It’s Christmas Eve here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and with plenty of little creatures stirring here at the home offices of EHC, and all with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, let’s get right to this week’s Corner before the family wraps me up and throws me in the Yuletide garbage.
No, this Christmas didn’t bring the Tribe a whole lot of presents up to this point, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Dolan’s have been playing the role of Christmas Scrooge. While fans here at the North Coast have been stuck in Christmas past far too long, Christmas present and Christmas future certainly have the potential to be very bright.
While I’ve already talked at length about Brandon Moss, if he’s healthy, this lineup really will get a big boost offensively with him sliding into that #5 slot right behind Carlos Santana. Moss was one of the best offensive players in all of baseball for a two-year stretch, and with the cost for his services being a player that would have had to pull soap opera antics to get in the lineup himself, the move is a net gain for the Tribe on several levels.
No, the Indians’ offense isn’t perfect, but it should be a lot more consistent this year, and have a lot more pop. While the Indians were in the top half of the league offensively, there were stretches in which it disappeared.
The Indians attempted to address another key need when they signed free agent righty starter Gavin Floyd to a $4 million deal, with a slew of incentives. If they can manage to add another right-handed, back-end reliever to the mix, this team could be as complete as any.
I’m really not crazy about the Gavin Floyd signing, although I completely understand why the Indians have to make this kind of a deal. My angst has nothing to do with Chris Antonetti declaring him the No. 4 starter, and it has nothing to do with his health. It just gets old hearing about the Tribe signing “reclamation projects” for their rotation. I understand the principles of cost-effective signings. It would just be nice to see the Indians find themselves a shiny-and-new starter in free agency, and not a guy that’s so far back on the shelf, that nobody sees him until he signs.
I get it. I suppose I’m not supposed to be crazy about Gavin Floyd. That’s why he’s so cheap. I know, some of you are muttering about $4 million and thinking “that’s not cheap.” Unfortunately, in today’s market, $4 million is a steal, simply because it’s a one-year deal. You know what they say, “There really is no bad one-year deal.” We’ll rehash Myers in a minute.
The Indians ability to sign Floyd to his relatively cheap deal is based on the principal that he can earn a bigger and better contract both this year via incentives, and in the future, based on this year’s performance. I hope he earns all $10 million, but if he doesn’t, the Indians will have no problem moving him via trade (as they did with John Axford last year), or by designating him for assignment and releasing him outright (a they did with Myers).
Let’s take a look at his injury history. In 2012, Floyd went on the DL for the first time in his professional baseball career with elbow tendenitis in mid-July. In 2013, Floyd pitched 24 1/3 innings for the Chicago White Sox before Tommy John surgery ended his season while pitching to Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays on April 27th of that season. He followed that up in 2014 with 54 1/3 innings for the Atlanta Braves before breaking his olecranon bone (the bony tip of the ulna that sticks out behind the elbow) while pitching against the Washington Nationals in June.
Floyd’s injury is the same as an injury that occurred to Detroit’s Joel Zumaya in 2010. It’s important to note that Zumaya never threw another pitch in a Major League baseball game. It’s equally important to note that there are some pretty big differences between the two pitchers.
When Zumaya broke his olecranon bone, he was in a tremendous amount of pain during and after the injury, and there were immediate concerns that he wouldn’t play again based on the rarity of the injury. In comparison, when Floyd broke his bone last season, the only reason he knew it happened was because he heard a pop and saw a bulge in his elbow. He expressed multiple times that he didn’t feel any pain, and this is backed up by his relative nonchalant demeanor he carried on the mound after it happened.
I’m not going to post the picture, but his elbow looked painful. I was watching the game in which it happened, and the cameras and broadcasters knew it was happening before Floyd did. When Zumaya broke his bone, it was clear that it hurt.
Ultimately, the oft-injured Zumaya needed Tommy John surgery two-years later after tearing his UCL during his first spring training bullpen session after returning from the 2010 injury. While I can’t speak to the connectivity of the injuries with Zumaya’s throwing arm, there’s always concern when a pitcher injures the same arm over-and-over. On top of that, Zumaya’s career was laced with injury prior to 2010 as well.
Does Floyd’s Tommy John surgery connect to his olecranon break? While many injuries are universally heralded as “not being related,” common sense often dictates another story, especially with a pitcher who spent his entire career bouncing around the DL thanks to a violent delivery and poor mechanics. The relationship may not be in the injuries themselves, but in the way the pitcher throws before, during and after, especially in Zumaya’s case.
In a sense, one injury doesn’t lead to another, but they can connect based on what the pitcher is doing on the mound.
Other than the past two-and-a-half seasons, Floyd hasn’t carried the injury bug throughout his career in the same manner that Zumaya did. Floyd also has fantastic mechanics and a fairly fluid delivery. If he’s at fault for anything, it was pitching through an “odd pain in his elbow” that he didn’t think was bad enough to report, even while cameras were zooming in on his elbow. He has injured the same arm twice over the past two seasons, but the hope is that if he’s rehabbed, he’ll be healthy. The connectivity just isn’t there to think that he’ll hurt his arm again because of the Tommy John surgery, followed by the broken bone, because everything else seems to be smooth and fluent. My guess is that the Indians are looking at the recovery time for the Tommy John, seeing that the bone is healed, and realize that Floyd could come back and be better than ever.
It’s a gamble, and that’s exactly what both the Indians and Floyd are gambling on.
You could make a case that Floyd has some chronic injury issues this late in his career. You could also make a case that Tommy John fixed the tendons in his elbow, and now that the bone is healed after the break, he should be good to go.
You can go back-and-forth with this debate until you’re blue in the face, especially considering Floyd is reaching that age as a pitcher when you normally begin to see regression.
The past would dictate that this is a no-risk, high reward scenario for Terry Francona and the Indians. The Indians are known for signing “reclamation projects,” and while they have had some major successes over the years in turning pitchers around, I’ve already mentioned the busts as well.
In 2005, the Indians signed Kevin Millwood to a $7 million, one-year contract after he struggled with elbow injuries the year prior in Philadelphia. Millwood led the league in ERA that season, finished sixth in the Cy Young voting, and used his big season to sign a four-year, $48 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
In 2009, the Indians signed Carl Pavano to a $1.5 million, one-year contract. Pavano missed the entire 2006 season (for injuring his ass, and other things–no joke), and was a pariah in New York. His teammates often called him out for injury issues, and for good reason. From 2005-2008, Pavano would pitch in only 26 games total, nine after the injury. In 2009, Pavano made 21 really good starts for the Indians, and was ultimately dealt to the Twins in a waiver trade that August.
The most recent reclamation project came in 2013 when the Indians took a flier on Scott Kazmir. The former strikeout king had only made one start over the previous two seasons, and was completely out of baseball when Chris Antonetti signed him to a minor league deal prior to the 2013 season. Kazmir made the rotation, never really looked bad during the season, remained healthy from mid-April on, and ended up going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, and a 3.51 FIP. He eventually signed a two-year deal with the A’s for $22 million.
Don’t forget about Aaron Harang. The Indians signed the right-hander to a minor league deal prior to last season before ultimately deciding that he wasn’t going to make the rotation. Harang was granted his release and ultimately signed with the Atlanta Braves. Harang ended up going 12-12 for the Braves, logging 204 innings, and never really looked bad for long stretches throughout the season. In September, he made five starts, and while he went 2-3, struck out 32 in 31 1/3 innings, with a 3.16 ERA.
Oh by the way, Aaron Harang is still available.
Where does Gavin Floyd fit into all of this? I don’t know that he has the same upside as Millwood (ERA leader) and Kazmir (162 K’s in 158 innings), but if he can log the same type of innings and stay healthy, there’s no reason to think that he can’t provide a similar-type value as Pavano. In a rotation that boasts the 2014 Cy Young winner in Corey Kluber, a pitcher that was “Kluber-like” dominant down the stretch in Carlos Carrasco, and two youngsters that may have more upside than both Kluber and Carrasco in Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, Floyd just needs to be a guy that logs quality innings in the back-end of the rotation.
The worse-case scenario is if he turns into a pumpkin. Two of the Indians’ biggest misses over the past three years were starters Derek Lowe and Brett Myers. In 2012, the Indians traded Chris Jones and some cash to the Braves for Lowe, and after a really good April, he was gone by June. Myers was signed to a one-year, $7 million deal in 2013 and asked to fill the role of starter after relieving in Houston and Chicago the previous two seasons. He was gone by May. They took a hit in money, but a one-year deal is something you can wash away.
Floyd will either work out and earn some of that $6 million incentive, while keeping guys like T.J. House, Zach McAllister or Danny Salazar out of the rotation, or not work out, and end up looking for another club. While you don’t want to see the Indians eat a $4 million dollar contract, the plusses of a deal like this far outweigh the negatives.
Gavin Floyd does have an interesting connection to former Tribe starters Kevin Millwood and Brett Myers that goes far beyond “reclamation.” Millwood was a starter for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. In 2003, Floyd was the Phillies #1 prospect, and according to Baseball America, his “stuff compare(d) favorably to that of Brett Myers.” Consider this: Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard were all ranked behind him. Not too shabby.
In 2004, Floyd dropped behind Hamels and became the #2 prospect in the system. Why? Again, according to Baseball America,
“A longtime fan of Kevin Millwood, Floyd tried to emulate his idol’s deliberate delivery after watching him in spring training. It cost Floyd his rhythm and deceptiveness, and it took a month to remedy the problem. He was as good as ever thereafter before developing a tired arm late in the season.”
Talk about ironic. His compliment was based on Myers, and his hindrance was based on Millwood. At the time with the Phillies, that obviously makes a lot more sense than it does several years later based on Myers’ and Millwood’s performances with the Tribe. It’s just funny how things work out, as we hope that Floyd, at the tail end of his career, looks more like Millwood than Myers, at least statistically.
Can it happen? While these sorts of deals annoy the hell out of me, I’m cautiously optimistic with regards to Floyd. His velocity has remained sickeningly steady over the length of his career:
Really, the only worry for me is that his best out-pitch, his curveball, is possibly the piece that connects his recent arm troubles together. While I’m not going to get into the semantics of what throwing an elite curveball can do to an arm, I will say that he was throwing a curveball when he heard the pop in his elbow in 2014.
Over his career, Floyd has been a sort of statistical oddity. In 2008, Floyd pitched in 206 1/3 innings, the only time he’s pitched over 200 in his career. It was also the only full season in which his ERA was below 4.00. It also coincided with his worst full season-FIP (4.77) and xFIP (4.50), and one of his worst WAR seasons (2.4-fangraphs, 3.4 baseball reference).
In general, Floyd’s career has seen a plus 4.00 ERA with a sub 4.00 FIP/xFIP.
What does this mean in Cleveland? It’s hard to say after two-and-a-half years of injury struggles. If he falls back to his norms, we could have a really good middle-to-bottom-of the rotation starter, who has a really good make-up. Floyd has always been a worker, and his influence can’t be overlooked.
As an aside, I just want to say one thing before continuing here: the guy has to be a good starter for me to talk about his importance in the clubhouse. I’m pretty sick of this club utilizing guys like Jason Giambi as an influential member of the locker room, while sucking on the field. The Tribe has, by all indications, one of the finest coaching staffs in baseball. You don’t need another coach swallowing up money and bench space.
In other words, if Floyd sucks, I don’t want to hear about his make-up. Only talk to me about that if he’s making quality starts. Common sense here dictates that watching a guy work hard and suck isn’t the message you want to send to the locker room.
With all of that said, there is an “art to pitching,” and Salazar and Bauer, and to some extent Carrasco, are all still working to become a “professional pitcher.” Perhaps Floyd can turn into a Kevin Millwood-like influence on the youngsters to help supplement #CyKluber. Floyd was mentored to some extent by Millwood himself, who CC Sabathia also credits with teaching him how to be a “Major League” pitcher. Maybe he can be the gift that keeps on giving.
While I hate that we have to take chances on guys like Gavin Floyd, it’s the nature of the best for the Cleveland Indians.
Besides, we all know that we are going to see a few other guys pitching in this rotation before it’s all said and done. You can take your pick with regards to reasoning here. Whether it be injury, struggle, or just a day off, whoever doesn’t make this rotation will ultimately see time in Cleveland.
You have to have at least seven or eight starters available in any given season to be a successful franchise. I still think the Indians are short in this regard, because I really don’t think that Josh Tomin is all that good, they certainly have some guys in House and McAllister that can fill that role. Who knows, perhaps Shaun Marcum can enter the fray as well.
While I’m saving my rotation discussion for another day, it’s quite likely that the losers of the #5 spot in the rotation (if you believe there is one…I don’t) will spend some significant-ish time logging innings for the Indians. As Terry Francona has said many times before, “It’s the law of averages. If they deserve to make the rotation, things tend to happen to get them in the rotation.”
While Antonetti “giving” the job to Floyd is a mistake in my opinion, I understand the validity of it. I’m sure the former White Sox starter had options to go to other clubs, and being guaranteed a spot was likely a major part of the reason he decided to sign with the Tribe.
The reality of the situation is that the only guarantee Floyd has right now is earning $4 million dollars, which isn’t a bad thing for his check book, and based on what he could do, not a bad thing for the Indians either, considering the price of today’s free agent pitchers.
While putting him in the rotation in December likely was the final straw in his signing here, saying it doesn’t make it permanent.
His performance will, and if he still is the pitcher that he was with the White Sox prior to 2013, the Indians rotation will be all the better for it.