CLEVELAND -- The Indians' rotation set records last year and the team has the ability to return with the entire staff intact. That is a big reason behind Cleveland's continued confidence in remaining atop the American League Central, even after some key losses in free agency this offseason.
"It's an area of strength with our team and it's been a big part of our success," said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti.
Led by two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the Tribe's rotation set single-season Modern Era (since 1900) records in 2017 for strikeouts (1,066), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1) and strikeout rate (27.5 percent), while establishing an AL record for strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.2). That is more than a solid foundation to have in place heading into the '18 campaign.
MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Indians might stack up:
ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
- Corey Kluber
- Carlos Carrasco
- Trevor Bauer
- Josh Tomlin
- Danny Salazar
The Indians' staff boasts a mix of power and precision. Over the past five years combined, for example, Cleveland pitchers not only paced the AL in strikeouts (7,248), but in fewest pitches per inning (16.1). The rotation, which also has a viable option in righty Mike Clevinger, excels at getting ahead and then using some of baseball's best out pitches for strikeout counts. Not many teams have a true ace like the Indians do in Kluber, and the Indians arguably have two with Carrasco in the fold, too. Kluber (first) and Carrasco (fourth) were both AL Cy Young contenders last season.
The final two spots are a big unknown as things stand. If everyone is healty, one of Tomlin, Salazar or Clevinger will likely wind up in the Opening Day bullpen. Tomlin does not have overpowering stuff, so he seems like a better fit for the rotation. Salazar has a potentially elite arm, but injuries have hindered his ceiling over the past two years. Clevinger is an up-and-coming arm that took a big step forward as a starter last year. If one of them head to the 'pen, that could be a tough conversation for manager Terry Francona at the end of the spring.
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
If the Indians want to make any more significant changes to their projected Opening Day roster, the team will likely have to make a play in the trade market. Given Salazar's last two turbulent seasons, plus his potential and years of control (through 2020), the hard-throwing right-hander is a prime trade chip. Losing Salazar would be a big blow to the depth of the Tribe's rotation, but it could also solve the issue at the back end of the staff, while also helping the Indians upgrade another aspect of the roster.
All of that said, the Indians can reflect on Carrasco's development path when mulling whether to trade someone like Salazar. Carrasco dealt with injuries, inconsistency and spent time in the bullpen before finally emerging as a reliable rotation arm. Cleveland's patience with Carrasco paid off in a big way. The last thing the Indians (a team with limited resources) want to do is deal a pitcher like Salazar away, only to see him develop into an ace elsewhere.