Indians spring training preview: The starting rotation

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson stretches during spring training at the Cleveland Indians Player Development Complex.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest questions for the Indians last spring was starting pitching.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the Tribe’s starting rotation became one of the team’s strong points throughout the 2013 campaign.

So, does this young pitching staff have it in them to repeat last season’s success?

It won’t be easy, but they have the potential.

Justin Masterson obviously remains the Indians’ ace, but it will be interesting to see how his contract situation plays out. The All-Star starter has asked for $11.8 million in salary arbitration, a figure that’s $3.75 million above the club’s offer for 2014. The two sides didn’t get very far in long-term extension talks, but they’ll likely work out a one-year deal, avoiding the Feb. 20 arbitration hearing. That scenario would make Masterson a free agent after this season, so if the Indians struggle out of the gate, he’s trade bait.

Scott Kazmir is gone (Oakland) and Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to sign with Toronto or Arizona any day now. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister can move up and fill those spots of the rotation, but now the team is seriously lacking a solid, experienced front-end starter – or two. A few decent free-agent starters are still on the market, so the Indians could still address that need, if the price is right.

Now that Danny Salazar has some Major League experience under his belt, including a winner-take all wild-card playoff game, look for him to build off it and strengthen his presence in the rotation this year. Salazar has amazing stuff, but needs to gain confidence in his breaking ball before he becomes solid front-end starter.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Indians spring training without the proverbial fifth starter battle. Carlos Carrasco is out of options and the organization seems very high on him, so it’s probably his job to lose.

Other guys in the mix for the fifth spot are Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Shaun Marcum, who was brought in on a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp.

If healthy, Marcum has the potential to be the reliable fifth starter the Indians are looking for, but he’ll have to prove he can hold up.

Bauer remains a wild card. What he’ll bring to the table this spring is truly unknown, but he’s someone to keep an eye on him this spring. The right-hander has made some major adjustments to his delivery this offseason and says he’s in a much better place mentally. Bauer just might be ready to make that leap to the big leagues, so don’t count him out for the the Indians’ fifth starting spot.