The doubt around Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez's visa situation leaves a rotation spot open.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez, the Cleveland Indians still have one starting rotation spot up for competition in Spring Training.
For most of the offseason, the Tribe's rotation seemed very set with Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Derek Lowe and Fausto Carmona. No one in that group was in any real danger of being bumped and any other starting pitchers were ticketed for AAA Columbus.
That obviously all changed when the Carmona/Hernandez story broke. The Indians have made some moves since then, but that final rotation spot is up for grabs as we head into Spring Training. So let's take a look at each competitor's odds for being the fifth starter on Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians.
Kevin Slowey is the favorite for the final rotation spot right now.
I've already written in depth about why I think the Slowey trade was a decent one for the Tribe, so I won't go deep into that here. Basically, he's a great regression candidate (6.67 ERA in 2011 compared to a 4.47 FIP and a 4.36 xFIP) and has a history of success (2.7 fWAR per 200 IP in his career).
Slowey still has a minor-league option, so he can be sent to AAA without risk of losing him. Despite that, I think he will be given the first crack at the final rotation spot. He does a great job of limiting walks and should be a solid, reliable option at the back of the rotation.
Jeanmar Gomez is ready to be a Major League pitcher.
At this point in his career, Jeanmar Gomez is probably ready to be a Major League pitcher. The problem is, he's really only a fifth starter. He doesn't have overpowering stuff and is more or less average in every way. That is a good thing to be, but it also makes his skill set very easy to overlook.
If the Indians handed the ball to Gomez every fifth day, they probably wouldn't be disappointed. In his young career, he's put up decent numbers (4.58 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 4.30 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR for a full season).
Gomez was even better in 2011 (4.47 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 2.0 fWAR for a full season) and he should keep getting better.
Even if Gomez starts the year in AAA, he'll be one of the first guys called up when someone gets hurt. When Gomez gets that call, he'll be a perfectly satisfactory option every fifth day for the Tribe. And there's nothing wrong with that.
David Huff may have turned a corner in 2011.
Any Indians fan probably cringes at the sound of David Huff's name after his putrid 2010 campaign. It's important to note, though, that he was much better in 2011. Last year he had decent stats (4.09 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 4.67 xFIP, 1.7 fWAR for a full season) and went a long way to salvaging his career.
Huff will probably never fulfill the promise he had as a 2006 first round pick and Baseball America's eighth best prospect in the Tribe's system before the 2009 season, but Huff can most likely cut it as a fifth starter.
Add that he is the Tribe's best left-handed starting pitcher, and his chances of being in the rotation look better and better.
Zach McAllister will likely start the year in AAA.
Zach McAllister has his work cut out for him to jump the three pitchers in front of him, but he has a few factors well in his favor. Despite his 6.11 ERA, McAllister pitched decently in his four major league starts last year (7.13 SO/9, 3.57 BB/9, 3.37 FIP, 3.98 xFIP and a 0.4 fWAR).
McAllister has great control (1.8 BB/9 in the minors in 2011) and strikes out enough batters (7.1 SO/9) to be a great starting option.
He is behind Slowey, Gomez and Huff, but McAllister still has great value and should have a decent major league career at some point. I definitely would not feel bad if he were the Tribe's fifth start on Opening Day this year.
Jon Garland will have to be healthy to compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training.
The signing of Jon Garland to a minor-league deal is one of those moves that I love to see the Indians making.
For almost no risk at all, the Indians were able to pick up a pitcher who owns a very solid 4.32 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 4.58 xFIP and 2.2 fWAR for a full season over his 12 year major league career. If he's healthy, he's a very valuable asset to the team.
The big if with Garland is obviously health. If he's all the way back from rotator-cuff surgery, then he should be right in the mix for the Tribe's final rotation spot. Since I'll bet he'll need some time to get back to full strength and to knock the rust off, I don't think he'll be ready by Opening Day.
He could hang out in extended Spring Training, however, and could choose to bide his time in the minors until the Indians have a need in the rotation. Considering how frequently pitchers get hurt, he probably wouldn't have to wait very long at all.
Scott Barnes likely would not even have a chance in this competition if he weren't left-handed. As it is, every starting pitcher the Indians have except for David Huff is right-handed, so the Tribe needs to look for some balance.
Barnes pitched very well between AA Akron and AAA Columbus last year (9.7 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9, 3.45 ERA, 3.80 FIP and 1.222 WHIP) and is someone who will get a chance in the majors before long.
He probably could use a little more seasoning in the minors, but by the end of this season, he should get a chance. With a strong Spring Training, maybe he could sneak onto the big league roster even sooner.
If Roberto Hernandez makes it to the U.S., he'll be on the Opening Day roster.
It's unlikely as of right now, but if Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) makes it to the U.S. at some point in the near future, he will be on the big league team. His lack of minor league options and his $7 million contract guarantee that. It's a long shot, but if it happens, the spot will be his.
Overall, the battle for the final rotation spot should be an interesting one for the Indians. There are six competitors who all have a legitimate shot at making the roster and all of them should come out firing in Goodyear, Ariz., starting today.
It will be interesting to see who shows up ready to grab their opportunity and who lets it slip through their fingers.