When the season came down to a single game, the Cleveland Indians started Danny Salazar in a one game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays. The club fought for their playoff lives and ended up earning home-field advantage for the game by winning their final 10 games, finishing just 1/2 a game ahead of Tampa Bay and one game ahead of the Texas Rangers. It could be an understatement to say that they were more concerned about winning enough games just to get to the playoffs than worrying about how the rotation was going to line up for game number 163; however, even if the club had been able to line up their ace, who would it have been?
If being labeled an “ace” is what it takes to be a true number one starter, what exactly did the Indians have to qualify for that spot? Typically, an “ace” or true number one starter would rank within the top 10-15 pitchers in baseball. While Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and Scott Kazmir had very good seasons in 2013, none of them reached 200 innings (Masterson likely would have if he hadn’t been injured late in the year), none of them had a WHIP under 1.20, and none of them won more than 14 games (not that wins are truly a measure of being elite, however, a pitcher tends to accumulate wins when he pitches late into games and pitches effectively). Salazar, while possessing electric stuff, isn’t quite ready for an “ace” label, although, in a couple of years he could be.
Sep 10, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price (14) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
So, even though Terry Francona didn’t have a way to line things up perfectly, what if he had. Would you rather have Masterson, Jimenez, Kluber, McAllister, Kazmir, or Salazar going in a one and done scenario…OR…would you rather have a guy like David Price, Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Max Scherzer, or Clayton Kershaw taking the bump?
An “ace” is absurdly valuable when you must shut down the opposition. While you never quite know when a pitcher is going to lose the feel for a changeup or curve late in the year, you likely feel more comfortable with your horse than with a rookie or a second-tier option. Don’t get me wrong, I think Masterson, Jimenez, and Kluber are solid starting pitchers, but they are better suited to be the Indians’ numbers two, three, and four starters, and NOT their one, two, and three starters.
That’s why the Indians, who have the players and the talent available to be contenders right now, need to trade for David Price this winter.
Imagine a starting rotation of Price, Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, and Salazar, and this is after letting Jimenez and Kazmir walk via free agency, which isn’t a sure thing. Re-signing either of those two would provide tremendous depth in the rotation, which could allow the Indians to remain cautious with Salazar’s workload in 2014.
But what would that type of deal take? Do the Indians have enough talent to even make that type of deal? Could they Realistically get David Price?
Just like the Rays deal with Kansas City, which sent James Shields (along with Elliot Johnson) to the Royals, David Price has two years of team control remaining, as he is arbitration-eligible in 2014 and 2015 prior to reaching free agency in 2016. When the Royals sent Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard to Tampa for two seasons of Shields, it made the potential price of Price go through the roof.
The Rays hold all of the chips in a potential trade poker match. They don’t have to deal David Price, as they could just as easily deal Jeremy Hellickson or Alex Cobb and get a similar return, as the team acquiring either of those young starters would be getting several more years of team control, it all depends on how ownership decides to spend their money and how creative one of the most intelligent management groups in baseball can get in composing a roster going forward.
David Price would have the most value and the greatest return for the Rays, though, and the Indians would be wise to make a push for a legitimate ace when they could lose Masterson to free agency after the 2014 season, making a significant run towards being a contender immediately.
With David Price leading the rotation, the club could keep Asdrubal Cabrera (yes, keep him and his $10 million contract) and run with Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, Yan Gomes, Drew Stubbs, and Ryan Raburn towards the AL Central title. While Lonnie Chisenhall would remain a question mark in his all-around contribution, what if he was the only weak spot? With Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw at the back-end of the bullpen, the club could still trim a little bit of payroll and add another option at third base by dealing Chris Perez, if Chris Antonetti is able to find the right match.
However, based on the package that the Rays acquired from the Royals for Shields, what would this kind of deal do to the improving minor league system?
Well, the package would have to be built around Francisco Lindor. Ouch, right? You’re dealing Lindor and you only have Cabrera for just the 2014 season, so who is the shortstop in 2015? Who cares if you want to win in 2014! Maybe it is Mike Aviles, who has a $3.5 million team option for 2015, or it could be Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, or someone who isn’t in the organization right now.
The package would likely have to include Danny Salazar. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. He’s a future No. 1 starter, why would we give up nearly six years of service time of Salazar for two years of Price? Salazar has already had Tommy John surgery and no one knows whether his electric stuff is going to hold up over 200 innings. Will he be throwing a 96-100 mile per hour fastball in his 32nd start next season? Will the Indians even let him approach 200 innings next year or in 2015? I know the Tribe would let David Price do that.
The rest of the package is very questionable. With Lindor and Salazar at the top, would the Indians even need to include much more? Personally, if I were in charge of the Rays…yes, but not elite-level talent. Tyler Naquin is not much more than a fourth outfielder and he would be a nice addition for the Rays, who find smart ways to utilize what little talent players like Naquin and Sam Fuld have. The final piece could be a relief prospect who is ready or near-MLB ready, like C.C. Lee, because, lets face it, the Rays are going to deal David Price and still contend. They need useful, cost-efficient pieces. Lee and Naquin make sense for them, and neither of those pieces destroy the Indians’ chances in 2014.
If you’re a fan of the Indians, the trade hurts, but how much does the trade help the Indians? How much of a difference can a truly elite starting pitcher make to the current roster? With the Tigers possessing Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez, pitching and defense is going to win the AL Central. When the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox, they immediately assisted their pitching staff and improved their horrendous defense on the left side of the infield that came with Jhonny Peralta at short and Miguel Cabrera at third. The Tigers are going to be that much more difficult to beat because of a nearly all-glove shortstop and a dynamic pitching staff. The Indians need the pitching that can beat or match what Detroit runs out there every day.
Trading for David Price makes the Indians an immediate World Series contender in 2014. No matter what the names are, four prospects are worth two years of David Price, and I’m fairly certain that ticket sales would improve with this type of move, which could assist in the two-years and $40 million that Price could command through arbitration.