Status Quo is Not How Tribe Should Go
Steve Eby | On 17, Sep 2014
Before the start of the 2014 season, the Cleveland Indians allowed 340.2 innings pitched from starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to walk out their door, while only banking heavily on a natural progression from their young starting pitchers to shoulder the burden left behind. A somewhat inconsistent offense was also expected to become suddenly consistent, and the team was greeted with mixed results and slow starts that will ultimately cost them a return to the postseason.
The good news for the season included some extreme progress from players like Michael Brantley, who turned from a solid starter into an All-Star over the course of last winter, and Corey Kluber, who turned a good 2013 season into a Cy Young caliber 2014. Also included in this group are the improved performances of Yan Gomes, Lonnie Chisenhall and Trevor Bauer; all of whom put together solid or better seasons. Beyond those examples, the rest of the Indians 2014 regulars either started slowly, have consistently struggled or shown signs of regression from the previous season.
The most glaring examples of regression come from the right side of the infield, as both Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher have played worse than almost anyone could have imagined. Kipnis is playing out the worst season of his career, while Swisher is collecting his giant paycheck from his spot on the DL. In addition, Carlos Santana struggled for the first two months out of the gate, while Michael Bourn battled nagging injuries until August. It was a “when it rains, it pours” type of season for the offense and the sole-offseason addition of David Murphy did little to right the ship after April had ended.
The only thing worse at the start of the year was the starting pitching.
While the bullpen has been outstanding for the majority of the year, the starting pitching struggled up until the last month and a half. The Indians put a whole lot of eggs in the baskets of the mostly inexperienced Kluber, Zach McAllister and Danny Salazar from the beginning, and only Kluber’s basket has seemed to be egg-safe. McAllister struggled mightily from May until the present, while it took Salazar until July to finally find his stuff. Carlos Carrasco was also a nightmare in the rotation early on, while ace Justin Masterson struggled as well.
The point is that the Indians allowed a couple of their bigger names to walk and tried to replace them with unproven, internal options. While most of the 2014 is going to be under team control for next season, the Indians would be wise to have some safety nets around in case of other 2014-like scenarios occurring. Staying status quo didn’t really work in 2014 and it likely won’t work in 2015 either.
Heading into 2015, it’s not very fair to believe that Kluber will have the same kind of success that he has had this year, year-in and year-out. His 2014 season is one for the ages and will likely be the best of his—or almost anyone else’s—career. To expect him not to come back to Earth at least a little bit is unrealistic. Expecting more out of Brantley, Gomes and Chisenhall is possibly a little greedy as well, but none of those guys played at the historic and ridiculous level that Kluber has.
The Indians would be wise to add another veteran starter—if not two—to compete for a spot in their young and suddenly exciting rotation. It should be the expectation of all involved that Kluber remains a top of the rotation starter, while Salazar and Bauer continue to develop into key pieces as well. Carrasco is a bit more of a wild card and banking on a full solid season from him would have sounded silly two months ago and should still be taken with a whole lot of salt now. Counting on McAllister or T.J. House to carry the load of a fifth starter is also not a scenario the Indians should be fully comfortable with either.
Offensively, unfortunately, the Tribe doesn’t have the same flexibility that it does in its rotation. Having heavily-paid veterans at six of eight positions doesn’t allow for much wiggle-room, so the front office will likely have to improve its hitting and defense via the trade route. Don’t be surprised to see the names of Murphy, Chisenhall or possibly even Santana dangled out there all winter.
If the early season struggles indicated anything, it was a lack of depth and Plan B’s when Plan A didn’t work exactly as planned. The Indians need to do their best to rectify those situations during an offseason that should not be as quiet as the previous. After all, for every Corey Kluber example, there are always going to be more Zach McAllisters.
Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press