Trade interest in Tribe pitchers is on the rise
CLEVELAND -- Shortly before the non-waiver Trade Deadline last summer, Indians manager Terry Francona pulled Carlos Carrasco into his office and assured the pitcher that he was not going anywhere. Rumors were just rumors, and Cleveland had no plans of trading the promising young right-hander, no matter how many times teams called.
Similar calls have continued into this offseason and will surely keep coming as the winter gets deeper and the Indians look to upgrade their offense. Starting pitching is the undeniable and enviable strength of Cleveland's roster, and other clubs know the Indians are not in a position to outbid other teams for an impact bat on the free-agent market.
Interest in Cleveland's talented rotation has remained high at the General Managers Meetings this week in Boca Raton, Fla.
"It's consistent," Indians GM Mike Chernoff told reporters on Wednesday. "We're fortunate to be in a position where we have real strength at the top and also depth, so teams target it all the time. We are in no hurry to be moving from our strength and moving away from that, but we're a small market team. We have to be creative and opportunistic. So we listen on anything and consider what the alternatives are."
The reality, however, is that Cleveland would need to be blown away to part with one of its top starting pitchers.
The Indians have the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber, 29, who is signed through 2019 with team options for '20 and '21. Carrasco, 26, who pitched like a No. 1 starter this past season, is also locked in through the 2018 campaign with team option for the following two years. Starters Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer are young (25 and 24, respectively) and under team control through 2020.
Cleveland's rotation as a whole ranked first in the AL last season in strikeouts (969), Fielding Independent Pitching (3.73), WHIP (1.16), strikeouts per nine innings (8.9), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.52) and opponents' average (.232). The group was second in wins (65), third in innings (979 1/3) and WAR (15.9) and fourth in ERA (3.94).
Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer were responsible for the majority of those high marks, but the Indians also enjoyed a strong rookie showing from Cody Anderson (3.05 ERA in 15 starts) and a solid comeback effort from 31-year-old Josh Tomlin (3.02 ERA in 10 starts).
"I do feel like our starting pitching has been a strength of our team," Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, said at the end of the season. "But, just because that's been an area that performed well this year and we feel good about going into the offseason with, it doesn't mean it will be an area we don't look to improve.
"We will exhaust every avenue to try to improve and get better and improve our alternatives in every aspect of the team."
The Indians' biggest need is offense, especially in the outfield now that the team knows left fielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder surgery) could miss at least the first month of the season. The Indians had roughly a league-average offense overall (99 weighted runs created plus), but were in the bottom third of the AL in terms of slugging percentage (.401), Isolated Power (.144) and home runs (141).
Without the ability to sign a marquee free-agent hitter, the Indians probably need to at least be open to listening to what teams are willing to offer for Cleveland's starting pitchers.
"I feel like, if the season opened tomorrow, we could field a competitive starting staff," Antonetti said. "With respect to trades, that's a very difficult question to answer. We have to be open-minded in how we build our team. I think our goal will be to build a team that we feel is capable of making the postseason and winning the World Series."