So Ubaldo Jimenez is all but gone. Scott Kazmir has one foot out the door. We all know you can never have too much starting pitching. There can be out of nowhere pleasant surprises (i.e. Kazmir and Corey Kluber in 2013) and extreme disappointments (Derek Lowe 2012, Brett Myers 2013), especially when you go year to year trying to make changes in the bottom to middle of the rotation.
If the season started today, the Indians would be looking at a top five of Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Kluber, Zach McAllister, and a competition for the final spot between holdovers Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer. I cannot imagine that they will stay put without at least adding one veteran arm.
It seemed as though the first pitcher on their wish list was former Atlanta Brave Tim Hudson. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Tribe skipper Terry Francona had a “long phone conversation” with the 38-year old. Yesterday, Hudson signed a two-year deal with San Francisco for $23 million. So Plan A has been squashed and it has me wondering. If the Giants are giving out $35 million and $23 million on two-year deals for Tim Lincecum and Hudson, what will the asking price be on some of the other one to two-year veteran free agent starters? In addition, will the Indians look more at the trade route to add a starting pitcher rather than spend of a free agent?
With the Indians seemingly unwilling to give Kazmir a guaranteed two-year deal because of injury concerns, the one year flyer seems like the direction they would go. As I said with Mark Reynolds contract, there really is no such thing as a bad one year deal (unless it is with Brett Myers). So who are the most likely candidates to be looked at by GM Chris Antonetti and his crew?
Josh Johnson - When healthy and right, Johnson can be an ace. He has that power arm that the Indians love and is a high strike out guy. That said, those days may be behind him as his health is once again a major question mark. After parts of eight seasons of being an oft-injured stud in Miami where he won 58 games with a 3.40 ERA in 144 starts, Johnson was dealt to Toronto in the Marlins purge. His one season with the Jays was an abject disaster. He made just 16 starts, posted a 6.20 ERA, a 1.66 WHIP, and gave up a career high 11.6 hits per nine innings.
Johnson will be 30 in January but has all the elements of being a big comeback guy on a one year deal. The Las Vegas native is said to prefer a return to the NL, particularly a west coast team. I could see him getting a one-year, $12 million deal with incentives. Johnson is a guy I would love to take a chance on.
Bartolo Colon - Clevelanders love any player from the “era of champions.” Colon was the ace of the Tribe staff from 1998 until he was dealt in the famous Cliff Lee/Brandon Phillips/Grady Sizemore heist in 2002. Yes, there are a ton of red flags with Fats. He will be 41 in May, has a rebuilt arm thanks to controversial stem cell surgery in 2011, and has a PED suspension on his record. However, you can’t argue with the results on the field since the surgery.
He made 26 starts as a Yankee in 2011 which launched his career rebirth. The last two seasons in Oakland, Colon was the rock of the staff winning 28 games, posting an ERA of 2.99 and a 1.18 WHIP in 54 starts. He’s been dependable and durable – the exact kind of middle of the rotation veteran the Indians would love to have. Would one year and $10 million get him back in the 216? I would sign up for that. He may end up costing more.
A.J. Burnett - Two years ago, there were rumors that the Indians and the Yankees were talking about a Burnett for Travis Hafner deal, which I was all for. Eventually, Burnett was sent to Pittsburgh where a change of scenery was needed for the hot-headed veteran. As I expected, A.J. flourished in a smaller market and helped the Pirates get to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. In his two seasons in the Burgh, Burnett made 61 starts, averaged 196 innings per season, 8.9 K’s per nine, and had an ERA of 3.41.
Burnett loved his time in Pittsburgh and wants to return. The NL has treated him well in his career (spent seven years in Miami) and at age 37 (turns 37 Jan 3) will most likely want to pitch for a contender. Both the Pirates and the Indians fit that bill. The Indians were once said to be interested in A.J. on a short deal and the last two years have done wonders rebuilding his reputation after his three year debacle with the Yankees. Not sure they feel the same way about him now, but he is another guy in the one-year, $10-12 million range.
Dan Haren - Last offseason, Haren was a name the Indians kicked around to add as that middle of the rotation innings eater. His back injuries were too much of a potential issue for the Wahoos who decided to look in a different and less expensive direction (Myers). Ironically, Haren would be the one who made 30 starts while Myers was lost for the year in April. The team he signed with, the Washington Nationals, were one of baseball’s biggest disappointments and Haren was far from worth the $13 million he earned.
In those 30 starts, his ERA was 4.67. Yes, he ate innings, but really was nothing special, losing 14 games. He averaged 8.0 K’s per nine and walked just 1.6, but the home run ball was a problem (28 in 169.2 IP). Dan is 33 and was once a top of the rotation starter. Those days are long gone. I am not a huge Haren fan and back injuries are always one pitch away from a flair up. He could probably come cheaper than Colon, Burnett, or Johnson, but he to me feels more like a Myers type signing, which I am not down with.
Bruce Chen - Bruce Chen you ask? We’ve watched him in Kansas City these last four years and seemingly every time he faced the Indians, he pitched well. I put Chen on this list because he could come on the cheaper side. The Royals bounced him back and forth between the pen and the rotation in 2013 and once again he was effective.
Chen is an extreme soft-tosser. Jamie Moyer would be proud. He isn’t going to wow you with his stuff, but Chen is a reliable guy with a rubber arm. Also considering the fact that he is lefty, should he fail as a starter, he can be moved into a pen role. It worked for him in KC last year. The Royals would like the 36 year old back in that same role in 2014. I can’t see him getting more than one year and $5-6 million.
Scott Baker - Baker is intriguing to me because of his AL Central ties. He cut his teeth with the Minnesota Twins and has pitched many times at Progressive Field. Baker missed all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery and spent the majority of 2013 with the Cubs rehabbing. He made three starts in September for Chicago, who gave him a $5.5 million in hopes he would come back earlier. Baker is 32 years old and should be ready for full time duty this season. I could see the Indians offering him a one-year incentive laden deal to fight for that last rotation spot.
Barry Zito – Zito finally finished his seven-year $126 million deal in San Francisco. He has essentially gone from one of the league’s best pitchers to an afterthought. But at times over the past two seasons, he has flashed signs of brilliance. Those times were few and far between in 2013. With that said, he is a high walk, low strikeout pitcher. 2013 was the worst season of his career, posting an ERA of close to six, a career high WHIP of 1.70, and 11.7 hits per nine innings. There isn’t much upside with Zito and I wouldn’t look at him for anything more than a Kazmir-type minor league deal with incentives if he makes the club.
Note – I didn’t mention Bronson Arroyo here because I believe he has three year offers on the table.