There are only a few absolutes for the Indians' starting rotation entering the 2009 season: First, Cliff Lee is first; second, Fausto Carmona is second; third, Adam Miller will not begin the season in the rotation.
With so little being set in stone, this offseason is certainly going to be an interesting one for the Indians' starting pitchers.
Obviously, Cy Young winner Lee will be back and will be the No. 1 starter, and Carmona, who is under contractual control for the next three seasons, will be the No. 2 man.
The Indians are hoping to see a return of Carmona's 2007 form, in which he won 19 games, rather than his injury-plagued 2008 season, in which he only won eight games and posted a 5.44 ERA. Should Carmona find his old form, the Tribe can look forward to at least two quality starts every five days.
Who will be the third starter in the Indians' rotation is one of the remaining mysteries of the offseason. With Jake Westbrook on the disabled list until midseason, the Indians may seek to fill the hole left by his absence via free agency.
The Tribe have been optimistically linked with Jon Garland, due to his history in the A.L. Central, however, his price may be too steep for the club. The Indians will be very cautious while approaching a free-agent pitcher and would probably shy away from someone like Randy Johnson, who is injury prone and will demand a high salary.
One interesting name that has been mentioned is Freddy Garcia, who, if interested in a one-year contract, could be an effective fill in for the Tribe.
The trade market may also be a viable means for the Indians to fill their hole. With depth at catching (Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Carlos Santana), and teams such as Boston in need of catching help, a trade for another starter could be an option.
Mark Shapiro also has several in-house candidates to choose from to fill the holes at the end of the rotation. Without a doubt, the last couple spots will be filled by young arms, but should Shapiro decide that free agency and the trade market do not have what he wants, he would elect to use three young starters.
The options that are available for the Tribe at the end of the rotation are indeed deep, and to narrow them down will be difficult. With four options being left-handed, as well as No. 1 Lee, finding a balance will make the decision that much harder.
Aaron Laffey, who began the 2008 season with the club, is one of the left-handed options. If Laffey can show the same command that helped the 2007 club reach the postseason, he would be able to wrap up one of the remaining rotation spots.
Scott Lewis, another lefty, would have to be one of the front-runners for a rotation spot in 2009 for his role at the end of the 2008 season. Lewis pitched 15 scoreless innings to start his big-league career. In four starts, Lewis won four games, posting a 2.63 ERA over 24 innings, striking out 15, while only walking six.
Prior to injuring his elbow, Anthony Reyes seemed like the best midseason pickup for the Indians. With the Tribe, Reyes was 2-1, however, he pitched seven innings twice in no decisions, in which he only allowed one run. As one of the few right-handers competing for the rotation spot, he seems to have an advantage over the others.
Jeremy Sowers, also a lefty, is another option for the team; however, he has been a consummate underachiever since being the best pitcher in the majors for the second half of the 2006 season. Zach Jackson, a part of the CC Sabathia trade, is another arm vying for the a rotation spot, although he seems destined for the bullpen in 2009 for its shortage of lefties.
Should the Indians seek another arm to add to the mix, there is no doubt that their depth in pitching will provide a significant benefit for the upcoming season, perhaps in the trade market as well.
Next time, part three: position players.
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