Using Josh Tomlin‘s $3M option for 2018 may have been the Indians easiest decision this off-season. For a 2.2 fWAR pitcher in 2017 who has averaged about 1 fWAR per healthy season since he began his MLB career in 2010, this amount is incredibly paltry. Already this year, Michael Fiers (who was below replacement level value in 2017) has signed for $6M and Drew Smyly, who didn’t pitch at all in 2017 and will miss at least some of 2018 just signed for $10M over two years. Of course, this is nothing compared to the combined $20M the Braves gave to R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon last off-season to produce less value combined than Tomlin did.
Despite all this, using Tomlin’s option has already had roster ramifications including, most recently, the trade of Shawn Armstrong to Seattle for international bonus money. To paraphrase a wise man named Hiram, the Indians problem is that they have too many good players. Taking a simple look at the rotation for 2018, it could line-up like this:
Of course, this leaves out Mike Clevinger, who was also worth a 2.2 fWAR in 2017, but in fewer innings than Tomlin with a better ERA and K-rate. While there has been some talk outside of the organization about moving Salazar to the bullpen, no one internally has named this as a real possibility and it’s hard to imagine Tomlin and his high fly ball rate being successful in the bullpen.
Clevinger has one minor league option left, but obviously has nothing left to gain in AAA. Ryan Merritt also has just one option left and has also seen success in the majors, although in significantly fewer innings. Cody Anderson had great success in 2015, struggled in 2016 as he headed into Tommy John surgery, but will be back by the time the season starts in 2018. He should have one minor league option left as well as he spent the entire 2017 season on the MLB disabled list. In addition to these three pitchers with some MLB experience, the Indians have Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimando and Julian Merryweather on the 40 man roster all with at least one full season in AAA under their belts.
To continue, we need to look at the current state of the bullpen, a point of contention for many Indians fans. The guaranteed spots appear to belong to the following six pitchers:
Otero just signed a two year extension with an option for a third season while Olson is the reason the Indians were willing to let Boone Logan‘s option expire. Goody and McAllister are both out of options and will have to be on the MLB team or be lost entirely. While this is not the strongest group of relievers in the majors, it is a solid group and there is certainly no room for Shawn Armstrong or Kyle Crockett, who are also out of MiLB options.
If contracts weren’t an issue and the Indians just wanted to start their best five pitchers, there’s little question that it would be the first four starters listed above followed by Clevinger. With Tomlin under contract, however, and Clevinger’s stuff playing better in the bullpen, there is a very good chance the seventh man in the pen could be Clevinger. That would fill out the Indians complement of pitchers on the 25 man roster and not include any of the other five MLB quality starting pitchers.
While it is much too early to talk about actual 2018 roster decisions, I hope seeing the the names drawn out will help some understand why losing Crockett and Armstrong for essentially nothing is not a big deal. In addition, while Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw have already signed elsewhere, the Indians will certainly be looking to improve upon that bullpen group. In addition to any minor signings and spring training invitees, if the Indians bring in any bigger name relievers, they could potentially cut/trade McAllister (who will be a free agent after 2018) or move Clevinger into the rotation and attempt to trade Tomlin to a team that is more in need of starting depth than the Indians are. Tomlin’s 2018 option was a steal, so the Indians had to use it, but a two win pitcher would be worth more to almost any team other than the Indians, who had six starters in 2017 who had a WAR of at least 2.2.