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Inbox: Who can give Indians rotation depth?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions
March 28, 2017

With Opening Day approaching fast, now is the perfect time to answer some fan questions in another edition of the Indians Inbox.What is the Tribe's biggest weakness, and who will be the guy to fit that need? --Shane, Lorain, OhioPitching is widely regarded as Cleveland's biggest strength, both in terms

With Opening Day approaching fast, now is the perfect time to answer some fan questions in another edition of the Indians Inbox.
What is the Tribe's biggest weakness, and who will be the guy to fit that need?
--Shane, Lorain, Ohio

Pitching is widely regarded as Cleveland's biggest strength, both in terms of the rotation and bullpen. That said, one of the areas of uncertainty for the Indians heading into this season is the strength of the starting options behind the talented staff of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin.
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The depth of the Indians' rotation was tested to the extreme down the stretch last year, when Carrasco and Salazar were removed from the postseason mix due to injuries. When Bauer injured his hand while working on one of his personal drones in the playoffs, manager Terry Francona working with an extremely short-handed staff, and was forced to lean heavily on his relievers.
At that time, Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson -- the main two arms behind the Major League rotation -- were in the bullpen. This spring, Anderson sustained an elbow injury, and he will miss the entire 2017 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Clevinger has been sent to Triple-A Columbus, where he'll get stretched out and essentially be waiting for the call as the Tribe's sixth man.

Besides Clevinger, the Indians will also have starters Ryan Merritt, Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando at Triple-A. The good news on that front is that all three of those pitchers gained big league experience during last summer's run to the postseason. Merritt famously took the ball in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against Toronto and helped pitch the Indians into the World Series.

The Indians remain very high on Erik Gonzalez, their No. 8 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, but there's a problem. Cleveland has some guy named Francisco Lindor at shortstop, and he's pretty good at all things baseball. That is why Gonzalez has tried his hand at multiple infield spots over the past few years, developing into a utility type for Cleveland.

While Jason Kipnis is out, the Indians are leaning toward moving Jose Ramirez off third base and to second. That said, Ramirez could easily get innings at third with Gonzalez playing some at second. What Francona wants in a utility guy is someone he can trust defensively at multiple positions. Gonzalez, who can also help in the outfield, has earned that trust.

Lindor is the most obvious extension candidate. If we are to believe Brody Chernoff -- the 6-year-old son of general manager Mike Chernoff -- then the Indians might just be exploring a seven-year contract with the shortstop. Brody let that slip during an entertaining moment in the radio booth this past weekend. It is also possible that Brody was mixing up the Ramirez talks, which were for seven years (five plus two options).
Tribe inks Ramirez to 5-year, $26M extension

Beyond Lindor, catcher Roberto Perez could be a candidate, as he is highly regarded and still in his pre-arbitration years. Bauer and Salazar both hit arbitration for the first time this winter, and could be candidates depending on how this season goes. The Indians explored an extension with closer Cody Allen in the past, but he is getting closer to free agency (2019).

Francona joked this week that he wishes he could carry 18 pitchers. A nine-man bullpen would be a dream for the manager, but I don't think that's likely. If Cleveland would've opted to start Carrasco (right elbow issue earlier this spring) on the 10-day disabled list, an eight-man bullpen would've been very likely. Instead, Carrasco is in the plans for the second game of the season, and Francona will begin with seven relievers. Shawn Armstrong got the final spot. Francona said, had it been an eight-man bullpen, Nicholas Goody was probably the next arm up.
Last year, Kluber, Salazar, and Carrasco were all in the Cy Young discussion at one point during the season. Who's your favorite out of the three to win it this season? Do you think Bauer could be a dark horse candidate?
--Cory, Marion, Ohio

I'd have to go with Kluber. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014 and finished third last year. He's the unquestioned ace and has emerged as one of the top starters in the game. Of the other three, I'd probably lean toward Carrasco. Salazar was electric early on last year, but broke down with injuries. Bauer has shown he can pile up innings, but the consistency hasn't been there, yet.

While I'd be all for Brody getting a weekly spot with radio man Tom Hamilton, I'd be surprised if you hear the future GM on the air again anytime soon. Learning the phrase "no comment" will probably be included in his homework.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.