Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 10/6/13
What a season for Cleveland Indians starters. After posting the American League’s 13th best staff ERA back in 2012, the Tribe turned it around magically this year en route to the playoffs, jumping all the way to the AL’s sixth best ERA. Not many could have predicted that success, probably not even much-applauded pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Yet, after the team’s season ended abruptly last week, it’s worth noting that the composition of the 2014 rotation is now up in the air. There are two likely-to-be high-priced free agents, one impending free agent after next year and a collection of still-yet-unproven youngsters and inexperienced veterans. Who will step up? What will the rotation look like? What moves are necessary? Heading into 2013, it was assumed that the Indians would pick up a starter on the free agent market. They did so in the form of $7 million for Brett Myers, but that proved to be a disaster: Myers actually managed to have a -0.6 WAR in just 21.1 innings pitched. With the below list, I count five likely starters for the Tribe as they begin the season: Masterson, Jimenez/Kazmir, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. That would be maintaining the same list as this season, provided they can re-sign one of the two free agents. But Trevor Bauer has to get consistent MLB duty at some point. What will the long-term status be of Carlos Carrasco or Josh Tomlin? Is there anyone else in the minors? And is it actually plausible for the team to re-sign just one of the two free agents? Let’s go name by name.   Justin Masterson Turns 29 in March Made $5.69 mil in 2013; likely to be $8-10 mil for 2014 Free agent eligibility after 2014 season The de facto team ace is likely to return to starting duties for 2014. He had success out of the bullpen down the stretch, but that was due to his return from injury. The biggest long-term question mark is whether the Indians will be able to afford him past next year. He’s set to make a nice raise through arbitration. Ubaldo Jimenez Turns 30 in January Made $5.75 mil in 2013; likely to receive $10+ mil offer Free agent eligibility after 2013 season Jimenez (finally) pitched like an ace over the last few months of the season. That will only make him more difficult to keep in a Tribe uniform. Some will say Jimenez owes the Indians front office for turning his career around, but unfortunately, that’s not how the open markets operate. Assuming he wants it, he’ll get at least four years and $50 million elsewhere. Scott Kazmir Turns 30 in January Made league min. in 2013; likely to receive $6-8 mil offer Free agent eligibility after 2013 season The more affordable free agent option for the Indians would be Kazmir. He was a reclamation project this season, signing a deal just to join for spring training before making 29 starts and striking out 162. He’s not an ace, but a guy most organizations would love to have as a strikeout-prone lefty. My guess: $15 million over two years to stay in Cleveland. Corey Kluber Turns 28 in April Continues to make min. salary Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018 As we discussed in Friday’s roundtable, the development of these next two starters are key for 2014. Kluber was a big surprise this season, jumping into the rotation and dominating for three months. But an August injury set him back to end the year. Indians have to hope he can recover that success and stay in the rotation. Zach McAllister Turns 26 in December Continues to make min. salary Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018 Two full seasons, 46 starts, ERA of 3.99. Another impressive yet relatively inexperienced starter, McAllister also wasn’t great down the stretch. He wasn’t the same pitcher after a six-week injury absence in June and July. He seems to be a fairly reliable No. 4 or No. 5 starter, but won’t be a huge difference marker. Danny Salazar Turns 24 in January Continues to make min. salary Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018 The up-and-coming Salazar supplanted the guy below as the team’s best pitching prospect. He went from Double-A prospect to playoff game starter in one season, just like 1997’s Jaret Wright. Hopefully Salazar’s next few years are brighter however, thanks to the Indians’ watchful eye throughout the season. No questions asked, just let him go full throttle now. Trevor Bauer Turns 23 in January Continues to make min. salary Arbitration eligibility after 2015 season; free agent after 2018 Remember this guy? The perhaps too-eccentric-or-maybe-ground-breaking prospect? He had a 5.29 ERA in four Cleveland starts and a disappointing 4.15 ERA in 22 starts for Columbus. The statistics are brutal: 73 walks, 106 strikeouts and 119 hits in 121.1 innings pitched. Those are Triple-A No. 5 starter stats. I’d assume he stays in Columbus to start 2014. He’s not ready yet. Carlos Carrasco Turns 27 in March Made $0.5 mil in 2013; likely to be $1 mil for 2014 Free agent eligibility after 2016 season All the evidence you need: 9.00 ERA in seven starts, 1.32 ERA in eight relief appearances. With the likely departure of Joe Smith out of the pen, Carrasco can slip into a long-term long-relief role and perhaps some sixth-inning duties. That will keep his cost low and perhaps harness his innate strikeout ability. Josh Tomlin Turns 29 in October Made $0.5 mil in 2013; likely to be $1 mil for 2014 Free agent eligibility after 2016 season The Little Cowboy appeared in only one Cleveland game this season as he recovered from August 2012 Tommy John surgery. He’ll have the offseason to fully recover, potentially returning into a bullpen role as well. It’s also possible that he doesn’t return to Cleveland, considering the lack of available innings.   Conclusion: So there you go, nine possible starters and a whole lot of questions still yet unanswered. I’m sure there will be more discussions on available free agent starters over the coming months, just like we had last season. Almost all of these players have had long-ish periods of major league success. Now it’s just a matter of money and composition as 2014 preparation begins soon. As I shared earlier in the week, my optimism isn’t high. Jimenez’s emergence was a key reason for Cleveland clinching a playoff spot; my odds are probably 75-80% that he’s elsewhere next season. Kazmir would be a nice returning candidate, but who knows how much his value is right now. Then, Masterson’s upcoming availability also casts into doubt how much the Indians are willing to break the bank. In the end, Bauer and Salazar have to develop as future leaders of a rotation. If that can happen, which certainly is a possibility, then the Indians are in much better shape with a back-end led by Kluber and McAllister. But the young guys could need to step up soon. AP Photo/Ann Heisenfel
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