Fifth Starter Decision A Matter Of Dollars And Sense
By Mike Brandyberry
Like most teams, the Cleveland Indians have to consider many angles before making a decision affecting the roster. In sports, money always is considered, and it might be one of the largest factors impacting the Tribe’s decision in choosing its fifth starter.
When the Tribe learned in January of Roberto Hernandez’s (Fausto Carmona’s) visa issues and knew he would be unavailable for spring training and the start of the season, the team reacted swiftly and acquired Kevin Slowey from the Colorado Rockies. Slowey suffered through an injury-riddled season in Minnesota, going 0-8, with a 6.67 ERA in 2011, but previously had three straight double-digit victory seasons. With a clean bill of health, the Indians originally expected him to fill the hole Hernandez vacated.
However, this spring has not exactly been the rebirth Slowey and the Indians planned. Wednesday’s four-inning, four-run effort was the latest in a spring full of struggles for the 27-year-old right hander. He allowed a three-run home run to Brett Pill of the San Francisco Giants in the Tribe’s 5-3 loss. While spring statistics often can be taken with a grain of salt, Slowey’s numbers could use some sweetener. After yesterday, in 12 innings, he has a 6.75 ERA and hitters are batting .352 against him. He’s fooling no one.
Meanwhile, Jeanmar Gomez has not just out-pitched Slowey, but probably every starting pitcher in the Indians’ camp. In Gomez’s 11 innings of work he has yet to allow a run, and hitters are hitting only .114 against the 24-year old. He pitched four scoreless innings Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, outdueling reigning National League Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Gomez has pitched in parts of the last two seasons with the Tribe, going 9-8, with a 4.58 ERA in 22 appearances. When not with the Indians, he has excelled at AAA-Columbus.
Both Slowey and Gomez have at least one more start before Manny Acta and the Indians’ front office must make their decision on the final roster spot. While it seems little could happen for anyone to eclipse the effort Gomez has turned in this spring, the decision isn’t quite so easy.
Each has an option remaining and could be sent to Columbus. However, that could be a bitter pill to swallow for Slowey, who has been in the big leagues since 2007. Also, Slowey has a contract for $2.5 million this season, of which the Indians are responsible for half. The Colorado Rockies are obligated to pay the other half. For a financially strapped team like the Indians, it could be tough to send a pitcher guaranteed more than $1 million to AAA. Gomez still will make a league minimum salary.
Another option could be to send Slowey to the bullpen. The Tribe has brought in several non-roster invitees with the possibility of them filling the void left by Chad Durbin, but most have struggled and the team is less than impressed with any option. Moving Slowey to the bullpen keeps him on the big league roster and creates a situation where his salary still seems justified.
However, the right decision may not be the easiest or most financially sound one. If the Tribe truly is dedicated to trying to win the American League Central Division this season, they have to strongly consider sending Slowey to AAA to try and fix mechanical problems with the hope he can surface in the Tribe rotation when a starter struggles or is injured. It is tough to fix mechanics when you are in the bullpen and not pitching on a regular schedule.
The decision for the fifth starter will have to be made within the next seven to 10 days. Each has at least one more opportunity to earn the role, but the decision could be a matter of dollars and sense — common sense.
Photo: Associated Press
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