Will Returns of Carrasco and Brantley Be Tribe’s Big “Acquisitions” in 2016?
Bob Toth | On 02, Jun 2016
The Indians welcome Carlos Carrasco back to the club on Thursday, ending a five and a half week spell without the team’s number two starter. Michael Brantley will eventually return from his right shoulder ailment, which will finally move Cleveland closer to having their full roster back, if you look past the PED suspensions of Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd and the two current disabled list residents, Roberto Perez and Joba Chamberlain.
The Indians front office is well known for being frugal, holding top prospects in high regard while showing a general reluctance for moving pieces deemed important to the club’s future. While they wrapped up the month of May a handful of games over the .500 mark and would have finished better had they not stumbled through the first two series of their longest homestand of the season to date, it was remarkable on many levels that the Tribe was able to perform at the pace that they did without a pair of significant stars on the club missing the majority or all of the month.
While the Indians remain very much in the American League Central picture, it is fair to question what, if anything, the club might do as the season crawls closer and closer to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Given their unwillingness to part with their sought after arms in the offseason, will the returns of Carrasco and Brantley be the extent of the Indians’ midseason “additions” to their competitive, but incomplete, roster?
Last season, the Indians were struggling to make it to the .500 mark prior to the deadline and jettisoned veterans and big dollar contracts. In 2014, they were quiet, instead dealing Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera while hoping Michael Bourn’s return from the disabled list would help. In other years, they hoped to get results from minor league call-ups like Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis or returns from the disabled list like Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore in 2011.
Carrasco had pitched well in his first three-plus outings before injuring his hamstring on May 24 covering first base in a game in Detroit. The Indians went on to win the game, 6-3, without his services, to improve to 4-0 in games that Carrasco started. He had earned decisions in his second and third starts of the season, winning 4-1 in Tampa before taking a 3-2 victory at home against Seattle in his next start.
In 22 innings over his four total starts, Carrasco is 2-0 with 20 strikeouts and just five walks. He has a 2.45 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. He will pitch on a limited pitch count in his first outing back, expected to be somewhere around 80 pitches.
His replacement in the rotation, Trevor Bauer, has filled the role somewhat nicely and did well enough to maintain a spot, instead forcing Mike Clevinger out of the mix and ultimately to Columbus at some point in the very near future. Cody Anderson’s struggles have only helped Bauer maintain a role in the rotation instead of returning to the bullpen, where he started the season.
Brantley’s time table is still much less determined, as he is only doing light hitting off of a tee as of a report Tuesday. He has not played since May 9 and had mixed results both during his rehab assignment to start the season as well as in his numbers upon his return. At the time of his placement on the disabled list for the second time this season, he was hitting .231 with two doubles and seven runs batted in in eleven games of work.
He has hit well over .300 in each of the last two seasons with some strong extra base numbers. He had 45 doubles in each of the last two seasons and has hit 35 homers combined in that span. The Indians could desperately use his bat in the lineup, which would allow Jose Ramirez to work in a utility role more frequently instead of filling in as a fairly regular left fielder.
To his credit, Ramirez has played a serviceable left field and has had an impressive season at the plate, especially when remembering where he was at this time one year ago. Now with Byrd’s suspension, the plug-and-play approach with a revolving door of outfielders, many with little experience either at the Major League level (Tyler Naquin) or at the outfield position in general (Lonnie Chisenhall, Ramirez), seems to be a risky move for a club hoping to contend for the postseason.
The Indians may look at where they are at in the standings, knowing that they have gone three and a half weeks without Brantley again and over a month without Carrasco and feel like the additions will be sufficient enough to keep the team relevant down the stretch and hopefully towards a pennant push. But it seems foolish, especially when considering the very unstable and unsettled nature of the AL Central, to sit idly by while the division remains very much attainable.
The White Sox finally broke out of a seven-game tail spin with a win on Tuesday and another in extras on Wednesday, but have lost their grasp of the top spot in the division. The team has already been actively linked to starting pitcher James Shields of San Diego and now Robin Ventura’s job security is being questioned.
The Royals have managed to take advantage of the Sox’s slip up and the recent struggles of the Tribe to take the top spot in the Central, but are doing so without Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez. Perez will be back shortly, but the other two are significant losses for a KC club whose pitching staff does not instill fear.
Things have gotten bad enough in Detroit that Anibal Sanchez has been moved to the bullpen. The Tigers continue to roll out young and unproven starters and have not gotten back on their investment in Justin Upton. The team had dropped four straight games heading into Wednesday night’s action against the Angels and seems to be unable to get above and stay beyond the .500 mark.
The Twins are averaging three wins every ten games.
It is still early and plenty can and will likely change between now and the deadline 60 days away. The division is up for the taking, but what are the Indians willing to do to get there? In the event that they make a move, what should they do? Add to the bullpen or bench? Strengthen right field or third base?
“That’s something we’ll still take some time to determine,” Indians president Chris Antonetti shared in a quote on Cleveland.com in the aftermath of Byrd’s suspension on Wednesday. “The first thing we’ll do is give the guys who are here the opportunity. Part of our responsibility, not only in this instance, but generally, is to continually look for options to make us better.”
The AL Central is as winnable as ever and the Indians have been close without two stars. Getting Carrasco back Thursday and Brantley in the near future will help.
But the Indians need to do more. Getting those two players back is a step in the right direction, but they cannot be the only moves made.
Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya