Tuesday, September 24, 2019 Elyria 62°

Jim Ingraham

Jim Ingraham: Indians rotation can still be an asset even if Trevor Bauer is traded

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    Aaron Civale, seen delivering a pitch against the Tigers on Saturday, June 22, 2019, in Cleveland, could be a solid rotation piece if the Indians trade Trevor Bauer.



Trading Trevor Bauer is one thing. Replacing him in the Indians rotation is another.

I would still do it, because trading Bauer is best for the Indians this year, next year and beyond. Not trading him is a short-sighted misuse of an asset.

The question, if the Indians make the wise move by trading Bauer now at full value — instead of waiting until after the season and trading him for half his current value — is who replaces him in the rotation?

As we sit here today, a Bauer-less Indians rotation looks something like this: Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and where’s Ryan Merritt when you need him?

On the other hand, if the Indians do trade Bauer, it could mean one or both of the following statements are true:

Either the front office is optimistic about the eventual return this year of one or more of the following pitchers: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar.

Or the Indians intend to make a second trade for a journeyman, middle-of-the rotation starter to finish this season.

You want intrigue? Proceed immediately to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

If the Bauer-less Indians are going to catch and pass the Minnesota Twins to win a fourth consecutive AL Central title, they are going to need a functioning No. 5 starter.

You might even say a fourth and fifth starter, because Plutko is to this point in his career no Josh Tomlin.

The pickings at Columbus or Akron for a fifth wheel in the Indians rotation are slim. But there is one obvious choice: Aaron Civale, who was positively Kluberian in his major league debut June 22, a spot start against, well — yeah, I know — the Tigers. He pitched six scoreless innings on two hits, with six strikeouts and got the win in a 2-0 decision. After that start Civale returned to Columbus, where, two weeks later, he was placed on the injured list with right shoulder tightness.

He’s scheduled to come off the list and begin pitching again shortly, which is good news for Civale and the Indians. Because in a combined 11 starts at Akron, Columbus and with the Indians, Civale is 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA. It’s probably going to take a few minor league starts for him to get up to speed, but once he does, he would be the obvious, and a worthy choice to get the call to Cleveland in the event Bauer gets traded.

Civale would be a good choice for a number of reasons, one being that he could hold the fort while giving the Indians the luxury of being able to ease any combination of Kluber, Carrasco or Salazar back into action, either as rotation options or, in Salazar’s case, as an option for the rotation or the bullpen.

Each of those three pitchers have their own issue, injuries for Kluber and Salazar, an illness for Carrasco. These are long roads back for all three, but all are on those roads now. So a trade of Bauer might also be an indication that there is a sense of confidence by the front office that all three are progressing well.

As for adding another starting pitcher from another team, there are always lunch-pail starters available every year at the trade deadline, usually veterans that would be of interest to any contending teams needing some innings-eating pitching depth.

It’s not out of the question, should the Indians trade Bauer, that the teams could conceivably expand the deal to include multiple players going both ways, with a journeyman starter being a useful second piece behind the presumed impact hitter who would be the centerpiece of the package coming to Cleveland.

Don’t discount, by the way, the possibility of the Indians addressing the rotation in a post-Bauer world by the surprise addition of an under-the-radar pitcher already in the organization.

A pitcher, for example, such as Eli Morgan, an eighth-round pick in the 2017 draft, who has started a combined 18 games at Class-A Lynchburg, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus and is 8-3 with a 2.84 ERA, 103 strikeouts and 29 walks in 98 1/3 innings. Opposing teams have hit just .215 against him.

In other words, the Indians have multiple options, from a number of sources, from which to cover the rotation in the event Bauer is traded. They range from a two-time Cy Young Award winner (Kluber) to an 18-game winner two years ago (Carrasco), to a 2016 All-Star who holds the Indians’ single-season record (minimum 100 innings pitched) for most strikeouts per nine innings, 12.7 in 2017. (Salazar).

The point: Trading Bauer does not leave the Indians’ rotation destitute, and is thus invalid as a reason not to trade him.

And don’t forget: Trading Bauer means the Indians will add a major, and much-needed, bat to their lineup.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.

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