Jason Hammel, Dan Straily, Ivan Nova, Andrew Cashner and RA Dickey – those five pitchers combined to earn $34.5 million in 2017. Only one of them earned less this season than Josh Tomlin ($2.5 milion). All five finished the season with a lower fWAR than Tomlin (2.2). Rick Porecllo was only worth two wins according to fWAR. Jake Arrieta finished the year with 2.4 fWAR.
While fWAR isn’t obviously a perfect sum of anyone pitcher or player on its own, it is interesting to note how much less Tomlin cost the Cleveland Indians in 2017 compared to those players and in spite of some of his less than aesthetically pleasing numbers, 2.2 fWAR is the highest mark he’s finished a regular season with in his entire career.
To argue simply, the cost of one WAR is roughly $7.1 million. Tomlin, worth 2.2 WAR in 2017, could have been paid over $14 million based on this estimate. He made $2.5 million and the Indians hold a $3 million option for 2018 on Tomlin, or an $800,000 buyout to make him a free agent.
The Indians used seven starting pitchers this year to start a game, including double headers where they get a 26th man. While the Indians had significant injury issues this season, starting pitching was not one of the spots they were hit with great injury. Corey Kluber missed a month, Carlos Carrasco missed one turn, Danny Salazar missed the typical amount of Danny Salazar time, Mike Clevinger wasn’t hurt once between Triple-A and Cleveland and Trevor Bauer was a model of durability once again. Ryan Merritt made four starts.
Using seven starters in one season is pretty impressive. The Red Sox needed 10, the Yankees needed 10, the Twins needed 16, Astros used 11 and the NL champion Dodgers needed nine.
So if you needed any convincing that the Indians should pick up Tomlin’s $3 million option, hopefully that’s enough.
The Indians only needed eight starters in 2016, 10 in 2015, eight in 2014 and nine in 2013. So even if they only need the eight starters per year they have averaged since 2013, there’s room for Tomlin at the moment at his cost.
The rotation, barring injuries or trades, will consist of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, for certain.Mike Clevinger is probably a rotation lock. Salazar is a bit of an unknown and Ryan Merritt could warrant consideration as this will be his last option year. Cody Anderson will be returning from Tommy John surgery with a year since his surgery. The closest prospects knocking on the door to start are Julian Merryweather and Shane Bieber for 2018. Both Shawn Morimando and Adam Plutko currently occupy spots on the 40 man roster, though it’s questionable that Plutko is 100% ready for spring training as he had labrum surgery.
Some want to make the argument that Merritt is better than Tomlin and that Tomlin could potentially block Merryweather or Bieber from making a start this year and that all three are better than he is. It’s possible but there are many unknowns with those two.
Given Salazar’s chronic health concerns, as well as Kluber’s back, the Indians getting through a full season with starts being made with just seven starters seems far from a guarantee.
If Tomlin can just replicate his 2017, he’d be well worth the $3 million, Those pitchers names I listed atop this article and related to, all made a ton of money (only Straily made less than Tomin ‘18).
If nothing else, $3 million for a pitcher like Tomlin is a pretty affordable insurance option even if he can’t pitch out of the bullpen. Tomlin himself may likely miss time due to injury as he has over the last few years for a few separate surgeries and injuries. But if the Indians do indeed need eight starters, that would possibly be Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, Salazar, Merritt, Anderson, and Merryweather? Or Tomlin? For $3 million, Tomlin’s option makes too much sense to not pick up.
You can point out that Tomlin’s fastball velocity dropped for the third straight season (87.8) which is rough for a pitcher who already has a slim margin for error because of what he lacks in velocity and that he’s 33 with Tommy John and shoulder surgery in his past as well.
Could the Indians put that $3 million (really $2.2 million because of his buyout if they don’t pick it up) somewhere else more important? Possibly, because they do have some other depth and have many other areas where they need to make financial and personnel decisions that are important.
But again, given what pitchers who posted similar fWAR’s in 2017 as Tomlin cost, it’s an incredible deal not to bring back Tomlin, who had a 4.12 FIP as he increased his strikeout rate minimally in 2017, upped his swinging strike percentage slightly and also slightly decreased his walk rate in 141 innings.
Unless the Indians absolutely feel like the $2.2 million they will save on not retaining Tomlin will be the difference between re-signing Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Austin Jackson, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith or extending Francisco Lindor or Cody Allen or another free agent they need to offset some of losses of the first four mentioned above, then picking up Tomlin’s option should be a near no-brainer. Getting through a season with seven starters is pretty remarkable and eight still isn’t bad, but the teams with the most quality options after their preferred starting five fair better over the course of 162 games, and Tomlin provides incredible value in that regard.