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Antonetti: Stability, depth of starting rotation gives Cleveland Indians a leg up in roster planning for 2019

CLEVELAND, Ohio — One area of the Cleveland Indians roster that vice president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff do not have to worry about when mapping out their offseason agenda is the starting pitching rotation. Plans they put in place a while back are making sure of it.

Antonetti reiterated on Tuesday after announcing the Indians had picked up the $9.75 million team option on 17-game winner Carlos Carrasco that the club has long made it a point of emphasis to try and have continuity in its starting pitching rotation. He said a series of contract decisions has allowed the franchise to keep that group of players together for as long as possible.

“We were able to work towards a contract extension with (Carrasco in 2015) that provided us this opportunity to have subsequent years of club control,” Antonetti said. “We remain really excited about the group of guys that we have and we continue to believe that will be a strength of our team.”

Since signing Carrasco and Corey Kluber to multi-year extensions in April of 2015, the Indians have watched the duo anchor a starting rotation that’s been among baseball’s best. In 2017, with Kluber leading the way during a Cy Young Award campaign, Indians starters led the majors in strikeouts and ERA. In 2018, the rotation led the majors in starter wins (76) and ranked third in ERA (3.39) behind the Astros (3.16) and Los Angeles Dodgers (3.19).

Besides Kluber (20 wins in 2018) and Carrasco (231 strikeouts), Cleveland watched Trevor Bauer (2.21 ERA) blossom into an elite starter and Mike Clevinger (200 innings) take the next step toward becoming a mainstay in the rotation for several more years.

Antonetti said the Indians are in a much better position going into the offseason knowing that they have continuity and some depth in their starting rotation rotation.

“That’s a very difficult area to build quality alternatives, as we’ve seen over the course of the last decade or so,” Antonetti said. “We’re really excited about the group that we have and it gives us a leg up on our planning moving forward.”

The emergence of rookie Shane Bieber (11 wins) and contributions from Adam Plutko (2.8 walks per 9 innings) indicate there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings beyond 2020.

According to spotrac.com, Kluber is set to make a base salary of $15 million in 2019 with escalators that could add up to $4 million based on performance. His team options in 2020 and 2021 carry $1 million buyouts. Carrasco’s team option for 2020 is estimated at $9.5 million before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Bauer, meanwhile, is in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He more than doubled his salary from 2016 through the arbitration process last year, and stands to nearly triple that based on his 2018 performance this time around. MLBTradeRumors.com estimates Bauer’s arbitration value at $11.6 million. But regardless, Bauer can not become a free agent until 2021, meaning the Indians will have the opportunity to adjust their budget accordingly, no matter what raises he merits by his performance in the regular season.

With glaring needs in the bullpen and outfield, that’s a nice luxury for Antonetti and Chernoff to have right now. By Antonetti’s own admission, the front office does not yet have a lot of clarity on what it will be able to spend on payroll in 2019.

“It’s something that we continue that dialogue with ownership,” Antonetti said. “I would expect as we start to head into the next few weeks … that we’ll get a little bit more clarity around our payroll.”

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