This late into spring training you are more likely to see a surprise demotion to a Triple-A club, like Texas Rangers supposed starting outfielder Willie Calhoun got, rather than any kind of signing. However, this offseason and subsequent spring training have been anything but normal, and as such, I am advocating for a free agent signing prior to cut down day. While the Indians have a stellar front end of the rotation in perennial Cy Young candidates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, followed by wunderkinds Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, the back end seems to need a bit of help with Danny Salazar set to start the year on the disabled list and Josh Tomlin being…well…Josh Tomlin. I think the Tribe should add to the depth and sign free agent Alex Cobb to a one year deal.
It sounds crazy, adding a starting pitcher this late in spring training when theoretically all your starters are healthy. Salazar’s injury, the severity of it coming as a bit of a surprise, was lessened by the presence of Josh Tomlin on the roster and emergence of Mike Clevinger last year. However, there is little to no help in the minor leagues if an injury to any of the five major league starters occurs. Sure, Shane Bieber had one of the best strikeout-to-walk years ever in 2017, but those totals were accumulated against Single and Double-A batters. Julian Merryweather is lost to Tommy John surgery for the 2018 season. Shawn Morimando is…a lefty? Rushing Triston McKenzie is not something this organization will do since he hasn’t pitched higher than Single-A.
So my pitch is this: sign Alex Cobb to a one-year, $10 million deal and move Josh Tomlin to the bullpen. I will explain my rationale for Tomlin to the pen in a moment, but let me first explain why Cobb makes sense. While his 2017 left much to be desired form his career norms, he still posted an above average ground ball percentage, 42nd best in the majors of pitchers that threw at least 100 innings, right behind Clayton Kershaw, while still slightly outperforming his xFIP. Cobb would bring an innings-eating ability to the rotation that Tomlin is less than likely to add, and it comes down to Cobb’s ability to pitch effectively the second and third times through the batting order. There is the issue of Cobb being offered the qualifying offer from Tampa Bay and therefore comes with compensation in the form of a draft pick. Cleveland is already receiving some draft pick compensation for allowing Carlos Santana to leave via free agency after getting his own QO, so it would end up mostly a wash in those regards.
The Little Cowboy has long been miscast as a starter when he has actually always been profiled more as a long reliever type. Tomlin’s first time through numbers are as good as almost anyones: an OPS of .713 and an OPS+ of 86 for his career. Once through the order the second and third time, however, is where things start to get dicey for Tomlin. OPS+ of 98 and 118, respectively, start to paint the picture of Tomlin as a pitcher who needs only needs to go three to four innings at a time. Once the lineup turns over, they have an idea of Tomlin is working with and start to unload on the soft-tossing righty. Cobb’s issues over his career have been in the first innings, with an OPS+ of 102 on the first time through, but he settles back in with OPS+ of 88 and 98 for the second and third time through the order, respectively. That lends itself to getting deeper into games and lessening the blow to a bullpen that is unsettled at best.
Adding Cobb to the rotation and Tomlin to the bullpen strengthens two areas of a roster that has World Series expectations. Once Salazar is proven healthy, it would behoove the front office and coaching staff to use him as a Chris Devenski-type reliever, as WFNY/The Athletic’s Mike Hattery has pointed out numerous times. Making the rotation stronger with Cobb and adding arms like Josh “Once Through” Tomlin and Salazar gives the team the same formula it has during the 2016 season. Can you imagine starting a game with Corey Kluber going seven innings only to hand it over to the-bullpen-adds-velocity-to-my-fireball Salazar for an inning then Cody Allen or Andrew Miller to close it out? Sign me up for that.