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Antonetti: Stability, pitching depth gives Indians a leg up

By JOE NOGA • Oct 31, 2018 at 10:30 PM

CLEVELAND — One area of the Cleveland Indians roster that president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff do not have to worry about when mapping out their offseason agenda is the starting pitching rotation. Plans they put in place a while back are making sure of it.

Antonetti reiterated on Tuesday after announcing the Indians had picked up the $9.75 million team option on 17-game winner Carlos Carrasco that the club has long made it a point of emphasis to try and have continuity in its starting pitching rotation. He said a series of contract decisions has allowed the franchise to keep that group of players together for as long as possible.

“We were able to work towards a contract extension with (Carrasco in 2015) that provided us this opportunity to have subsequent years of club control,” Antonetti said. “We remain really excited about the group of guys that we have and we continue to believe that will be a strength of our team.”

Since signing Carrasco and Corey Kluber to multi-year extensions in April of 2015, the Indians have watched the duo anchor a starting rotation that’s been among baseball’s best. In 2017, with Kluber leading the way during a Cy Young Award campaign, Indians starters led the majors in strikeouts and ERA. In 2018, the rotation led the majors in starter wins (76) and ranked third in ERA (3.39) behind the Astros (3.16) and Los Angeles Dodgers (3.19).

Besides Kluber (20 wins in 2018) and Carrasco (231 strikeouts), Cleveland watched Trevor Bauer (2.21 ERA) blossom into an elite starter and Mike Clevinger (200 innings) take the next step toward becoming a mainstay in the rotation for several more years.

Antonetti said the Indians are in a much better position going into the offseason knowing that they have continuity and some depth in their starting rotation rotation.

“That's a very difficult area to build quality alternatives, as we've seen over the course of the last decade or so,” Antonetti said. “We’re really excited about the group that we have and it gives us a leg up on our planning moving forward.”

The emergence of rookie Shane Bieber (11 wins) and contributions from Adam Plutko (2.8 walks per 9 innings) indicate there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings beyond 2020.

According to spotrac.com, Kluber is set to make a base salary of $15 million in 2019 with escalators that could add up to $4 million based on performance. His team options in 2020 and 2021 carry $1 million buyouts. Carrasco’s team option for 2020 is estimated at $9.5 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Bauer, meanwhile, is in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He more than doubled his salary from 2016 through the arbitration process last year, and stands to nearly triple that based on his 2018 performance this time around. MLBTradeRumors.com estimates Bauer’s arbitration value at $11.6 million. But regardless, Bauer can not become a free agent until 2021, meaning the Indians will have the opportunity to adjust their budget accordingly, no matter what raises he merits by his performance in the regular season.

With glaring needs in the bullpen and outfield, that’s a nice luxury for Antonetti and Chernoff to have right now. By Antonetti’s own admission, the front office does not yet have a lot of clarity on what it will be able to spend on payroll in 2019.

“It’s something that we continue that dialogue with ownership,” Antonetti said. “I would expect as we start to head into the next few weeks … that we’ll get a little bit more clarity around our payroll.”

Indians avoid arbitration with Martin

On Wednesday, the Indians and outfielder Leonys Martin reached agreement on a one-year contract for the 2019 season, avoiding arbitration.

The non-guaranteed deal is worth $3 million according to a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

Martin appeared in six games in 2018 for the Indians after he was acquired before the July 31 trade deadline from Detroit in exchange for minor league shortstop Willi Castro. Martin blasted home runs in his first two games at Progressive Field as a member of the Indians.

But the 30-year-old native of Cuba missed the final two months of the season after he was diagnosed with a life-threatening bacterial infection that landed him in the hospital for several days. Martin recovered and spent the remainder of the 2018 campaign recuperating in Florida.

Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the team expects Martin to be back at full health in 2019. He described the period of two weeks in mid-August when Martin was battling the bacterial infection as incredibly difficult for the entire franchise.

“That was someone’s life at stake and he was really close to not being here anymore,” Antonetti said. “It quickly puts into perspective a lot of the other things you try to navigate day-to-day. Not that those things aren’t important, but when you have a situation like that develop, it hits you really hard.”

Martin hit .255 with 11 home runs 33 RBI and an OPS of .747 in 84 games between Detroit and Cleveland in 2018. He is a career .248 hitter with a .313 on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers.

After Bradley Zimmer was sent to the minor leagues and subsequently suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Martin was expected to fill Cleveland’s need in center field. When Martin took ill, the Indians turned to rookie Greg Allen in center.

Signing Martin, who was in his final year of arbitration eligibility, gives the Indians a solid defensive center fielder to possibly platoon with Allen against righties while the team waits to see how Zimmer recovers from shoulder surgery.

According to figures provided by Spotrac.com, Martin made $1.75 million in 2018. MLBTraderumors.com projected Martin’s arbitration figure at $2.8 million for 2019.

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