The Cleveland Indians made a lot of moves in the offseason that have worked very well to this point. From free agent signings in Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, to bargain-bin shopping with Ryan Raburn, to trading for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles, to the hiring of manager Terry Francona, most of what the Tribe did in the winter has helped the team have success through the season’s first two months.
One acquisition that was looking bad over the initial few weeks was giving $7 million dollars to 32-year-old Brett Myers and making the 2012 reliever a starter. Through his first four appearances, three starts, covering 21 and 1/3 innings, the veteran right-hander was not very good. He was 0-3 with an 8.02 ERA. He had allowed a league-high 11 home runs.
On Apr. 20, Myers went on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. He is now close to returning to the Indians after making his second rehab start for Double-A Akron on Wednesday. Now, the question may be where and if Myers fits into the big league club?
When the Indians signed Myers it was to shore up a shaky rotation. Nos. 1 and 2 starters, Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, were coming off forgettable 2012 campaigns. The rest of the starting pitching hopefuls were unknown youngsters and comeback-trail journeymen. Myers was signed because he had pitched well out of the bullpen a year ago (3.31 ERA, 19 saves in 65 IP) and had a track record as decent starter before that.
Since Myers went on the DL, however, a lot of the younger players have earned a shot to start for the Indians and proved they belong in the majors. Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber were both called up and showed promise, despite up and down performances. Kluber is still with the Tribe. Zach McAllister has been one of Cleveland’s two most consistent starters, along with Masterson. Jimenez has had as many good starts as bad, a step in the right direction for him. Kazmir has been good enough to be thought of as someone to keep for the duration of the season. That he is a lefty helps his cause. Where Myers was a need in the winter, he is now just an extra arm.
That said, there is no question Myers will be with the Indians soon. The team is not going to let him go until it sees more than just a few games of work – not at that $7 million price tag. The hope is the arm issues were the cause of Myers’ early-season struggles. The fear is being a reliever last year and throwing far fewer innings than he had as a starter has weakened his arm to the point it cannot handle throwing 90-100 pitches every five days.
Either way, the Indians and their fans are going to find out the answers within the next two or three weeks. Myers made his first rehab appearance on May 17. The rule for pitchers is that teams have 30 days to activate a hurler from the time his minor league assignment starts. After struggling against Double-A Bowie on Wednesday (4.1 IP, 3 earned runs and 1 home run allowed) it seems likely Cleveland may wait as long as it can to bring Myers back to the big show. At least that should be the plan. Let Myers stretch his arm back out and be certain he can withstand the rigors of starting again.
When Myers does return, he is likely to take the place of Kluber. The 2012 rookie has had some bright moments, but has struggled, overall, with a 5.19 ERA. It would not hurt Kluber to get a little more seasoning while the Indians see what they have in their free-agent acquisition.
However, Myers should be on a short leash. Something around the lines of four or five starts should be enough to get an indication of where he stands. If he goes out and continues to serve up gopher balls and tires out quickly, his time in the rotation should be numbered. Cleveland now knows it has plenty of other options to step into the rotation should need be. Kluber or Bauer could be called back up. A trade could also happen for a proven starter. Either way, the Indians are no longer stuck with trotting out a player who is having major issues.
One option for Myers could be going to the bullpen. It is not a bad option. He was successful there last year. He has the makeup to be another late-inning guy to go with Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith. We have seen Perez and Pestano struggle with injuries and bad outings in the first part of the season. Should someone like Perez be dealt in a deal for a starter, Myers would certainly provide needed depth to the relief corps. The Indians do not really have a long reliever on staff and that could be another possibility for him. So, even if Myers should falter in his comeback as a starter, he would not have to be a waste. He could still help in other ways.
Unlike there were in December, there are now options in the rotation. That means there options with Myers. Just because he is a veteran getting paid well no longer means Cleveland needs to have him start if he struggles. The Indians do not have to do that, nor should they.
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