In this week’s Spin Cycle, we are going to continue to look at the Indians’ starting rotation, as we have the past few weeks. The Indians have been quiet since they dealt Drew Stubbs this past December, because their club as a whole seems to be fairly complete. While the Indians have minor concerns at shortstop and third base, their pitching remains the question mark heading into the 2014 season.
How much of a question mark depends on who’s looking.
Today, we are going to focus the spotlight once again on Ubaldo Jimenez, who remains a free agent in an unknown market for starting pitchers.
Two weeks ago, we took a look at the #5 slot in the rotation, and Carlos Carrasco came out on top with 32% of the vote.
Last week, we took a look at Danny Salazar, and discussed whether or not he could become an elite starter.
The results provided a clear majority. Nearly 66% of the voters believe that Danny Salazar is going to make the turn in 2014 to become that elite starting pitcher, while 34% believe that he’s either going to need more time, or he’s going to be a bust.
Danny Salazar is a key to the rotation in many, many ways. Two major pieces to the Indians appear to be gone, with Scott Kazmir signing a two-year deal, and Ubaldo Jimenez remaining a free agent looking for a big-time deal. As IBI/CSI columnist Steve Orbanek noted in Orbiting Cleveland this week, the Indians rotation is left with a huge hole to fill.
If Salazar is the elite pitcher that a majority of our readers believe he is, than he will play a HUGE part in filling in the gap that the two free agents are leaving. Obviously, one guy can’t make up a two-pitcher difference, but Salazar was already a part of the rotation last year, and in many ways, supplemented both Corey Kluber and Justin Masterson, who both missed substantial time while Salazar jumped into the rotation.
You could make a case that Corey Kluber’s placement on the DL on August 6 of last year not only allowed Ubaldo Jimenez to reclaim his ace status, but saved his job in the rotation. Remember, Salazar was called up and took Jimenez spot in the rotation on August 7th, and Jimenez was bumped back into Kluber’s spot in the rotation on August 10th. You could argue that the only reason that Salazar was called up was because of Kluber’s injury.
You could also make a case that the Indians were ready to make a move with Jimenez. His numbers weren’t horrible up to that point if you just look at the numbers, but he had scuffled through much of July, with the one exception in an eight-inning, two-hit stint against the Texas Rangers. It’s the enigma of Ubaldo.
Regardless of your thoughts on the why’s of Danny Salazar’s call-up, it woke up Jimenez and perhaps saved the Indians entire season.
But getting back on point, Jimenez pitched in 182 2/3 innings last season, while Kazmir added 158 innings to the Indians count. That gives the Indians 340 2/3 innings to fill this season. The first pitcher that the Indians will look at to fill those innings is Salazar, elite or not.
Salazar pitched in only 52 innings last season for the Indians over ten starts with the big league club. While I’m not going to get into specific projections with Salazar, I will note that counting his 20 starts in the minors, Salazar pitched in 30 total games and 145 total innings.
For Salazar to be elite, he will have to increase his innings output while maintaining or improving all of his peripheral statistics. For our sake, we’ll assume that Salazar increases his innings outlook by 20%, giving him 175 total innings next season. Taking off the 52 innings he pitched last year, that gives the Indians 120 innings to subtract off of that 340 2/3 innings.
That gives the Indians a more tangible 220 innings to account for.
You could make a case that Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are going to add innings onto their counts from last year as well. McAllister pitched in 170 innings in 2011 and 190 innings in 2012, while splitting time between Cleveland and Columbus. He only pitched in 134 innings last year, so you could see a 50 inning bounce there. Kluber pitched in 154 innings in 2011, and 190 innings in 2012, while splitting time between Cleveland and Columbus. He only pitched in 147 innings last year, so you could see a 25-30 inning bump there as well.
You could even make a case that Justin Masterson should see a bump in his innings, since his 193 innings last season was the first time in three seasons that he dropped below 200 innings pitched. Of course, his increase would only be ten innings or so, if it happens.
You have to keep in mind that the assumption would be that all four starters mentioned would have to maintain their health throughout the year, which is a question-mark to some extent, because each spent time on the DL throughout the season. In fairness though, Masterson, McAllister and Kluber have all maintained healthy careers, and likely didn’t sustain the type of injuries last year that are considered debilitating.
The only question-mark health-wise is Salazar, who the Indians had enough confidence in to throw 145 innings last year, when he’s only thrown over 100 innings in his career prior, and that was in 2009, a year before his Tommy John surgery.
Saying conservatively that the Indians are going to gain another 70 innings from the three starters other than Salazar seems to be a fair assumption, dropping the innings number to a very manageable 150 total innings to be made up by a number five starter.
In a perfect world, you would get 200 innings from Masterson, 185 innings from Kluber and McAllister, and 175 innings from Salazar, for a total of 745 innings, which would more than supplant the top four of last season, and would actually put a run on the top five.
Last season, the Indians got 193 from Masterson, 182 2/3 from Jimenez, 158 from Kazmir, 147 from Kluber and 124 from McAllister, for a total of 805 innings.
True expectations for this year are probably below that 745 innings mark for the top four, but above the 805 innings mark of the top five in 2013. What I’m saying is, once you add a #5 to the mix, if all things remain equaly, that 805 innings mark should be easily topped.
Of course, all things rarely remain equal. That’s for another day though.
What does this all mean? The Indians can go down one of two roads, and the Spin Cycle from a couple of weeks ago bears that out. The Indians can fill the #5 starter hole with one of four candidates: Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum, Josh Tomlin or Trevor Bauer, or the Indians can fill a spot in the rotation by signing a free agent, which would likely be Ubaldo Jimenez.
With the IBI/CSI readers tentatively choosing Carrasco as their #5 option here in the offseason, he was only 12 votes ahead of “a move that is yet to be made.” This week, we are going to assume that the Indians are still considering Ubaldo Jimenez as a starting option, as Orbanek noted in Friday’s column.
This really has nothing to do with comps on the rotation from 2013 to 2014. There are arguably less questions this year, since the top four are clear-cut. Of course, those that make statements like “this year’s rotation is superior” are truly suspending disbelief and basing that assumption on projections, since Masterson is the only starter of the four with a true major league “body-of-work.”
Look, I’m not trying to start a controversy here. I like the way our rotation shapes up. My point here is that last year, the belief was that we had tons of question marks in the rotation, and it turned out they were aptly answered. This year, the belief is that we don’t have tons of question marks. Hopefully that’s true, but if you’ve followed baseball for any time, you know what that can get you. Last year bears that out.
Remember, the bullpen was the one lock we had heading into 2013, and how did that turn out?
Should the Indians sign Ubaldo Jimenez?
This could get muddy if I were to attach years and salary to the poll, but I’m not going to. We all know that Ubaldo Jimenez is asking for anywhere between $17 and $20 million, and likely 4-7 years. The assumption is that he’s not going to get that from any major league team, and for sure, not from the Indians.
At the end of the day, we don’t know WHAT Ubaldo will ultimately get, because all the figures given by the “experts” are pure speculation based on last year’s market, and this year’s logjam created by the Tanaka/Price sweepstakes.
I also don’t want to muddy up the waters by adding a long-term deal for Masterson to the table. We can assume that the Indians are going to discuss this very option with their ace as we get closer to arbitration in February, and this could be an ongoing discussion right up until April, or until Masterson says he’s done talking contract.
I’ll leave the terms of Ubaldo’s contract and the possibility of a long-term Masterson contract for your own speculation for now. My only focus is on the 2014 season. If you think they’ll get him to a one-year deal. Great. If you think they’ll sign him to a three or four-year deal. Wonderful. If you don’t think they should do either…that’s your prerogative. That should make this week’s question an easy one:
Should the Cleveland Indians sign Ubaldo Jimenez for the 2014 season?
It doesn’t get any more cut and dry than that. Make sure that you leave comments below, in what I can only assume will be a very interesting conversation.