Indians May Have One Splash Left this Winter

Just over a week ago, Indians manager Terry Francona told the media and fans alike at TribeFest that he is happy with their roster as they close in on Spring Training.

Being happy with the roster and having the roster complete may sound very similar, but could still be two totally different meanings. Francona never stated that he thought the roster was complete, and he likely never would. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has stated—like most general managers—that he’s always looking to improve the roster.

So, while the Indians are just eight days from pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arz. to open the 2014 season, Francona may be happy with his roster, but Antonetti may still be quietly looking to make improvements. In comparison to last winter, the Indians have been quiet, however they have signed David Murphy to improve the offense and John Axford to be the team’s closer. They’ve also acquired Josh Outman from Colorado in trade for Drew Stubbs and signed a plethora of relief pitching options for what will be a new look bullpen. On paper, the roster appears to be free of any glaring holes and the Tribe is in position to have another 90+ win season and contend for the American League Central Division title.

But games aren’t played on paper and the best made plans don’t always come to fruition. The Indians, as currently constructed, will head into the 2014 season with a starting rotation full pitchers who had quality 2013 seasons but still have question marks attached to them. Danny Salazar impressed the organization last season, leaping from Double-A Akron to starting the Indians’ Wild Card game. While he has the potential to be a front of the rotation starter, there is no guarantee that the young rookie will be able to assert himself to the top in his first full season. Corey Kluber had fantastic season a year ago after not making the team out of Spring Training, but again there is no certainty he’ll repeat that production, even though the Tribe is banking on it. Zach McAllister improved from his 2012 season, but at 9-9 a year ago, he needs to continue to develop if the Tribe plans to continue to contend.

With Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco and Shaun Marcum competing for the fifth starter’s spot, the safety net of replacements is not very deep. If one of the front four starters stumbles, one of the losers of the Fifth Starter Derby would have to fill in. The old adage, “you can never have enough pitching,” is true and the Indians are just one hurdle from really feeling that line come to life.

Meanwhile, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana remain free agents tied to a qualifying offer. Anyone signing them will lose a draft pick. It’s well documented that the Indians have kept dialogue open with Jimenez all winter. Time is running out for both to report to camp on-time and prepare for the season. For a pitcher like Jimenez, who has been up and down in recent seasons, a regular Spring Training may be in his best interest than trying to rush to be ready in a shortened spring.

But Jimenez and Santana are not the only two pitchers remaining on the market. A.J. Burnett announced this week he will not retire and will listen to offers other than just the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since he is not tied to draft pick compensation, he may become the most sought after pitcher left on the market, thus hurting Jimenez and Santana’s long term contract hopes. Bronson Arroyo has a career of consistency on his record and still is looking for a team for 2014 and even former Indian, Jake Westbrook could provide a team pitching depth. Any of these options would improve and strengthen the Indians’ rotation.

With the announcement this week that the Indians and Justin Masterson are no longer working on a long term extension, it appears much more likely Masterson may be a free agent at the end of 2014. Considering the Indians poor track record of resigning their own players once they hit the open market, 2014 could become an even bigger “all-in,” season for the Tribe. If Masterson leaves the organization after 2014, it’s hard to fathom the Indians being the same level of contender as they are right now. Overspending on a one-year deal to deepen and round out the rotation may be the best play to make 2014 a memorable one.

A year ago, the Indians didn’t sign Michael Bourn until February 15. Antonetti and the Indians demonstrated their ability to use the new rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to their advantage in 2013. They could assert themselves to the top of the class by making another late season splash to round out their roster for 2014.

Photo: Getty Images

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