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Indians will face rough road to the postseason without Salazar or Carrasco

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The Cleveland Indians may be one of the fortunate few whose place in the postseason is all but secured, but getting through the playoffs will be an entirely different story. On the heels of a season-ending forearm injury for right-hander Danny Salazar, the Indians lost their No. 2 starter when Ian Kinsler smacked a 101 m.p.h. line drive off of Carlos Carrasco’s hand in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Tigers.

Carrasco exited the game after just two pitches and X-rays later revealed a fractured metacarpal bone in his throwing hand. According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, the Indians don’t yet have an estimate for the right-hander’s return. If he follows the same timetable for recovery as the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos, who broke the same bone in his hand back in August, there’s little to no chance that he’ll return to Cleveland’s roster within the season, let alone as a playoff contributor.

Salazar, too, is expected to be out of service for the next 3-4 weeks while he recovers from forearm tightness in his throwing arm. Although manager Terry Francona didn’t rule out the possibility that Salazar could contribute in later rounds of the playoffs, the Indians will have to look elsewhere to cobble together enough quality starts to make it that far.

As the roster currently stands, Francona’s rotation includes four viable starters: Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber, right-handers Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, and rookie Mike Clevinger. Kluber has been solid in the second half, turning out the second-lowest ERA among American League starters, at 2.40, and racking up 1.5 fWAR in 82 ⅔ innings. Where Kluber improved his second half production, Bauer appears to have regressed, bringing his 3.30 ERA up to 5.17 since the All-Star break and maintaining a team-worst 3.75 BB/9 in 69 ⅔ innings. His second-half fWAR, at 0.7, ranks just above that of Josh Tomlin’s -0.1 mark.

Beyond Kluber and Bauer, the Indians’ pitching staff is on shaky ground. Tomlin entered the rotation following Salazar’s untimely exit and yielded five strong innings against the White Sox, giving up one run and striking out two batters in Cleveland’s 6-1 win. Outside of his spot start, he’s been a little unsteady, however, and his 7.22 ERA and 2.41 HR/9 in the second half are the highest marks in the Indians’ rotation.

Clevinger, on the other hand, has primarily pitched out of the bullpen this year, and hasn’t lasted longer than five innings in any start he’s made in 2016. It should come as some comfort to Francona that Clevinger hasn’t had a full-blown meltdown since a string of poor starts back in May, and has worked hard to bring his ERA down from 7.71 in the first half to a respectable 3.10 in the second.

Whether Clevinger will be able to last through five- and six-inning starts remains to be seen, however, and there’s still been no discussion about a potential fifth starter bolstering the rotation as the club approaches the end of the season. Without a serviceable rotation, the Indians will rely more heavily on a fourth-best offensive drive and eighth-best bullpen to carry them through these next two weeks. Barring further injuries, what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.