What To Make Of Chris Antonetti’s Recent Comments

Danny Salazar

Danny SalazarWe’ve talked extensively here at the site about the trade deadline and how it pertains to the Indians. Jon had a great piece about the different paths the Tribe could go down. TD examined the club’s greatest need, a left-handed matchup guy out of the bullpen and the options available. Now, we’re four days away from the trade deadline, and the Indians are three games out in both the AL Central and Wild Card races. With Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti making the recent media rounds, it’s pretty obvious that a few key elements keep popping up in several of these discussions with a clear plan formulated.

Only trade for a starter if it’s a long-term, front-line option

Antonetti: “It would have to be the right guy. On balance, we really like the group of players we have.”

Antonetti: “One of the things you have to consider when you make a trade is who you will displace. Whose position on the team does the player you acquire, whose spot does he take? When you look at the rotation, those guys have done a good job over the past four or five weeks. The question of which of those guys would come out if we acquired a starter is not an easy question to answer.”

I agree with this line of reasoning, actually. Matt Garza would’ve been a TERRIBLE move given the asking price for just a rental (a big-time prospect and a major league starter like Texas gave up with Olt and Grimm). Taking Antonetti’s ‘four or five weeks’ comment to heart, let’s take a look at the starters’ performance in the last five weeks (since June 21).

Masterson – 5 starts, 33 2/3 IP, 11 ER, 11 BB, 35 K, 4.01 ERA
Kluber – 7 starts, 40 2/3 IP, 18 ER, 13 BB, 39 K, 3.98 ERA
Kazmir – 7 starts, 45 IP, 8 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 1.60 ERA
Jimenez – 6 starts, 31 IP, 14 ER, 19 BB, 29 K, 4.06 ERA
McAllister – 1 start, 5 IP, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 6.00 ERA
Note: Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar also made starts in this stretch.

No clear signs of trouble here. Sure, you’d like Masterson to be a little more sharp certainly, given his pair of six earned runs allowed outings. And, it would be nice to see Ubaldo give you more than an average of five innings per start. Still, Kluber has held up for the most part with his early season success, and Kazmir has been lights out of late. I expect McAllister to pick up right where he left off. That means if you acquire a starter, he’s almost certainly going to have to displace Ubaldo. That’s fine, but recognize that instead of this being a glaring weakness like so many of thought it would be, there are bigger issues to address with this team right now.

More than anything, adding a rental just isn’t good business for the Indians unless they’re on the doorstep of a World Series, and I don’t think many of us believe that right now. You have guys in McAllister, Kluber, Bauer, Salazar, and maybe Carrasco that could be rotation options here for a long time. We’ll see what happens with Masterson, who has one more year of team control as of now after this season. Point being, unless it’s a drastic upgrade, a guy that you can put near the top of the rotation near Masterson to go toe-to-toe with the other front end rotations in the AL, then I just don’t see the point of adding a middling starter. Too often in deadline deals for starters, you end up either getting a rental or damaged goods (see: Jimenez, Ublado).

The team as currently constructed just has to play better:

Antonetti: “I feel good about the group of guys we have. I’ve been encouraged by the way our starters have pitched, about our position players we have, about our ability to score runs and prevent runs. That’s despite what happened on this past road trip (defensively); we think that will be more of a blip. I think in the bullpen we can be more consistent, especially in our ability to get left-handed batters out. That’s an area we’ll try to improve, whether it’s internal or external.”

This team has a lot of talent, and in some aspects of the game, they’re really underperforming right now, bullpen pitching and defense included. I think there are some things you can fix internally, however, to maybe pinch some more runs and wins out of this team.

-Use the bench more when guys are slumping. Between Yan Gomes, Ryan Raburn, Mike Aviles, and Jason Giambi, you’ve got a pretty darn good bench with flexibility and options. With Reynolds in his monster slump, continue to give Yan more time behind the dish and stick Santana at first or DH (it helps that defense thing too as Carlos has been simply atrocious at times this season). If Lonnie or Stubbs start to struggle, their at-bats can be given to Raburn and/or Aviles. If you haven’t noticed, Raburn has a .273/.371/.553 line good for a .924 OPS to go with his 11 homers and 31 RBI in just 58 games (161 at-bats) this season. He should be in there against every single lefty and getting spot starts elsewhere.

-Make the bullpen more flexible with the struggles of Pestano and Smith. Chris Perez has been dominant recently, but the rest of the bullpen has fallen on hard times. Maybe it’s time to give Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Matt Albers some of those 7th (and in some cases 8th) inning looks if they’re pitching more effectively.

In the last month, in 13 appearances (7.59 ERA), Smith has allowed a run in six of those outings and more than one run in three of those six, raising his ERA from 1.65 to 3.38. Pestano has lost velocity on his fastball and slider, causing a lot more traffic on the bases for him and higher pitch counts. He’s been removed from his eighth inning role, and he really hasn’t shown the type of stuff yet to reclaim it full time.

Meanwhile, Shaw hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances. Albers, with the exception of two outings in that Detroit series earlier this month, has continued to pitch well. Allen, before last night, had not allowed a run in his last eight appearances.

-Reynolds has to hit better and Cabrera has to play like an All-Star caliber shortstop. You just know that Mark Reynolds will break out of this horrible funk eventually, but until he does, he should be a part-time player. He’s too important to the cause to just forget about entirely because of his immense power, but you just can’t pencil him in and run him out there everyday like this. I also think Asdrubal Cabrera has a lot to prove in the second half. If he’s still an All-Star caliber player, then he needs to play like it in this second half and take some of the load off of Kipnis in the heart of the order.

Surprise contributor out of the pitching staff (Salazar, Bauer, Carrasco, Lee, Guilmet)

Antonetti: “I think we’ll try. Part of my responsibility is to look for any opportunity to improve the team, whether those are internal alternatives or external alternatives. Obviously this time of year, there’s a lot of focus on external.”

Antonetti: “We expect, if there’s a need, that Danny will impact our team in the second half. Our expectation is that he will impact our pitching staff, if that’s in the rotation or in the bullpen.”

These comments made me think that the Indians organization knows that they’re going to have to lean on one or two guys that are currently in Columbus for the stretch run, potentially in a key role. Should any starter go down, you would think Salazar is the first call. The only concern there is pitch count and innings limit that Salazar is likely on as the season comes to a close following the team bringing him along slow from his Tommy John surgery in late 2010. In the bullpen, if the chaos continues, one would think C.C. Lee and Preston Guillmet did nothing in their short time here to discourage the Indians giving them another crack at a bullpen role. Bullpens are volatile things by nature, and if they’re pitching well, they could work their way up the pecking order fast.

This team’s ability to compete beyond 2013

Antonetti: “Yes, I think we can (add to the payroll). I think the more challenging thing for us is the player value.”

The Tigers are older than the Indians are, and they’ve got an owner who is in his later years trying to go for broke. The Indians if they keep building in this trajectory can have the weapons to contend in the Central for the next several years. It’s reassuring, though, to hear about potentially being able to add payroll. I think a lot of us felt (and still do maybe) that Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher’s contracts may not end up being played out in Cleveland. Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, and Chris Perez are all nearing the end of their time under team control. The Tribe has a lot of good players under control for a lot of years, but they’re going to have to spend to either keep what they have or supplement what they have long term (like the Reynolds signing).

(Photo: Scott Shaw/The Plain Dealer)

  • markn95

    Left-handed relief is the most obvious need that will not be filled alternatively with options in Columbus. Hagadone and Barnes have been given multiple opportunities to succeed and still have not pushed Rich Hill off the roster (of course, Tito loves his vets, but still). Not making a move in this area–particularly with the (likely) low price tag in terms of prospects–would be GM malpractice. Right-handed relief, meanwhile, is more likely to take care of itself with Lee, Guilmet, and a recovering Blake Wood down in C-bus.

    I would also think Morales would have to be a priority. Overall, the Tribe’s lineup is pretty deep and flexible. The only thing we really have too little of is HR power, especially now that Reynolds has hit the skids. The other obvious (and related) hole is the lack of anyone resembling a cleanup hitter. Morales would fill both needs. He’s not setting the world on fire in Seattle but he would be surrounded by much better talent here in Cleveland. It would also allow Francona to move Swisher and Cabrera to the 2 and 6 spots in the lineup, respectively (or vice versa), where they would be among the best in the league.

    I completely agree with your analysis of the rotation, Kirk. Why trade for a Bud Norris-type pitcher when Kluber and McAllister are more than capable of filling that role? And why give up your farm system for an expensive, front of the rotation starter when you have one or two of Salazar/Carrasco/Bauer ready to fill that role (fingers crossed) in the future?

  • anon

    Kazmir – 7 starts, 45 IP, 8 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 1.60 ERA

    I like this. I like this a lot.

  • Kildawg

    The problem with getting Morales would be if we can convince Seattle to take Reynolds and one or a few 4A players in exchange. Plus Morales would be a full-time DH which would severely limit Giambi and our team flexibility. Don’t forget that we have 6 NL games in August (albeit half are in Miami).

  • Kildawg

    Id nothing too drastic happens at the Deadline or in the off-season my idea of who would be on the team is, in no particular order:

    Position players:

    LF Brantley

    CF Bourn

    RF Stubbs

    1B Swisher

    2B Kipnis

    SS A. Cabrera

    3B Chisenhall

    CA Gomes

    DH Santana (will also spell Gomes/Swisher)

    Bench: Aviles (IF), Raburn (re-signed for 4th OF), Marson (technically 3rd C considering Santana), and maybe another bench role-player or a bullpen spot.

    Rotation: Masterson, McAllister, Kazmir (re-signed), Kluber, and winner of Tomlin/Salazar/Bauer/Carrasco/(if option is picked up on Jimenez he’s in this mix too)

    Bullpen: Perez, Pestano, Allen, Shaw, Smith (think it would be his last year of arbitration), Hagadone/Barnes (maybe both for lefties in pen), and the last spot or 2 (if they go 8 man pen) would be down to Guilmet, CC Lee, and Tomlin if he loses out of rotation battle.

    Personally I think Tomlin would be a very good long reliever, or maybe a corner OF/3B since he can swing the bat relatively well and knows how to field his position; think he was a SS in college as well.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The team as currently constructed needs to play better is a horrible theme in fact I point to this as one of the causes of the attendance problem. The Indians tried to float this kind of BS before the start of last season, during the hot start and into the AS break and it wasn’t until that dreadful stretch that all of a sudden the message change. No duh.

    As far as the rotation goes it’s promising and shown far more signs of a future but it’s also shown that it cannot be counted on as well. Namely Jimenez. It will be crucial down the stretch if the Indians are still in contention for the SP to avoid as many clunkers as possible.

    As for the bullpen outside of the lefty dilemma the other answer might come from within. Alot of people including myself have been looking at Salazar being promoted and used out of the bullpen in various capacities. Maybe instead someone like Carrasco should be used in this manner. For someone with supposedly such great stuff he sure has a problem come the third and fourth times through the lineup. Maybe it’s time the Indians turn him into some sort of bullpen ace like so many other teams have done with SP who can’t hold up as starters. Just a thought.

  • WFNYKirk

    Difference being, Shamrock, that this team went out and signed Bourn, Swisher, and Reynolds and bolstered the talent on this team. I didn’t believe that the ’11 and ’12 runs would last throughout the season. Saying these two are the same scenarios is just not the case.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They definitely bolstered the talent but Swisher and Reynolds could be debated given their play thus far. Personally I’d rather have them even if they are struggling then the lineup from a year ago.

    As far as Antonetti saying the current team just needs to play better, it just doesn’t sit well with me. That’s an easy out. Every team can say that during the season. Not every team is the Tampa Bay Rays who seem to be able to flip a switch and turn it on.

    I’m counting on the front office to inject some life into the team especially the lineup. Clearly more then just a left handed reliever is needed. I’m not expecting a blockbuster mind you but I’d like to see the offseason array of moves followed up at the trade deadline. If anything it’ll at least send the message to the anemic fan base that the front office isn’t willing to sit and be complacent that they will in fact be proactive in assisting their team win. But that’s just me.

  • DJM

    like a Brent Lillibridge type move?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Lillibridge rules you see he had a game winning hit last week for the Yankees? That’s talent!

    Btw how did you get a photo of $hamrock to use as an avatar? More importantly did you clear it’s use with my attorney Gary_Owen?