When the Cleveland Indians inked starting pitcher Gavin Floyd to a one-year, $4 million deal in December, with performance incentives potentially providing another $6 million to the contract, there was one question surrounding the veteran starter.
Can the 32-year-old right-hander remain healthy for a full season?
It has been several years since Floyd has been able to say so.
The Indians added Floyd to be a veteran piece in an otherwise young starting rotation, joining reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who has worked just one full season in the Bigs, returning throwers Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Zach McAllister, and young arms Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, and T.J. House. Of the returning seven options, only Tomlin has reached his 30s.
Cleveland’s free agent acquisition will have one of the top four spots in the rotation, according to Indians general manager Chris Antonetti after Floyd’s signing, as long as he can stay healthy. It created an overabundance of pitchers in the rotation after Kluber, as Bauer, Carrasco, and McAllister are all out of options, and two of those three had pitched well enough in 2014 to merit consideration for the rotation in 2015. It leaves a large battle between McAllister, Tomlin, Salazar, and House for the final spot.
Floyd was scheduled to make his Indians debut on Sunday, but he was shelved from the start by manager Terry Francona after experiencing what was referred to only as “general soreness”.
Rather than to try to have Floyd play through any potential pain, the Indians are being cautious with the other of their two big free agent signings. Doing so will hopefully eliminate any issues further down the road during the season, when the Indians will need him the most. If he is not available to go, whether it be at the start of the season or at any point throughout after coming off of two major surgical procedures in each of the last two years, Cleveland has the depth to survive for a stretch of time without him.
Francona indicated that, for now, he would just be bumped back a couple of days and his current throwing program would continue as scheduled. He had reportedly looked good through his early showings in camp.
Floyd spent last season with the Atlanta Braves, but only made it into June before sustaining a fractured right elbow that cut his season short. While throwing a curveball in the seventh inning of a game against the rival Washington Nationals, he fractured the olecranon bone in his pitching elbow during what was at the time a two-hit shutout. The injury, ending what was his best start to date last year, required surgery that shut him down for the remainder of the season.
Floyd made just nine starts for the Braves prior to the injury, earning a 2-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. He did not make his first start last year, while still returning from the ulnar collateral ligament surgery, until May 6th. He struck out 45 batters and walked 13 in 54 1/3 innings of work on the season.
Floyd is certainly a familiar face to the Indians organization.
He was originally drafted with the fourth overall pick of the 2001 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies and cracked the Major League rotation in 2004, making six appearances with the club that season. He made seven more the following season and eleven in 2006, but was dealt following the season to the Chicago White Sox with fellow starter Gio Gonzalez for veteran starter Freddy Garcia.
He logged 70 innings of work in 16 games with the White Sox in 2007, but entered the starting rotation for good with a career year in 2008, posting a 17-8 record and a 3.84 ERA in 33 starts while toppling the 200 inning mark for the first time. He went 11-11 the next season in 30 starts, falling just seven innings short of 200, but struck out a career-high 163 batters.
He appeared in 31 games in each of the next two seasons, earning records of 10-13 in 2010 and 12-13 in 2011. He was limited to 29 games in 2012 but finished with a 12-11 record despite leading the league in hit batters.
Floyd struggled at the start of the 2013 and, after an 0-4 start in five games, he was shut down after leaving an April 27th start in Chicago against the Tampa Bay Rays in the third inning after giving up two runs on two hits with two walks and a strikeout. It was found that he had a tear in his flexor muscle that caused issues with the UCL in the elbow, and he underwent Tommy John surgery on May 7th. His return with the Braves in 2014 came one day short of the anniversary of the procedure.
The obstacles for Floyd are known going forward – he has to stay healthy, plain and simple.
If Floyd is able to do so this season, which has already proved to be a tough road for the veteran starter to travel by this early Spring Training setback of sorts, he will slot into the starting rotation as an experienced leader on an otherwise young pitching staff.
The need for a return to form extends beyond just his potential contributions to the Indians for this season. His professional future and his career are riding on it, as well as $6 million worth of incentive-based motivation after reaching 19 starts and 160 innings pitched. With back-to-back seasons essentially lost to substantial elbow surgeries, Floyd has to break the cycle. While the Indians may have an internal contingency plan in place with the depth of arms heading into the bullpen or to Columbus to start the season, the team would benefit from the eleven years of MLB experience that Floyd brings with him while he looks for a fresh start in the city of Cleveland.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer