When Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and his team set off for San Diego and the Winter Meetings last week, there were two things at the top of their wish list: Adding a middle-of-the-order bat and improving the pitching staff. Earlier this month, they were able to cross the first item off with the acquisition of Brandon Moss. Almost out of nowhere on Tuesday, Kid Chris fired a second salvo.
The name Gavin Floyd was not on anyone’s radar screen. With names like Brett Anderson, Justin Masterson, Chad Billingsley, and even old friend Roberto Hernandez (Fausto) being bandied about, the Indians ended up choosing a 31-year old right-hander who has made just 14 starts over the past two years. Tribe fans should be familiar with Floyd, who was a fixture in the middle of the Chicago White Sox rotation from 2007-2013 where he went 63-65 with a 4.22 ERA/4.20 FIP/105 ERA+) making 196 starts. He missed most of 2012 after needing Tommy John surgery. He came back with the Atlanta Braves in 2013 and was only able to make nine starts before fracturing his elbow mid-start. In his last healthy season — 2012 — Floyd had a 4.46 FIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 40.5% ground ball percentage (h/t to Matt Bretz of Wahoo’s on First). It was his fifth consecutive year of making at least 29 starts. Floyd can give up the long ball from time to time, but he is at his best when his ten-to-six breaking stuff is working.
When the signing first came across my Twitter feed, I assumed it was for either a minor league deal or something loaded with incentives. But then I remembered how the Dodgers gave Anderson, who has made a whole 32 starts in the last four years, $10 million on Monday. So I wasn’t all that shocked when the details of the contract were $4 million guaranteed with another $6 million possible with incentives. If Gavin is able to get that $10 million, the Indians will have gotten a fantastic year from him. Then again, he could very easily be the 2015 Brett Myers, who got $7 million from the Tribe two seasons ago and was released after showing them very little. The difference here is that Floyd isn’t trying to convert back to starter after a full season in the bullpen. Floyd’s issue is health related.
“We feel his elbow is fine,” said Antonetti. “He went through an extensive physical Monday. We feel his (elbow) ligament is strong an intact and the fracture he suffered last season is well healed. We watched some of his workouts in November. We watched him throw out to 120 feet. He was free and easy at that point and looked healthy.”
I am trying to talk myself into the Floyd signing. I really am. He gives the Indians another depth starter, which they needed. Veterans are always welcome on a young staff as well. Floyd also knows the division well after his seven-plus year stint on the South Side of Chicago. What I found most interesting was that he’s been guaranteed a spot in the rotation, which seemed pretty set. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, who is out of options, will join Floyd. The fifth spot will now become a competition between Danny Salazar, T.J. House, Zach McAllister, and Josh Tomlin. Z Mac and Tomlin are also out of options, but after his stellar September pen performance, McAllister seems headed in that direction. In essence, this is a two-horse race between the lefty House and the hard-throwing Salazar. One thing is certain; the Indians will need both at some point.
There are no guarantees that Floyd will regain his innings-eating Chicago form. While he was improved in Atlanta with a 2.65 ERA in nine starts (3.79 FIP, 138 ERA+), it is hard for me to buy into that small sample size. For one, I am a big proponent of the line of thinking that NL success with fringe pitchers doesn’t translate over to the American League. I’ve seen it too many times. Guys like Ryan Dempster and Kyle Lohse are the poster children for it. The good news is that if he does indeed flop, Floyd will more than likely be DFA’d and you would have either House or Salazar in reserve. You can’t go into a season with just five starters anyways with injuries popping up on virtually every staff every year. A reserve group of at least two or three will be needed. Don’t forget you also have Shawn Marcum back on a minor league deal after spending most of last season rehabbing in the organization.
With the AL Central now the unofficial “best division in baseball,” the Wahoos are going to have to step up their game. The White Sox now look like real contenders with the additions of starter Jeff Samardzija, closer David Robertson, outfielder Melky Cabrera, and first baseman Adam LaRoche. The defending AL Champion Royals may have taken a step back as they brace for the departure of top starter James Shields, but added Kendrys Morales to replace DH Billy Butler, along with outfielder Alex Rios. But they still have their three-headed monster at the back of the best bullpen in baseball. Of course the Tigers are loaded up with Yoenis Cespedes taking over for Torii Hunter in the outfield along with new starters Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, but they have yet to address their biggest weakness, the bullpen, and still haven’t made an overtures towards re-signing ace Max Scherzer. The Twins are still the Twins, but brought in righty Ervin Santana to go along with last year’s free agent rotation signings Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco.
The Tribe could still use another power arm in the back of the pen to take the pressure off of Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, but that arm could already be in house (McAllister). The division is going to be wide open and the Indians have the horses to compete, but they will need a little luck and all the help and health they can get. One can only hope they hit another lottery ticket with Floyd the way they did two seasons ago with Scott Kazmir.