Cleveland Indians Hot Stove Report: Expect Pitching to be Major Priority

Updated: November 14, 2013

Under American League Manager of the Year, Terry Francona, the Cleveland Indians shocked Major League Baseball by snagging one of the Wild Card spots last season. If they hope to repeat that performance next year, they will have to focus on bolstering their surprisingly good pitching staff this offseason.

As a guest on 92.3 The Fan’s Bull and Fox Show, Francona discussed a number of offseason issues facing his team now that the season is over. One of those issues—the pitching staff—was something Francona said will be a “priority” this offseason. With the team releasing former closer Chris Perez and starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir hitting the free agent market, there are some major voids to be filled in the No. 15 ranked pitching staff in all over Major League Baseball in ERA last season.

After trading for Jimenez back in 2011, the former Colorado Rockies ace finally looked like the guy the Indians gave up two top-tier pitching prospects for just two years ago. He finished the season with a 13-9 record and a 3.30 ERA—both his best since his 19-8 2010 season in Colorado. Jimenez was integral in the Indians’ stretch run, going 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in the month of September in his six starts. The team offered Jimenez a $14 million qualifying offer for next season, but the veteran right hander declined, making himself a free agent in the process.

While Jimenez’s production was certainly a shock, nobody expected the Indians to get 10 wins out of Kazmir—a guy who had basically been out of baseball since 2010. He made an appearance with the Angles in 2011, but pitched just 1.2 innings. Kazmir shocked many by going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA after inking an invite to join the team in spring training before the season. The left hander was also big in the month of September, going 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA in his five starts.

Nobody is ruling out the return of either of these players, but after having breakout seasons both should command a contract in terms of dollars and length of years the Indians front office may not want to commit. There have already been rumors that the deep pocketed New York Yankees are after Jimenez and that Baltimore Orioles are targeting Kazmir—meaning the Indians would likely have to get into a bidding war to retain these players.

Even with the potential losses of these two players, the Indians still have plenty of depth with Major League starting experience on the roster. Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber will be back next season, as those four players combined for 36 wins last season. The team also has Trevor Bauer—last offseason’s big-time acquisition—waiting in the wings in the minor leagues.

Another guy to watch is Josh Tomlin, who made his return late in the season after arm surgery. Tomlin was 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA back in 2011 and 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA before getting hurt in 2012. Those may not be eye-popping numbers, but the 29-year old right hander is another in-house option for the team.

One player on the free agent market that has been linked to the Indians thus far is Atlanta starting pitcher Tim Hudson. At 38-years old, Hudson made $9 million last season was 8-7 with a 3.97 ERA. There are a number of teams rumored to be in the running for his services, so I wouldn’t be too shocked if the Tribe landed him based on that and his age.

If the Indians are looking to add a big arm to their rotation, Matt Garza should be one of their main targets. At just 29-years old, Garza is coming off a 10-6 season between Chicago and Texas. He is the type of guy with postseason experience who is a proven winner at the major league level when healthy.

As far as the future at the closer position goes, rumors have linked Brian Wilson and Fernando Rodney to the Tribe, but the Indians are not ruling out in-house options as well.

If the rumors and reports on the pitching prospects are any indication of what is to come for the Indians, it looks like they will be going their normal, cost-effective route when adding a potential starter. Unless the money is right, don’t be shocked if they find another veteran reclamation project like Kazmir was last season as it looks like they want to put their money into a closer and a right-handed bat for the middle of the lineup.

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