There are certain questions that have perplexed and preoccupied human beings for thousands of years: What is the meaning of our existence? Are there human values that transcend time and culture? Is there a God? Other questions arise sporadically but are no less important. In Spring Training, these persistent questions become: Who’ll round out the starting rotation? Who will DH? Who will start in left field? (A question that the Indians futilely tried to answer throughout the 2012 season.)
It’s a given that RHP Justin Masterson and RHP Ubaldo Jimenez will take the #1 and #2 slots in the rotation. I’m not saying I like the arrangement, but there it is. For the time being. I’m okay with Masterson in the #1 slot. Over five seasons in the majors, he has a 4.17 ERA, with two really great seasons and three so-so to okay seasons. We all know that his 2011 season was fabulous (3.21 ERA and 1.278 WHIP) and his 2012 season not-so-fabulous (4.93 ERA and 1.454 WHIP). But 2011 wasn’t his best season. 2008 was (3.16 ERA, 1.223 WHIP). He was in Boston then, playing for Terry Francona. Now that he’s playing for Francona again, I’m hopeful Masterson will be able to regain some of that lost consistency. He has given us plenty of reasons to believe in him.
Jimenez was arguably the worst pitcher in major league baseball last season (Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar and Tortonto’s Ricky Romero had worse ERAs but only our Ubaldo had 17 losses). While he’s always seemed like a nice guy, I’ve come to believe that Jimenez’s 19-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.155 WHIP 2010 season was a fluke. I just feel like he ought to earn that #2 slot. Looking at last season (and the 2011 season), you just haven’t earned it yet, baby.
RHP Brett Myers was signed to a one-year contract with the intention of having him be the #3 starter. He worked as a reliever for the Astros and White Sox last season for a combined 3.31 ERA/1.224 WHIP but was a starter earlier in his career. Lifetime, he has a 4.20 ERA/1.331 WHIP. He seems reasonably consistent enough that he won’t be Derek Lowe 2.0. It appears he had some anger-related incidents in 2006 (yes, I’m severely understating this) and 2007 , plus a hip injury and surgery in 2009. I mention this not to dredge up the past, but to note that he seems to have gotten his act together. I’ll take another baseball redemption story, especially one that can give me a sub-4.00 ERA.
Things get a little dicer in the #4 and #5 spots. RHP Zach McAllister is seen as the front-runner for the #4 spot. After getting positively shelled in the four games in which he appeared in 2011, he pitched a respectable 4.24 ERA/1.364 WHIP in 22 games in 2012. Not amazing, but okay for a guy making the leap from AAA. He has room to develop.
In the #5 spot, we have a three-way: RHP Carlos Carrasco, who was on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery during 2012 and didn’t pitch; crazy-motion, long-toss phenom RHP Trevor Bauer, and RHP Corey Kluber, who had his rear-end handed to him on a plate by the Royals (the Royals!) in his first outing (coming out of 4.1 innings with a 12.46 ERA is not an auspicious beginning), but got better with each successive start.
By default this spot will probably go to Kluber, because Carrasco will have an innings limit and Bauer needs justalittlebit more seasoning. Jimenez can stick around just long enough for Bauer to have a couple of quality starts in AAA.
You’ll notice that all of the aforementioned pitchers are right-handers. The list of potential left-handed starters is kind of short: Scott Kazmir and David Huff. If you want a baseball comeback story to go along with our redemption story, Kazmir is as good a place as any to begin. His career got off to a flying start, but he was derailed by injuries and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011. He reportedly did well in winter ball in Puerto Rico, throwing in the 90-94 range.
And then there’s the ubiquitous David Huff, who has bounced back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus so many times in the past four seasons that the drivers on MegaBus know him by name. I would love to see Kazmir get it together and get a spot in the starting rotation, except that there aren’t any empty rotation spots. Perhaps the newest persistent question is: Why is Ubaldo Jimenez guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation?