Pleading the Fifth on Tribe’s Rotation

If I count correctly, the Indians will enter Spring Training with four of the five rotations spots already accounted for. 

Of course, things could change between now and April, but the word coming out of the front office continues to suggest that Carmona, Masterson, Carrasco and Talbot are all but guaranteed a rotation spot.

Fausto seems like an obvious choice (though not an obvious ace, quite, er, obviously).  The other three certainly have their question marks, but at various points during the off-season, they’ve been given votes of confidence by the organization.  According to Terry Pluto, Carmona, Talbot and Masterson are “locked into the rotation.”

When asked about Carrasco’s future, Acta said “Carlos has been in Class AAA for two years.  Six [of his seven] starts were quality starts. He was a different man, a more mature pitcher when he came up in September.”  I’ve written at length about why I’m a Carrasco-believer, so this sort of talk makes me happy.

But even with four of the five spots spoken for, we obviously have one glaring hole left.  Today, let’s look at a few of the options.

Josh Tomlin – He’s not anyone’s idea of a front-end starter.  But that’s good, because he’s not going to be asked to be one.  I wrote about keeping our expectations appropriately low for Tomlin once, and I think that still stands.  Last year Tomlin threw 73 innings for the Tribe with a strikeout-rate of 5.30 per nine and a walk-rate of 2.34.  Neither of those numbers is great, but a 2.26 BB/K rate isn’t all that terrible.  His ERA of 4.56 wasn’t terrible either—and was probably inflated by 1.23 HR/9 allowed (average is closer to 1.00).

How do I feel about Josh Tomlin in the rotation?  Meh.  I feel the same way about Jeanmar Gomez, I think.  Which is exactly how you’re supposed to feel about #5 starters, I guess.

David Huff – No. No. No. No. No.  I held out hope for two years that David Huff would figure out how to be a major league pitcher.  I don’t particularly enjoy admitting this, but I once compared him to a young Cliff Lee (in my defense, in the same piece I also compared him to a young Jeremy Sowers; two roads diverged in a career—David Huff chose the road that sucks at pitching).  The fact is, he’s now pitched more than 200 big league innings.  Over that time, he’s walked nearly as many batters as he’s struck out (1.36 K/BB, terrible), he’s allowed 1.30 HR/9 IP, and his ERA (5.84) has accordingly been one of the worst for any starter over that period.

He just doesn’t do anything well: no velocity (90.1 mph FB), no control (3.25 BB/9), no swing-and-miss stuff (4.41 K/9!).  He’s just not good at pitching.  It’s a bummer, but as Lili Von Schtupp would say, “It’s twue!  It’s twue!”

Aaron Laffey – This one is particularly vexing to me.  In my memories, Aaron Laffey has done enough to earn a spot in the rotation.  He bailed the team out of some big situations in the 2007 playoff run.  He’s managed his ego well as the organization continued to bounce him from Columbus and Cleveland—bullpen and rotation.  In short, it seems just that he should have a shot in the rotation.

On the other hand, his numbers just aren’t that great.  His K/BB ratio is 1.21 for his career—worse than David Huff’s.  His only saving grace has been his stinginess with the HR, letting up only 0.62 per nine innings pitched.  Obviously, his low HR totals are a product of his groundballing ways: over 51% for his career.  Unfortunately, that groundballing has happened in front of the Indians’ defense, resulting in a .310 career BABIP.

In the end, I just see Laffey as being more valuable as a long-man out of the bullpen.  I have a feeling we’re going to need one of those.

Jeremy Bonderman/Kevin Millwood/etc. – Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from Ken Davidoff quoting an AL executive: “[Kevin] Millwood is not a help. He’s just a name people know.”  Broadly speaking, Ken crystallized how I feel about the scrap-heap guys this year.  I was mildly interested in Bruce Chen and/or Brandon Webb, but the guys that are left now are there for a reason.  I explained last week why I didn’t think Bonderman was nearly as good a bet as Pavano.  Multiply that by plenty to get my feelings on Kevin Millwood.

I guess for me, it comes down to this: fifth starters don’t really matter.  For one, they all stink.  Do you know that the Yankees fifth starter on their depth chart is Sergio Mitre?  Those scary Philadelphia Phillies have Joe Blanton, whose career ERA is essentially identical to Aaron Laffey’s.  It just doesn’t matter that much who your fifth starter is.  On top of that, the fifth starter doesn’t really stay the fifth starter.  It’s a place-holder for pitchers to bounce between AAA and the parent-club.  In other words, fifth starters don’t exist.  So why would you waste money on one?

I know these guys will come cheap, but think of it this way.  Let’s pretend that the Indians have a budget.  (That shouldn’t be too hard to imagine, right?)  Let’s pretend that whatever money they don’t spend in one place, they’ll have left over to spend in another place.  Let’s further pretend that these sorts of retread pitchers would cost roughly $1 million to $2 million on a one-year deal.

Wouldn’t you rather spend an extra few million on the draft to sign players with top-end potential?  Wouldn’t you rather add players who will be a part of this team for ten years than for just one?  I sure would.  In my mind, there’s no upside to signing these sorts of pitchers.  Best case scenario, they pitch well enough so that we can trade them at the deadline for fringe-prospects ala Pavano.  And that’s the BEST CASE.  It doesn’t seem remotely worth it to me.

I know our in-house options aren’t that attractive, but I guess I’d rather see some combination of Tomlin and Laffey and Gomez to hold down the fort until the kids are closer to being ready.

Whether they ever get ready?  That’s another question…

Photo Credit: Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal

  • Gbwoy

    Im with you Jon, Carrasco looks like the obvious choice right now.

    Huff is done, as a starter at least. The Indians should shift him to the pen. His stuff might play up just enough to make him effective.

  • Vengeful Pat

    Jon, do you like Tomlin, Huff, or Laffey to get the 5th spot over Jeanmar Gomez (assuming we don’t bring Millwood in)? Not knowing Gomez’s numbers, I just felt like he was a better starter last season than those other 3 guys, but I have no idea how much luck factored in to that. Tomlin seems like he could be a decent starter if he can corral those home run totals.

  • Ben

    Give Pino or Gomez the spot.

  • Reggie Ruckus

    Good stuff Jon. How does the schedule shake out at the start of the season? Usually early on a 5th starter isn’t even needed so Gomez or Tomlin could actually start the year at AAA. I had a lot of hope for Laffey when he first hit the scene but the guy can’t seem to stay healthy. I’m sure a lot of that was the Tribe’s indecision on his role.

    Man those Aeros cammo jerseys in the picture are ugly.

  • mgbode

    i still remember july where anytime we brought up someone new from AAA they seemed to pitch well and win their first game out (supporting your ‘no such thing as a 5th starter’ line)

  • NJ

    Robert Frost and Blazing Saddles? Well done.

    I too remember being high on David Huff. And now for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Maybe it was that decent stretch at the end of ’09? But that would mean I was completely ignoring the beginning/middle of that season. Who knows.

    I agree with the op – lets just go with the marginal players we have. That said, I won’t bust a gasket it we do end up bringing in a guy like Bonderman or Millwood on the cheap.

  • Matt S

    My thing on bringing in Bonderman/Millwood/etc. is that there’s just not a lot of upside to the move, and a ton of downside. Consider the following rotations without this move:

    Cleveland: Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, Carrasco, Tomlin (Laffey/Joe Martinez in bullpen)
    Columbus: Huff*, McAllister*, Kluber*, Gomez*, Reyes (Pino, Espino, Berger in bullpen)
    Akron: Barnes, Hagadone*, DeLaCruz*, White, Packer
    Kinston: Pomeranz, Knapp, others (hard to project)
    (*=on the 40 man roster)

    What you have already is a bunch of guys who probably SHOULD be promoted a level higher that are in the “holding pattern” because there’s too many quality starters in the system. Pretty much everyone who will start next year in Akron would be at the AAA level in most other systems. Alex White, one of our top prospects, probably deserves to be at AAA now (and likely will be the first called up for it), and acquiring one of these guys delays his development and eventual graduation to the big leagues. There are just so many guys who “could be” a decent starter that I think the Indians need to start sifting through them.

    One of the things I’ve read on this is that the Indians think that acquiring a vet arm will HELP the youngsters by protecting them from overwork. I would disagree with that assumption, as there are enough arms in the system to do that. If you’re really concerned about overworking or exposing the likes of Tomlin/Gomez/Kluber… promote Reyes or Huff. Are they really any worse than Milwood/Bonderman? And if/when they end up sucking, just release them. Why add another mediocre guy to the mix, when you have plenty?

  • mgbode

    @Matt S – I think you are missing the point with Millwood/Bonderman.

    The Tribe would basically sign them to be their 5th starter as a ‘showcase’ opportunity for contending clubs. Best case scenario is that they have a good start to the season, a contending club wants a middle-rotation pitcher and we get back some mid-level prospects.

    On the other hand, if they flame out, then we simply demote/cut them and no harm done (their contracts would be cheap). If done effectively, it’s actually a cheap way of adding youthful assets to your farm system.

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