The 2012 Cleveland Indians had a lot of faults, but none seemed as problematic as the starting rotation.  It was statistically the worst in the American League, and one of the worst in all of baseball.  The Indians spent the last month or two of the season cycling pitchers into the rotation from Triple-A – names like David Huff, Corey Kluber, and even Chris Seddon took a turn on the mound for the Tribe.  Did the Indians do enough this offseason to shore up the rotation?  If not, are there any viable options that remain as we are less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting?

First, let’s look at who is part of the projected rotation, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances:

Justin Masterson – He was the opening day starter in 2012 and the “staff ace.”  Unfortunately, I’m forced to put “staff ace” in quotes, because he certainly didn’t pitch like one in 2012.  His performance was extremely erratic – one day he’d be lights out, the next he’d surrender seven runs by the fifth inning.  Masterson finished the season 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 159 strikeouts in 206.1 innings pitched.  He also surrendered 18 home runs, which was the same total that the Indians team leader in home runs, Carlos Santana, hit.  I honestly don’t think the 2013 Indians will succeed without significant improvement from both Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez.  Masterson needs to return to his 2011 form; hopefully the offense will provide more run support than it did two years ago.

Ubaldo Jimenez – There’s still a part of me, deep down, that wants to think THIS is the year that Jimenez turns it around.  I’m not going to even wish for that anymore, because continuing to think that gives me the same sensation that I get when I slam my head repeatedly into a wall.  In 2012 Jimenez went 9-17, with a 5.40 ERA, a 1.61 WHIP, and 143 strikeouts in 176.2 innings pitched.  If you thought it was bad that Masterson surrendered 18 home runs, Jimenez was even worse – he gave up 25 home runs in 30 fewer innings pitched.  There were times that Jimenez still managed to show flashes of brilliance, but they were so few and far between it didn’t really matter anymore.  You dreaded the days he started, and just hope that he minimized damage and the offense had a good day.  When the Indians picked up his option this offseason, it pretty much guaranteed him a spot in the rotation.  No matter how much we may hope otherwise, I don’t think there’s a chance he isn’t in the rotation on opening day, barring injury.  Even marginal improvement from Jimenez would go a long way toward helping the rotation.

Brett Myers – Signed a couple of weeks ago to a one-year deal, the Indians plan to move Myers back to the starting rotation from the bullpen.  Even though he hasn’t pitched as a starter since 2011, I like this move.  The Indians need a veteran presence that can eat innings; think Derek Lowe circa the first half of 2012.  I don’t think Myers will be a Cy Young candidate by any means, but I think he will more than adequately serve his purpose.

Zach McAllister – It sounds as if McAllister is all but assured a spot in the rotation at this point.  It’s still pretty amazing that the Indians were able to acquire McAllister when they flipped Austin Kearns to the Yankees for a half season.  Toward the end of 2012, he became one of the more reliable pitchers in the starting rotation – overall he went 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 110 strikeouts in 125.1 innings pitched.  He surrendered 19 home runs; as you can see, keeping the ball in the park was a big problem for Indians starters last season.  It’s one way a game can quickly get out of hand; walk a few people or give up a base hit or two, then let a player take you deep.  McAllister was also the victim of errors – there were times that he looked fine until someone committed an error, then everything seemed to spiral out of control rather quickly.  McAllister is never going to be your staff ace, but he can be a solid guy in the back end of your rotation.

The fifth starter will likely come from this collection of players:

Carlos Carrasco – He had some bright moments in 2011, but is attempting to recover from Tommy John surgery.  He was pitching in the minors by the end of 2012, and should be ready to go by spring training.  He’ll be an interesting player to watch, because it’s unclear how he’ll perform coming off surgery.

Trevor Bauer – The centerpiece of the Shin-Soo Choo trade, Bauer is just 21-years-old.  It’s possible the Indians decide he needs a bit more seasoning at Triple-A.  It’s also possible he storms into spring training and claims the fifth spot as his own.

Scott Kazmir – Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, but he did have a pretty good performance in winter ball.  His velocity has returned, and he could manage to stage a comeback with the Indians.  This isn’t someone I’d count on for the rotation with 100% certainty, but he could definitely make his presence known this spring.

Corey Kluber – Even though he struggled a lot once he was called up late last season, he managed to turn it around some before the end of the year.  Overall is 2-5 record and 5.14 ERA, and 1.49 WHIP is uninspiring, but it’s possible that he could blossom into a starter at the back end of the rotation.

David Huff – I know this seems petty and mean, but no.  Just…no.  I know he’s a former first round pick and you hate to give up on him completely, but I just don’t see anything changing here.  He looks great at times, until he’s unable to locate his fast ball and becomes extremely predictable.  Then it’s like opposing teams are batting off a tee against him.  Maybe he’d benefit from a role change – a move to the bullpen, perhaps?

Do you feel comfortable heading into spring training with these options, or would you prefer the Indians sign other pitchers, or perhaps trade for someone?  While I don’t feel fully comfortable at this point, I do feel better than I did a few months ago.  The problem is that I don’t see many remaining options for the Indians at this point – I think that Kyle Lohse and Shaun Marcum will come at too high of a cost (at least as far as the Indians are concerned).  I have to say that despite his injury issues, I liked Jeff Karstens.  I thought he’d make a great fourth or fifth starter, and could always move to long relief if necessary.  Unfortunately, he signed a deal today to return to the Pittsburgh Pirates next season.  One pitcher that I haven’t heard much about this offseason is Jair Jurrjens.  He struggled in 2012, but also dealt with injuries.  He’s just a year removed from a 13-6 record, a 2.96 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP, plus he’s just 26-years-old.  If you can sign him to a low cost deal, he’s no more of a gamble than Kazmir.  He may not be someone you can count on 100%, but it couldn’t hurt to give him a chance.  For the budget conscious Indians, this seems like the type of gamble they like to take.

Slightly off-topic: Jon Shepherd, from the SweetSpot’s Orioles affiliate Camden Depot, looked at Lofton’s snub from the Hall of Fame.  It’s a good analysis of Lofton’s statistics compared to other HOF outfielders, and also provides an alternative perspective from the fan of an opposing team.



  • Steve Alex says:

    I forgot about Jurrjens and didn’t realize he was still available. He would be an excellent low-risk, high-reward player at the right price. He has a good track record when healthy. Beyond that, Marcum and Lohse are probably too expensive for the Indians now that they chose to spend their money on Myers and Jimenez. Like it or not, those are the starters they have hitched their wagon to so that’s who it’s going to be. It’s a shame because as spring training approaches and some of these free agents tied to draft compensation remain unsigned, there could be some real bargains available. However, if they did find a few quarters in the couch cushions, I’d much rather see them use that money on a DH at this point, because that is a starting position that remains unfilled. We found out last year what happens when you try to carry a weak player (or two) at a key offensive position. It puts too much pressure on the rest of the lineup, especially with a young team.

  • Steve Alex says:

    P.S. I read Shepherd’s piece on Lofton. The statistical comparison is spot-on. 7th best defensive CF ever, 8th best WAR, 4th most steals, and he doesn’t survive the 1st ballot to even be considered in the future? That’s a crime. Lofton got the boot because of the bloated offensive numbers put up by the drug-enhanced peers he played with, which made Lofton’s numbers appear weaker by comparison. He got snubbed because he was playing small ball during an era of 60 homer per year steroid freaks. If you compare Lofton’s numbers with the other HOF center fielders, he’s right there, especially if you take his defensive prowess into account.

    • Stephanie Liscio says:

      I know, it’s quite frustrating that he was ignored to the point that he didn’t even attract 5%. I’d love to see them sign a DH that could spot start in left if necessary, but I’m not sure that person exists at this point!

  • Cadfael says:

    I’d take a flyer on Jurrjens, and that’s coming from someone who really doesn’t like him. But, for the right price, it could be a pretty big get for us. Overall, I feel better than last year, but it seems like all of our pitchers are 3-5 guys in any other rotation. We have no 1-2 guys, and that worries me. To be fair, last year we had all 5/minors guys outside of Masterson so, improvement I suppose.

    • Stephanie Liscio says:

      I agree…these definitely are 3-5 guys. Hopefully at some point Bauer could be that 1-2 they seem to lack, but I think it’s too soon for that now.

  • Chris Burnham says:

    My gut tells me that they’ll give Carrasco every opportunity to grab a spot in the rotation. Personally, I still think he’s got loads of talent and potential to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Whether he actually does that is anyone’s guess.

    • Stephanie Liscio says:

      I really want Carrasco to succeed, not just because they need the pitching, but also because I’d like to see something of value come out of that Cliff Lee deal. If Carrasco puts together a few great seasons, it makes that trade sting a little bit less.

  • DaveR says:

    I’m not a fan of rushing young guys like 21 yr old Bauer into starter roles. It seems like everyone aggressively lifts weights in pro sports. Guys in their early 20s haven’t fully filled out so throwing a ton of muscle on then throwing a ball very hard seems detrimental to their longevity. Just my thoughts…

    One thing Cleveland has done really well, other than a solid bullpen, is resurrect dead pitching careers (for a few months anyways…Lowe). Hopefully Kazmir has something left in the tank and finds a way into the rotation.

    • Stephanie Liscio says:

      That’s quite true…I keep forgetting how young Bauer is, which still makes me surprised the D-Backs gave up on him. You’re right about them having success with projects – Millwood and particularly Carl Pavano too.