Placed RHP Fausto Carmona on the 15-day Disabled List (hip)
Although Carmona is expected to miss four weeks, his injury is not considered serious in a long-term sense and may ultimately be a blessing in disguise, keeping his workload down in 2008 after a big jump in innings in 2007. It also basically fits his hypothetical mechanical struggles, either as cause or effect, which fit both his oddly inflated walk totals and Will Carroll's pre-season prediction:
Carmona has never had to come back from a 200-inning workload before, and there's almost always a price to pay for that. I'd expect Carmona to have something happen like did with Westbrook last year at midseason—a minor injury that causes him to miss a month, but that he comes back from strong and actually winds up getting saved from another big jump in IP by the time off.
For any other team, having a starter of Carmona's caliber go down would be seen as catastrophic, but at least on this site, Indians fans hardly registered any alarm at all — perhaps in part because of a learned confidence in the team's ability to heal young pitchers and keep them healthy over the long haul.
But the real confidence is in the Indians' incomparable rotation depth. Jake Westbrook is scheduled to come off the Disabled List just in time to make Carmona's next would-be start, and even if he weren't, the Indians have at least two other starters ready to step in and already on the 40-man roster in Jeremy Sowers and Adam Miller. (It's an odd twist considering that last May, Westbrook went on the DL just in time for Cliff Lee to return, which allowed Carmona to stay and further establish himself in the big-league rotation.)
Its main effect on the team might be to spare everyone the agony of sending a highly effective Aaron Laffey to the minors to make room for Westbrook, a topic which had already started to sprout hourly calls for Paul Byrd to be traded.
Depth is good, and another point this drives home is that it's easier for a team to leverage its depth in the event of injury, rather than in the event of poor performances. With struggling players (e.g., most of the lineup), we have the depth to replace the poorly performing parts but nowhere on any roster to stash them — we're not going to just cut Hafner or Blake, even though we have the depth to replace them. With an injury, you just put the guy on the DL and leverage your depth right away. It's just easier.
Designated LHP Craig Breslow for Assignment
Claimed RHP Oneli Perez from Chicago White Sox and Assigned him to Buffalo (AAA)
Six transactions over two days involving just six spots on the active roster, i.e., the bullpen — there should be no doubt, the Indians are as concerned about the bullpen as the fans are about the offense. And in this sense they're right: The offense should fix itself, and if it doesn't, there isn't much you could do with one or two moves, and major moves rarely happen overnight. The bullpen, on the other hand, seems to be more like ending up with the right hand, and if you can reshuffle the deck every other day to get a new hand, why not keep making moves until you're satisfied?
It also points up the essential hairiness of acquiring, deploying and discarding relievers, an area in which the sample sizes are so scarce that it's worth asking whether any statistics are worth looking at, even over a whole season, let alone the murderer's row of dumb stats we always use for pitchers: "wins," "losses," ERA, holds, saves, blown saves — not a useful stat among them when it comes to relievers. And unlike position players, you can't just throw a guy in there for a while and see what happens, because the results are too costly. A hitter can have a miserable set of three or four games and ultimately not cost the team even one win; offense is a collective effort, and even your best hitters will fail 60 percent of the time anyway. A struggling reliever, however, can torch multiple games in a row, so even if it is a case of bad luck, small sample or an easily recovered-from dry spell, a team just can't take that chance for anyone but the most established performers.
So the team faces a dilemma with a guy like Breslow, who presents plenty to like but an uncertain projection, on a team that feels it doesn't have the margin for error to let him try to develop some consistency. A guy like Rick Bauer is doing exactly that in the minors, but Breslow can't be sent to the minors. Ultimately, the team decided it couldn't be tantalized by his raw ability and favorable contract status. Breslow was passed over by 28 teams on waivers back in March, so we may get to keep him. Bottom line, though, a team like the Indians needs a guy like Breslow to work it out in the minors, and the fact that they might lose him in the process doesn't change that. More than assets, we need options, and Breslow doesn't have any.
Oneli Perez, on the other hand, does have options. He's given up the same 18 runs and five home runs in 2008 that he did in 2007, the difference being the innings: 93 last year, 17 this year. I don't know what went wrong with him in Triple-A this season, all I do know is that he spent more than a full season at Double-A and racked up a 1.84 ERA, while striking out 109 guys in 93 innings — seriously, where do I sign up? He'll turn 25 tomorrow, and he has one option year remaining in addition to the current season. That gives the Indians all of this season and next to turn him around and into a big-league reliever, but given his Double-A numbers, don't be surprised if he ends up contributing in Cleveland this year.
Reinstated RHP Joe Borowski from the 15-day Disabled List (ability)
Funny thing about Borowski is that we all seemed to have blocked him out of our minds, as though his cataclysmic last appearance and subsequent trip to the DL meant that we weren't going to have to suffer him any longer. Like, you know, our long national nightmare is over. Since it isn't, might as well try to look at the bright side, like, no more mind-numbing "closer controversy," as we're spared the otherwise inevitable and inevitably dumb columns about the evils of closer-by-committee.
Borowski does have a small upside, at least compared to the disasters we're all intuitively expecting. He was effective overall last season, and while his ERA reflected real mediocrity, it also reflected a little genuinely bad luck on balls in play, .335 BABIP for a guy whose career mark is .296. Some days — too many days — he just doesn't have it, but he never seems to choke, and he never gives it away. When he's getting beat, it's only because he simply isn't all that good, and if he's a bum, at least he's a bum that Cleveland can get behind.
Optioned RHP Jensen Lewis to Buffalo (AAA)
Recalled RHP Ed Mujica from Buffalo (AAA)
Purchased the Contract of RHP Scott Elarton and Recalled him from Buffalo (AAA)
Confused? Don't be. These moves actually make sense. With Lewis, the Indians reached essentially the same conclusion that they did with Breslow, i.e., that he's not going to work himself into the pitcher the Indians want him to be while in the majors, so down he goes. It makes sense to see this as a win-later move, as the Indians send down a reasonably effective reliever for a few weeks in the hopes of having him make the kind of big impact late in 2008 that he had late in 2007. This is Lewis' first optional assignment, so if there's a price to be paid in terms of the option clock, it won't be until 2011 at the earliest.
Mujica has been Buffalo's most dominant reliever for the last month-plus, and yes, I'm including Bauer. Mujica has only allowed two runs in his last 13 games, spanning 17+ innings, but he had a rough first half of April and gave up seven runs in one appearance on April 6, permanently crapping up his overall numbers. Mujica first emerged as a star prospect back in 2005, in Kinston and Akron at age 21, and in 2006, he went more than three months and nearly 50 innings before giving up a single run in Akron, Buffalo and Cleveland, eventually allowing one in his fourth big-league game on July 14. He struggled with injuries and control in 2007, doing little with the big-league club other than making blowouts into bigger blowouts.
Bauer, for those who must compare, has a track record that is almost shocking in its lack of anything impressive over a 12-year pro career. He had two pretty good seasons in the high minors, at ages 24 and 27, and two solid but unspectacular seasons in the majors, at ages 25 and 29, a lot of mediocre and horrible seasons, even at advanced ages in the minors, and a lot of injuries. He's put up tremendous numbers in Buffalo this year at age 31, but the Indians would be right to suspect that this is just the luckiest run of a long and undistinguished career, right to let him put in more steady work, and right to want to see a lot more before giving him a bigger shot.
Elarton had earned his shot over the past two months in Buffalo, and he brings with him a strong reputation as a positive influence in the clubhouse, which may have factored into this move, given the team's persistent struggles. Fans focused on Elarton's past mediocrity might be interested to note his career numbers as a reliever, which include a 2.54 ERA, 553 OPS-against, 1.01 WHIP and 9.64 K/9. Granted, this was ten years ago, and Elarton doesn't have that kind of velocity anymore, but at least he's done it before, and relieving is just plain easier than starting. It will be interesting to see what kinds of situations Elarton is put into.
There are plenty of candidates to get removed from the 25-man on Wednesday when Westbrook returns, but it's a safe bet that it won't be Elarton, and it's likely the Indians will go back to a six-man bullpen as long as there's no blowout in the next few days. Mujica is now the only active reliever who can be sent to the minors, but there's a decent chance the Indians will opt to DFA Jorge Julio instead. He spent three weeks creeping up to the Circle of Trust, but he just didn't do so well once he got there.