Cleveland Indians: Is Another Reliever Really What This Team Needs?


The Cleveland Indians have been rumored in a possible trade with the Texas Rangers in a starter/reliever swap. But is another bullpen arm really what they need?

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I have had a theory that

Trevor Bauer

was on his way out of town since I saw a battalion of scouts watching one of his starts in spring training.  This suspicion grew stronger when Bauer was placed in the bullpen for the start of the season.  This was one of those decisions that simply doesn’t seem meant to last.  Granted, the fifth starter won’t be needed much in April, so we may not know what the rotation will really look like for a few weeks.  But Bauer certainly didn’t do anything this spring to justify a demotion, which reinforced the idea that he might be dealt.

Naturally, I had assumed that a pitcher of Bauer’s caliber might bring the prime bat that could put the Indians over the hump in the AL Central.  After all, Collin Cowgill is still slated to play a major role, at least until Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall are healthy, and we really don’t know when that will be.  Sadly, I once again have underestimated Terry Francona’s insatiable appetite for relievers.  With eight men in the bullpen and Kyle Crockett, Austin Adams, and Shawn Armstrong locked and loaded in Columbus, the Indians’ bullpen seemingly has enough depth, at least of the right-handed variety, to withstand all sorts of calamities.

But, no, the current rumor is that the Rangers have offered their closer, Shawn Tolleson, for Bauer.  Now, Tolleson had a nice season for the Rangers last year, saving 35 games in 37 chances, and he has the type of power arm that fits in well in the eighth or ninth inning.

Given the success that the Royals have had with a mediocre rotation and dynamite pen, you can almost see the logic of setting yourself up with Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister in the seventh, Bryan Shaw and Tolleson in the eighth, and Cody Allen in the ninth.  There’s a lot of 95 mph fastballs in that group.

But then you remember that you are trading 180 innings of Bauer for seventy innings of Tolleson, and the question arises:  how much better does Tolleson have to be than Bauer for this trade to work out?  Does this mean that the Indians have given up on Bauer, that they really view Cody Anderson as a better long term option?  Giving up on a guy who’s 24 doesn’t fit the ideology of a team that waited six years for Carlos Carrasco to reach his potential, especially when Bauer was arguably the Indians’ best pitcher through mid-June last year.   Even if that was the case, is doubling down on bullpen depth the best way to utilize a surplus in the rotation?

Is six starters even a surplus?  I have no problem with Anderson spending the first couple months of the season dominating the International League. We have seen in past seasons how quickly rotation depth can disintegrate, so chances are that he would have been needed by the All-Star break.  If not, he would have been a great trade chip when other teams realize that the Bud Norrises of the world aren’t the answer.   Who is the sixth starter now?  Ross Detwiler?

Next: Indians and Rangers talking trade?

I can live with Bauer for Tolleson, even if there’s maybe a five percent chance that Bauer wins a Cy Young someday, because it makes the 2016 Indians better.  Such a trade would mean, however, that there’s some decent pitchers in Cleveland who have no role to speak of, at least in leverage situations.  That would include Joba Chamberlain, Dan Otero, and Detwiler, not to mention all the guys in Columbus.  At least one of those guys has to go when Brantley and Chisenhall come off the DL, unless you think an eighth reliever has more value than Marlon Byrd.  Francona likes his sixth and seventh bullpen guys to be able to give him multiple innings, which is sensible because it keeps the valuable relievers from being wasted in games that are lost. That may give Detwiler an edge in hanging on to a job.  In any event, this trade, should it happen, doesn’t seem likely to be the final tweak of the roster.