal with MLB pressure remains to be seen. What we have seen in the past is how much better Carrasco is at being the long reliever. Personally I’m rooting for Josh Tomlin to win the job after missing (basically) all of last season due to Tommy John surgery.
The Bullpen- Going into last year the strength of the Indians was supposed to be the bullpen. Of course that was before Vinnie Pestano got hurt during the WBC and way before Chris Perez’s dog went into the pot business. Despite all the trouble the Tribe’s bullpen had, they still managed to come out ahead behind the arm of Joe Smith who now is pitching for the Angels, and making almost $16 million a year as a reliever.
A lot has been made about losing Smith, but personally I’m hoping the bullpen is able to bounce back to form with new closer John Axford. Last year was Chris Perez’s worst season of his career, which included his implosion the last part of the season almost costing the Indians a trip to the playoffs. John Axford has had his share of struggles over the last couple of seasons, although reports have surfaced that he was tipping his pitches to opposing batters. After Axford was traded to St. Louis and coaches spotted this he put up a 1.74 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Does that guarantee this is the closer the Indians will be getting? No but the name of the game in Cleveland as well as the other smaller markets is sabermetrics and in this regard Axford is a very low risk/ high reward closer who could be exactly what the Tribe is looking for.
As important as the closer role will be going into April games the loss of Joe Smith will be the hardest role to replicate. One of the biggest disappointments last year was Vinnie Pestano who went from the closer in waiting to the DL to one of the worst relievers on the team. According to reports Pestano hurt his elbow pitching in the World Baseball Classic and was never able to recover. If the Indians expect to have another lights out year from their bullpen than he has to pitch like he has in the past. If you compare Smith’s numbers last year to Pestano’s numbers in 2012 (before he was hurt) you can see why he is so important to the Tribe.
Games ERA WHIP Runs SO/BB
Joe Smith 72 2.96 1.16 27 2.35
Vinnie Pestano 70 2.57 1.10 20 3.17
Ironically enough Pestano is going to start off the season as the middle relieft and let Cody Allen and Brian Shaw split setup duties, which they should be more than capable of doing. That being said if Vinnie shows any sign of pitching like he did in 2012 watch out because the Bullpen Mafia could return, and once again become one of the toughest to face in baseball.
Please be sure to check out Part 2 where I talk about what I think of the position players and what the lineup will look like. You can also check out Part 3, The X Factors where I predict the Indians record in 2014. Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.