Cleveland Guardians: Lack of starting pitching depth is concerning

Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners
Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians, for the better part of two decades, have become known as a pitching factory. Pumping out arm after arm via the MLB draft or from trades, the Guardians quickly became known as the organization to dip into for locating starting pitching talent. Some of the best names in recent Guardians lore have come out of nowhere, players to be named later and late-round picks that blossomed into everyday starters and even Corey Kluber.

But the run of Cleveland being a well of arms, one where it can reach down and pull out a Ryan Merritt, might be over. Sure, Daniel Espino and Gavin Williams headline a star-studded prospect list that has ranked as high as second in the league, but immediate help doesn’t seem to be on its way. The problem with the current roster construction isn’t that fans should be concerned about the team's No. 1 and 2 starters (Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie are both absolute monsters on the mound and are consistent). No, Cleveland needs to worry about the back half of its rotation. 

Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale have all - at times - shown extremely inconsistent performances and erratic days on the mound. There are rumors of Plesac and Civale getting shipped off for a bat or more prospects, too, further creating uncertainty about the final few spots of the rotation. A championship-caliber team, or at least one that could make a deep run in the playoffs like the Guardians are expected to, needs to have consistent pitching up and down the rotation.

In years past, Cleveland has leaned on minor-league arms as stopgaps during doubleheaders and throughout the season. Since trading away Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber in consecutive seasons, the team dove further into its system and even claimed spot starters off of waivers to help it through a 162-game season. Just last year, Eli Morgan, Kirk McCarty, Cody Morris, Xzavion Curry and Hunter Gaddis started games for Cleveland. All but Morgan started the season not on the 26-man roster.

Between the five of them, through 12 different games started, they compiled a 6.88 ERA, allowed 132 hits and struck out 129 batters. Never expect greatness from guys that are making their major-league debuts or are barely hanging on to a starting spot on a major-league roster. But it should be noted that the well of arms the Guardians are used to enjoying has pretty much dried up, at least for this season. Down the line, probably even next year, guys like Espino and Williams will be barreling through Columbus and likely contributing to Cleveland throughout the season.

Until then, especially during a season that is extremely crucial for the development of this core into a championship-caliber team, the Guardians do have a back-end-of-the-rotation shortage issue. Morris seems like the best candidate for overtaking a spot in the starting rotation and will definitely see a significant increase in usage as a sixth starter. Past that, Curry and Gaddis will get another shot at it, but only Curry stands out as someone with serious talent. Konnor Pilkington, who started spring training hoping to earn a spot on the roster but just got optioned back to Columbus, hasn’t taken that next step and is turning into a fringe major-league arm. Joey Cantillo is going to have a steep learning curve in whatever time he gets this season.

I wrote in January that Cleveland should look at adding a veteran option to lock down the back end of its rotation. While my point in writing was to say, mainly, that the Guardians essentially needed a teacher on staff to help guide a young crop of talented prospects, a serviceable arm would have been incredibly useful heading into the start of the season. And I still think they might end up in the market for a rotational piece as the season goes on if they’re atop the AL Central. 

For now, on the 40-man roster, there are very few options to back up a mostly-flimsy rotation that could hinder a talented young lineup in its pursuit of another division title. I also find it difficult to think Cleveland is willing to DFA numerous players in order to promote pitchers like Peyton Battenfield or Nick Mikolajchak in order to get more help throughout the season. This team is incredibly talented and filled to the brim with potential. I believe Bieber and McKenzie can still be automatic, but a rotation needs five pitchers, and the Guardians have - at best - two and a half (Quantrill).