Could the Tribe Be Shopping For a Starting Pitcher?
by Bob Toth
The Cleveland Indians’ rotation has been a source of disappointment because of their inconsistencies throughout the season. There has been a bit of speculation amongst national pundits that the team may have placed more of an emphasis on trying to acquire another starting pitcher before they address the power right-handed bat that so many crave.
It would be feasible for the Indians to pursue a left-hander to give the rotation a bit of balance. The team has a right-handed mix with veteran leadership (Derek Lowe, Ubaldo Jimenez); a younger, top-of-the-rotation power arm (Justin Masterson), and youth (Josh Tomlin, Zach McAllister). The team could also look to bring in an established right-hander, hoping to replace McAllister or Tomlin at the back end of the rotation with someone a bit better or more consistent.
The team has already tried to improve the major league roster from within with the demotion of Jeanmar Gomez to AAA Columbus for McAllister. Gomez this season had posted a 4-7 record in 14 appearances (13 starts). Outside of a stretch of five starts between April 28and May 19, Gomez was not able to make it through six innings. He was the losing pitcher in five of his final six appearances at the big league level, and in his lone win in that span, he allowed six earned runs in a 9-6 victory over Detroit.
With the additional wild card spot in both leagues, there looks to be a fairly active trade market. Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, New York (AL), St. Louis, Texas, and Toronto are all looking for rotation upgrades, as might Arizona, Chicago (AL), Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles (NL), Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.
Here are some of the names circulating the rumor mill and some who might not have received a lot of consideration yet, in alphabetical order:
Bartolo Colon, RHP, Oakland A’s
The 39-year-old Colon has been durable for the A’s this season. While just 6-7 on the year with a 3.80 ERA, he has shown flashes of the once-dominant Colon that the Indians had on their roster up through the middle of the 2002 season.
Colon has allowed two earned runs or less in 11 of his 17 starts. He has dealt with a hamstring injury and a right oblique injury that forced him to miss two starts in late June. He is coming off of a 2-1 win in Seattle where he allowed just one earned run in eight and two-thirds innings, giving up seven hits and not walking a batter.
Colon would be a low cost, low risk addition to the back end of the rotation. Making just $2 million this season, Oakland could move the veteran in order to get playing time for younger talent. The price tag on him would not be nearly as high as many of the younger stars who could move by the end of the month. However, the A’s are still very much in play at this time in the American League Wild Card race, so Oakland may wait to move Colon contingent on how the next couple of weeks play out for the team.
Ryan Dempster, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Dempster is in the final year of a four-year, $52 million dollar contract he signed with the Cubs after the 2008 season. Even though his record does not indicate it, he has had a solid year for the fifth-place Cubs. In 14 starts, Dempster is just 5-3, but is sporting a 1.99 ERA. After Saturday’s 4-1 win overArizona, Dempster has tied a Cubs’ record with 33 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. The Cubs lost seven of his first nine starts while giving him just 2.9 runs per start. He earned the loss in just three of those games.
Since June, the 35-year-old starter has not allowed a run and has won five straight starts. He struck out four and gave up four hits in five innings in his first start coming off of the disabled list with tightness in his right shoulder. His DL stint forced him to miss approximately four starts. Saturday’s outing saw him last six innings on a limited pitch count, giving up four hits and three walks, but striking out five.
Dempster is a potential rental from a Cubs’ team looking for prospects and to clear out their veteran, expensive ball players. Dempster fits that description and will be dealt by July 31. He is a player worth kicking the tires on, one who has veteran leadership and playoff experience to boot.
Matt Garza, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Garza is another Cubs’ starter who may relocate by month’s end. The 28-year-old is making $9.5 million this season and is arbitration eligible for 2013. He is just 4-7 in 16 starts on the same bad Cubs’ team. Four of Garza’s losses came in a stretch of seven consecutive decisions the Cubs lost when he started. He has been prone to the long ball throughout the year, allowing 15 on the season, including three in a game two different times. He has struck out six batters or more in over half of his appearances. He is averaging just under six innings per start.
He had two playoff runs with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and 2010. He has been consistently good for a sub-4.00 ERA and more than 150 strikeouts per season over the last several years.
A younger player, he would still be under team control in 2013, making him more than just a rental, similar to the Jimenez acquisition last year. The Cubs may expect more back for him than they will for Dempster though, due to the team control and the fair value he possesses at his age and current price tag.
Zack Greinke, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Greinke is in his contract year for the Brewers, who sit in fourth place and a massive stroke of luck away from a playoff birth this year. The Brewers are believed to be constructing an offer for their right-handed star, who was considered a snub by some for this season’s Midsummer Classic after posting a first-half effort of 9-3 with a 3.57 ERA. He has struck out 117 and allowed just seven home runs in 20 starts. He has been hit hard four different times this season, giving up five runs or more in those starts.
Milwaukee is thought to be considering offering Greinke an extension prior to considering offers for his services. The Brewers are expected to make a decision soon, especially if they start out the second half poorly against the three teams above them in the standings in the NL Central (Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis).
Greinke would be an attractive piece for the Indians, but it would come at its price. He likely would have to be considered a rental piece at best, especially if he spurns a big contract offer from the Brewers.
Cole Hamels, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
It has been expected that Hamels would make a big splash in free agency following a 2012 season that pays him $15 million. The Phillies are reportedly planning a substantial contract extension for their left-hander prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline to establish whether or not they take the risk of letting him walk. It is believed that the market for Hamels may be such that teams have to offer as many as six years and as much as $25 million a season to acquire his talents.
In 17 starts this season, the 28-year-old has been stellar on a bad Phillies team that currently is 15 games behind first-place Washington. Following a five and one-third innings outing to start the season, he rattled off eight straight wins in nine appearances. He earned his third All-Star appearance with a 10-4 record at the break. His only true rough spell this season occurred in his first three starts of June, when he gave up 14 earned runs, bloating his then ERA from 2.43 to 3.34. He has since dropped it back to its present 3.20. He has struck out 118 batters.
He would be a short-term rental for the Indians, and would come at the expense of a huge bounty of prospects, a la our previous trades of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. He may be too expensive of an acquisition to gamble three months of our present for several prospective pieces of our future.
Francisco Liriano, LHP, Minnesota Twins
Liriano is a familiar face to Indians’ fans. He has had a whirlwind season for the Twins in 2012. He started out 0-5 over his first six starts, giving up no fewer than four earned runs in each of these games. The team then moved him into the bullpen, where he pitched in relief for five outings before being moved back into the rotation.
His big struggle this season has been with his command, walking less than three batters in only six of his fifteen starts. He walked a season-high six on July 6. His ERA is at 4.93 on the season. He did improve his trade stock a bit his last time out though, striking out 15 Oakland batters and walking one in eight innings in a 6-3 loss. Since returning to the rotation, he is 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA, 67 strikeouts, and 25 walks in 57 1/3 innings.
The Twins’ season has been over for quite some time and they are rumored to be willing to move some veterans. The 28-year-old Liriano is a free agent after the season and could be a good backend of the rotation piece, if he has indeed found some of his old stuff. His inconsistencies this season though do make him a risky move.
Paul Maholm, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Maholm is a third potential Cubs’ starter who may be available at the deadline, and unlike his two teammates, is attractive due to being a left-hander. He has been up and down throughout the year, posting a 7-6 record with a 4.33 ERA overall. After two rough starts that bloated his season ERA by nearly a full run, he has looked better, going 7-4 with a 3.51 ERA in that span. He has had some problems with his control, especially in May, but has settled down to around one walk per game since. He has allowed just two home runs in his ten appearances since being shelled for three against the White Sox, certainly something that would be of concern for the Indians against their chief rival.
Maholm may be worth a look, but as nothing more than an end of the rotation piece. He would not require nearly the haul as his two teammates in Chicago would.
Shaun Marcum, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Marcum is another name in Milwaukee who could be relocating if the Brewers decide to retool for next season. Marcum is currently on the disabled list with right elbow tightness, definitely an injury that could scare away potential suitors. But, he has been good for the Brewers this season prior to the injury, going 5-3 with a 3.39 ERA.
A free agent at the end of the year, Marcum is a 30-year-old right-hander who has gone five innings or more in every start, but has not pitched in game action since June 14. With the exception of a loss against the Giants in which he allowed six earned runs and two home runs, Marcum had not allowed more than three earned runs in any one start. He may be a reach for a potential contender, especially with his difficulty in healing from this current injury.
Brandon McCarthy, RHP, Oakland A’s
Twenty-nine-year-old McCarthy has been a pleasant surprise for the A’s and has resurrected his career in Oakland. The lanky, 6’7” starter had struggled with injuries since leaving Chicago in 2006. A once-promising prospect for the White Sox, he was dealt away for John Danks and others and never seemed to find the success in Texas that he was destined for while in Chicago.
McCarthy is a free agent at year’s end and is currently on his eighth trip to the disabled list in his six-year major league career. His right shoulder has kept him out of action since June 19. This season, his second in Oakland, he is 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA. He has thrown five innings in each start this season and allowed more than two runs just twice in his twelve starts. He struck out a season-high ten against Detroit on May 12.
McCarthy, like Marcum, comes with his injury risk, but spending his career in the American League and knowing the hitters there may give him a slight upside over Marcum for an AL suitor like the Indians.
Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Houston Astros
Rodriguez is no stranger to midseason trade rumors. He was a big name linked to several teams at last season’s deadline, but was surprisingly a Houston Astro after the deadlines passed. This season, Rodriguez has not done anything to scare away those looking to acquire the left-hander. A 7-7 record and a solid 3.51 ERA, he has been one of the lone bright spots for last place Houston in their final season before joining the American League West.
After a fantastic first ten games to his season that saw him go 4-2 with a 2.14 ERA, Rodriguez has been hit some. In his first ten starts, he had just one game below six innings logged. In his nine since, he has thrown four such outings while going 3-5. He was the Opening Day starter for Houston and will likely be mentioned in several rumors again this season. Whether or not Houston wants to move Rodriguez, still under team control through the 2013 season with a team option for 2014, remains to be seen.
Rodriguez would be a solid upgrade for the Indians, but he would not come cheap. Having control of Rodriguez for at least another season means that Houston may need to be wowed in order to consider moving their ace a year earlier than needed. He is also making $13 million next year, which may be steep for a pitcher with just two seasons posted with a winning record.
Jason Vargas, LHP, Seattle Mariners
One season removed from moving pitcher Doug Fister at the deadline to Detroit, the Mariners are in a position to do the same with Vargas, if they so choose. The left-hander may draw some attention for his 8-7 record and being a southpaw, but he also leads the league with 23 home runs allowed.
The Mariners, who have seemed to be in a state of rebuilding for the last several seasons, may look at this being the best time to move the 29-year-old lefty who is well on his way to another 200-plus inning performance. He has consistently worked six innings or more throughout the season, and his 4.07 ERA is heavily skewed by the ten earned runs he gave up in four and one-third innings against Arizona in a 14-10 loss on June 20.
Vargas could appeal to the Indians due to his youth and left-handed status, but it is unknown how several lopsided deals with the Mariners in the past may affect the ability of the two teams to complete a trade. Fister brought the Mariners four prospects last July, and he was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA at the time, while being a year younger and under team control for several seasons.
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