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Tribe's stout starting pitchers a popular topic

Salazar reportedly mentioned in Winter Meetings rumors
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It has almost become a Winter Meetings tradition for the Indians. At some point, usually after a day or two of closed-door discussions have taken place, one of the club's starting pitchers pops up in a trade rumor.

On Wednesday morning, Danny Salazar surfaced in a report by CBS Sports Chicago, noting the right-hander had been mentioned in trade talks between the Cubs and Indians. Given his potential, recent history and years of control, Salazar is a logical trade chip, and Chicago is not the only team to have asked about his availability.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It has almost become a Winter Meetings tradition for the Indians. At some point, usually after a day or two of closed-door discussions have taken place, one of the club's starting pitchers pops up in a trade rumor.

On Wednesday morning, Danny Salazar surfaced in a report by CBS Sports Chicago, noting the right-hander had been mentioned in trade talks between the Cubs and Indians. Given his potential, recent history and years of control, Salazar is a logical trade chip, and Chicago is not the only team to have asked about his availability.

Keep in mind, though, that the Indians' rotation is the backbone of the roster and also that none of the trade rumors in recent offseasons ever came to fruition.

Indians looking to round out roster spots

"How many trades have you seen? None," manager Terry Francona said. "Yeah, I wouldn't blame teams to come to the Meetings and ask us about our pitching, because we think we have pretty good pitching. But, you haven't seen any of them leave either. We value it a lot. Unless somebody just knocks your doors off, we plan on keeping it."

As things stand, the Indians' starting staff consists of two-time American League Cy Young Award-winner Corey Kluber, along with right-handers Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin and Salazar. There is depth and, barring a subtraction, one of Clevinger, Tomlin or Salazar might have to move to the bullpen. Francona said that scenario does not apply to Salazar at the moment. He is viewed as a starter.

Video: Francona discusses Tribe's biggest needs

That surplus of starting pitching makes it an area from which the Indians could draw from in trade talks, but it's also worth noting that the depth behind those six is thin. Ryan Merritt, Shawn Morimando, Adam Plutko and Julian Merryweather represent internal options behind that group. Under the circumstances, as Francona noted, the club would need to be blown away to part with one of its Major League starters.

"We're really fortunate," president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "We've got a great group of starters that are not only going to impact this year, but for years to come. And we are planning for that to be a continued strength of our team. So, for us to contemplate anything that involves trading one of them, it would have to make a lot of sense for us not only for this year, but moving forward."

Salazar's name coming up makes sense for multiple reasons.

First, Salazar has a high-octane fastball paired with a split-changeup that profiles as one of the best pitches in baseball. Only two seasons ago, he was an All-Star and throughout his career, Salazar has flashed ace potential. Salazar is also under contractual control for the next three seasons and he projects to earn north of $5 million via arbitration this offseason. That is a steal in the current marketplace for pitching.

What is working against Salazar is his recent rash of injuries. Over the past two years, he has dealt with forearm, elbow and shoulder issues with multiple stints on the disabled list. Dating to the start of July 2016, Salazar has posted a 5.20 ERA with a 1.48 WHIP in 147 innings. He struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings in '17, but injuries limited him to 103 innings, in which he logged a 4.28 ERA.

Hot Stove Tracker

"We've certainly had our frustrations at times," Francona said. "But, if you get too frustrated and send him somewhere else, and he ends up being the guy you were hoping because you weren't patient enough, that would be troubling."

Those comments are similar to ones Francona often made when Carrasco's name came up in past trade rumors.

From 2009-13, Carrasco posted a 5.29 ERA in 238 1/3 innings, missed a year due to right elbow surgery and wound up in the bullpen at one point due to his struggles. The Indians eventually gave him another shot at starting and Carrasco eventually thrived. Since 2014, he's 51-33 with a 3.24 ERA in 664 innings with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season, Carrasco went 18-6 with a 3.29 ERA, while finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

The Indians are holding out hope that Salazar can similarly turn a corner.

"We're still working through that with Danny," Francona said. "He shows at times what he can do, but we're still trying to get to the consistency where we know we can put his name in and go get 'em."

It also took time for Kluber and Bauer to earn that kind of trust.

"If you look at each guy in our rotation, patience has benefited us," Antonetti said.

That patience has included turning down some trade proposals over the years.

"I'd much rather have teams have interest in our starting pitchers and want to try to trade for them," Antonetti said. "If we're in a position where other teams don't have interest in our guys, that would be far more problematic than having to work through how other teams, what they'd give up to get one of our guys. It's an area of strength with our team and it's been a big part of our success."

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 Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar