As we enter the 2013 All-Star break, the Cleveland Indians sit at 51-44, just 1.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central. The big moves of the offseason (acquiring Terry Francona, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher), as well as the less-publicized moves of the offseason (acquiring Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles, Scott Kazmir), have produced mostly positive dividends thus far.
Currently, the Indians rank 5th in the league in runs scored (454) and 4th in on-base percentage (.330). The patient plate approaches of Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis, among others, have kept the Tribe rolling in key situations, frequently allowing the team to keep innings alive after two outs. As a whole, the offense has been very productive. The Tribe could definitely use a big bat to plug into the heart of the lineup, but, given that some of the team’s core contributors have yet to truly hit their strides this season (Swisher – .242/9 HR/41 RBI, Asdrubal Cabrera – .255/7 HR/34 RBI), GM Chris Antonetti would probably be better off focusing his time elsewhere.
Rumors have indicated that Antonetti has indeed placed his focus elsewhere, as the Indians have been heavily rumored to be in the hunt for pitching help – both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. At 4.31, the Tribe’s pitching staff currently ranks 26th in the league in ERA, and the club’s starters rank 24th in quality starts (42). Ironically, the Indians also rank 2nd in shutouts with 12.
Nonetheless, it has become pretty obvious that the team’s most glaring need is the same as it was prior to the season, only now it extends past the starting rotation and into the bullpen, which has been even more inconsistent than the starters up to this point. But, for now, we’re going to focus on just the rotation.
Justin Masterson (10-7, 3.72 ERA) has provided the Indians with relative consistency for much of the season thus far, as has the emerging Corey Kluber (7-5, 3.88 ERA). Ubaldo Jimenez (7-4, 4.56 ERA) continues to be a head-scratcher at times, but the severity of his inconsistencies has diminished quite a bit this season. Scott Kazmir’s (5-4, 4.60 ERA) return to the big leagues has been one of the league’s better comeback stories in 2013, and he has put together a nice string of solid starts for the Tribe in recent weeks.
The fifth starter spot has bounced around between the likes of prospects Carlos Carassco, Trevor Bauer, and – most recently – Danny Salazar. Neither Carassco nor Bauer has performed well in limited big league action this season, so placing much confidence in either of them to begin consistently producing quality starts at this point seems like a stretch. Although Salazar pitched admirably in his first start (6 IP/2 H/1 R/7 SO), one start can only tell so much.
Luckily for the Indians, starter Zach McAllister (4-5, 3.43 ERA), who was placed on the DL in early June, is currently in the process of making rehab starts and is expected to return to the team within the upcoming weeks. If healthy, the 25-year-old right-hander could easily step in and stop the revolving door that is the final rotation spot.
Brett Myers, who made only four appearances for the Tribe in April before finding himself on the 60-day DL with an elbow injury, is set to begin throwing again after the All-Star break, but it is still unclear as to how soon he could return to the ballclub. Currently, barring any injuries to the current members of the rotation, I do not see Myers fitting in as much more than a spot starter, especially if McAllister is able to make a successful return from injury. His services could definitely be of use in the struggling bullpen, though, which could use a long-relief pitcher to accommodate for the lack of innings that Indians’ starters have been able to pile up (especially Jimenez).
Despite the fact that the majority of the aforementioned information is promising, none of the Tribe’s current starters are truly blowing anyone away this season. And since any of the current or soon-to-return starters could succumb to injury at any moment, it comes as no surprise that Antonetti and the Indians have been actively pursuing high-quality starters to plug into the rotation. Here is a list of the top three starting pitching names that have been linked to the Tribe as the trade deadline approaches:
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
Garza has been very good this year in 11 starts (6-1, 3.17 ERA) since returning from an injury that kept him sidelined until late May. Provided that the 29-year-old righty’s $10.25 million contract is up after this season, the Indians will be careful with whom they allow to be thrown into trade discussions for a potential rent-a-starter. Top prospect Francisco Lindor will, in all likelihood, be taken off the table in most trade discussions. Danny Salazar is a name that has popped up frequently since making his impressive MLB debut just a few days ago, but the Indians are rumored as being reluctant to give up Salazar, as well. Sources close to the Garza situation have said that the Cubs expect to trade him during this week’s All-Star break, so we may find out sooner rather than later as to where Garza will end up.
Other potential suitors: Rangers, Blue Jays, Cardinals.
Bud Norris, Houston Astros
Although obviously not as big a fish to reel in as Garza would be, Norris could be a natural fit as a number 3 or 4 (heck, maybe even a number 2) starter in the Indians rotation. Norris (6-8, 3.63 ERA) has been a steady performer this season, and, at 28 years old, the right-handed Norris would provide more long-term value than Garza would, as his contract is not set to expire until after the 2015 season.
It has been reported that Houston is asking for two top prospects in return. Lindor would probably be viewed as untradeable even more so in this case, but Salazar could be an option, although the Indians would likely be more willing to part ways with a middle infield prospect, such as Dorssys Paulino, rather than a pitching prospect.
Other potential suitors: Rangers, Giants, Orioles
Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers
It seems like Gallardo is a hot name every year around the trade deadline, yet he has remained a Brewer for his entire professional career. Given his shaky performance thus far (7-8, 4.83 ERA), I don’t see 2013 as being the most ideal year for Milwaukee to finally pull the trigger on a deal for Gallardo. Brewers GM Doug Melvin is quoted as saying that he would have to receive an offer that would “wow” him before shipping Gallardo elsewhere.
The Indians are in strong pursuit of a top-of-the-rotation starter, though, and sources say that they have a significant interest in the 27-year-old righty. Gallardo will not become a free agent until after the 2014 season, so the Tribe would be able to hang on to him for at least another season after 2013. However, given Melvin’s state of mind and the Tribe’s unwillingness to part ways with Lindor and others, the asking price will probably be much too high for the Indians to land Gallardo. Oh, not to mention the fact that the Indians are reportedly on Gallardo’s “no-trade” list.
Other potential suitors: Diamondbacks, Rangers
So, which of the above has the best chance of becoming a Cleveland Indian by the trading deadline? Bud Norris would be my bet, as he would be the most affordable and most easily obtainable of the three while also providing the best long-term value. Given the recent performance of the starting rotation, though, and the fact that both McAllister and Myers are returning soon, I’m under the impression that the Indians are much more likely to pull off a deadline deal that addresses the bullpen.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article regarding which bullpen arms the Indians may be pursuing.