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The Spin Cycle: Who will be the Indians fifth starter?

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In this week’s Spin Cycle, we are going to take a closer look at the starting rotation, and in particular, which starter is going to take over that #5 slot in the rotation. Before we get there, let’s take a look at last week’s spin cycle, and the rather interesting results.

Last week, the Indians had yet to make any moves of significance after they had signed David Murphy in November. I decided to open up the spin cycle by giving the Indians Baseball Insiders’ readers a chance to make some moves of their own. Here’s a quick look at the top nine selections in this past week’s voting:

Sign a mid-level, free agent closer/reliever (Axford, Rodney, Crain, FRod) 73 13.49% 13.49%
Sign what you have long-term: Justin Masterson 69 12.75% 12.75%
Trade Asdrubal 69 12.75% 12.75%
Trade Drew Stubbs 52 9.61% 9.61%
Trade Michael Bourn 38 7.02% 7.02%
Wait and hope for high price starter to drop in $ or years 38 7.02% 7.02%
Sign a low-level, free agent starter (Hanson, Marcum, JWilliams) 37 6.84% 6.84%
Sign a high priced, free agent starter (Ubaldo, Santana, Garza, Arroyo) 30 5.55% 5.55%
Sign a mid-level, free agent starter (Maholm, Hammel) 21 3.88% 3.88%

There wasn’t a majority, as will tend to happen with so many selections, but the top three choices by Cleveland Indians’ fans were very clear.

First, the Indians needed to sign a mid-level, free agent closer, with the ones I’ve listed being John Axford,Fernando RodneyJesse Crain and Francisco Rodriguez. The Indians didn’t waste any time viewing our poll, seeing what we wanted, and going out and making a deal.

On Monday, it was announced that the Indians were going to sign former Milwaukee Brewers’ and St. Louis Cardinals reliever, John Axford. Axford may not have been the top choice for many Indians’ fans, but he certainly was a much more cost-effective signing than some of the other choices out there. The question with Axford is really with regards to his upside, and if he truly has any.

None of the other players listed have signed yet, but it does appear that Fernando Rodney may be about to hit a gold-mine after Grant Balfour’s deal went into a garbage can after the Orioles didn’t like what they saw after his physical.

Rodriguez has had moderate interest thusfar in the offseason, but it’s clear that teams are waiting to see what the market makes available after the top names fall off the market.

Jesse Crain has reportedly had several offers that he’s mulling over, but his market has been relatively quiet up to this point.

My gut feeling here is that the Indians may not be finished signing bullpen arms. If they could get Crain or FRod to sign a one-year, low-cost deal, I think they would do it. Another interesting name out there is Joel Hanrahan, who missed most of the 2013 season thanks to Tommy John surgery. It’s unknown if Hanrahan will pitch in 2014, but I could see the Indians taking a low-cost flier on either Hanrahan or Crain, gambling on health at some point during the season.

Justin Masterson is clearly on everyone’s mind this offseason, as he has only one year left on his contract and will command big dollars once he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. Indians fans know this story all too well, as we’ve seen players come to this point several times, and have often seen them walk without a deal if the team performs well throughout the season, or get traded at the deadline if the team isn’t performing.

It’s clear that fans want Justin Masterson signed to a long-term deal.
I’ve made my thoughts fairly clear on this point. The Indians tend to not offer the type of money and years that Masterson will likely command in free agency. I’m a firm believe that he’ll be looking at a five-year deal that’s in the realm of $75-$90 million, or more if he has a fantastic year.

The only comparable deal for a starter in recent years was a three-year, $33 million extension for Jake Westbrookat the start of the 2007 season. The deal had come after the Indians had already signed Westbrook to a one-year, $6.1 million deal for his last arbitration year in 2007, before signing the extension. It was believed that some of that $33 million was frontloaded into that $6.1 million season, essentially giving him a raise during that final year of arbitration.

Could the Indians offer Masterson a three-year extension for $45 million? Sure they could. Would they go ahead and give Masterson $10 million this year on top of it? They will do that. Would Masterson sign a four-year, $55 million deal right now to stay with the Indians?

I can’t believe that he would. The Indians could bump up that $10 million this season, or perhaps front load it, as they did with Westbrook, but I’m certain that Masterson’s agent understands what he’s looking at. Masterson compares favorably to many of the starting options that will be available, and the market should be hot and heavy. My best guess is that to even get Masterson’s agent to listen this year, they’ll have to offer a four-year extension on top of his 2014 pay.

I still think Masterson will hold out for a five-deal.

Regardless, January and February will be a very interesting time for the Indians and Justin Masterson. January 14this the salary arbitration filing date, and on the 17th, figures will be exchanged. Arbitration hearings begin on February 1st, and you can bet that the Indians will be talking to Masterson and his agent for a one-year deal, and an extension on top of that.

We’ll see if the Indians new philosophy carries over to pitchers, and perhaps we’ll see if Terry Francona may not have a play in this as well.

Might Masterson take less years to pitch here in Cleveland? We probably know the way that story ends, but after the 2013 season, I’ll believe just about anything.

Tied with Masterson was dealing Asdrubal Cabrera, and I really believe this is something we could see any time from now until the end of March. I know there are a lot of folks hoping for a bounce back year, and it certainly could happen, as Cabrera is entering his prime years as a player. The Indians could move him in a salary play, especially if something is happening with either Masterson, or Ubaldo Jimenez, or both.

Trading Drew Stubbs and Trading Michael Bourn were both next, significantly below the other three. Stubbs was dealt for lefty reliever Josh Outman, essentially nullifying the Michael Bourn deal. You can argue about the return, and I get that, but the Indians did solidify their bullpen utilizing a piece that they just didn’t need any more. The move may also signify that the Indians aren’t looking to dump payroll to acquire other players, as I’m sure a team or two would have been interested in Bourn.

Next on the list was waiting for a high priced starter to drop in money or years, and that’s still a possibility, although there are a lot of intangibles to this. Too many to get into in this piece, and that would just be talking about Ubaldo Jimenez.

Steve Orbanek made note of why the Indians will likely sign their enigmatic starter before the season starts.

Finally, Indians fans made note of signing a low-level free agent starter, and I mentioned Tommy Hanson, Shawn Marcum and Jerome Williams as possibilities. Obviously, the Indians addressed this with the signing of Shawn Marcum.

Not too bad for a Sunday. Three moves that were made over the next four days were in the top six picks (thinking that trading Stubbs and Bourn were a one or the other type of move) that were selected in the last poll.

Let’s move on to this week.

The top-four of the Indians rotation looks to be set in stone, with Danny Salazar, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluberand Zach McAllister taking the reins. Who will be the fifth starter?

The Candidates:

Carlos Carrasco: The talent is certainly there, but can he finally mature mentally to become that ace that the Indians have so patiently been waiting for? It appears as though he is a pet project of Terry Francona right now, who essentially said it was his time, and his job to lose. Will that confidence help him, or will it blow up in the Tribe’s skipper’s face?

Shawn Marcum: We all know Marcum’s story by now. He went 1-10 last year before having Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. Will he be healthy? Won’t he be healthy? How many starters have ever come back from the surgery? Marcum’s a good pitcher, and can be great, but there are a lot of question-marks about him.

Josh TomlinDo you remember when Tomlin was known as the guy that went at least six innings in every start? I vaguely do to. I know everyone is rooting for Tomlin to be the #5 starter, but can he return to even that form at this point? He’s certainly a valuable member to the pitching staff, but I’m not sure it’s going to be as a starter.

Trevor BauerWhat a deal that was last year, huh? Did you think that Trevor Bauer was going to be worth less than Drew Stubbs or Bryan Shaw or even Matt Albers? He was everything we thought he would be on the bad side of the deal, but has been working on his mechanics, and appears to be returning to form. Of course, who’s making these statements? Can Bauer reacquire his value?

An unknown move: Will the Indians re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez, or do something surprising, like sign Matt Garza? Or, is there another move that will be made, perhaps in a trade for Asdrubal?

Make your pick, and leave your comments below!!!

Have a Merry Sunday…everybody!

One thought on “The Spin Cycle: Who will be the Indians fifth starter?

  1. Pingback: The Spin Cycle: Should the Indians sign Ubaldo Jimenez | Cleveland Sports Insiders

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