Last week, the Cleveland Indians announced three non-tender moves prior to Wednesday’s deadline. Cleveland announced that they did not tender a contract to outfielders Tyler Naquin and Delino DeShields along with starting pitcher Jefry Rodriguez.
The moves were done as part of the organization’s goal of trimming payroll following the 2020 season. While the Indians do need outfield help, there are other internal options the organization has. Furthermore, there is still a possibility that the team looks to make an addition or two in that area this offseason.
On the other hand, the non-tendering of Jefry Rodriguez was somewhat surprising. Rodriguez pitched with the Indians big league club for one season in 2019. That year, he pitched in a total of ten games with eight of those being starts. In that sample, the 27-year old posted a 4.63 ERA over 46 and two-thirds innings of work.
Although the surface level numbers aren’t impressive, he was a valuable depth piece that season. However, in all likelihood Cleveland will look to bring him back on a minor league deal at some point over the coming weeks.
With Rodriguez non-tendered, the focus now turns to how the back end of the starting rotation will shake out especially in regards to Triston McKenzie.
Recapping Triston McKenzie’s 2020 Season
McKenzie was one of the positive highlights of the 2020 season for the Indians. He made his MLB debut on August 22nd against the Detroit Tigers. After being drafted by the organization during the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, McKenzie was a promising arm coming up through the ranks in the farm system.
After being called up this past season, the 23-year old pitched in eight games and made six starts. Over that span, he put up a 3.24 ERA with 42 strikeouts, a 0.900 WHIP, and a 3.91 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP). He was very effective against righties holding them to a .143/.229/.286 slash line.
Furthermore, he excelled pitching at home inside the walls of Progressive Field. In total, he made four starts at home holding opposing batters to a .120 batting average along with a .154 on-base percentage. In four road starts, opponents hit .224 against him with a .307 on-base percentage.
Although it was a very small sample size, there is a lot of promise with McKenzie. The Cleveland Indians see that promise and that brings to light the question of exactly what role McKenzie will play come next season.
Role of Triston McKenzie in 2021
As it stands right now, the Indians currently have four starting pitchers penciled into their starting rotation. That group is of course headlined by 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber. Following Bieber, Carlos Carrasco is currently slated in the second spot followed by Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac.
This offseason, there is a chance the Indians look to potentially trade Carrasco to trim more payroll heading into 2021. Carrasco has been a valuable member of the pitching staff since making his debut back in 2009. He is slated to earn $24 million dollars over the next two years. Additionally, he has a $14 million dollar team option for the 2023 season.
Therefore, the Indians might look to get out from under that money and potentially focus on internal options or other less expensive additions from outside the organization. As such, if that happens the role of Triston McKenzie would become much more elevated next season. McKenzie would likely slot into the rotation in the number four spot.
Regardless, even if Carrasco stays put, McKenzie will still contribute to the rotation in the fifth spot. McKenzie has the ability and the stuff to make an impact in that spot. It’s one of the luxuries the Indians have every year and something they pride themselves on.
Triston McKenzie came onto the scene last year and immediately built a brand for himself. The six-foot-five inch, 165 pound pitcher still has a very high ceiling. In addition, he has the type of impact the Indians would look for at the back of the rotation. Therefore, it’s a guarantee that McKenzie will have an important role heading into next season.
If Jefry Rodriguez comes back on a minor league deal, then he could provide competition for McKenzie. Beyond that, if Cleveland adds a pitcher or two outside of the organization this offseason, then those individuals could provide other competition for that spot.
For now, the team will head into the 2021 season with four starters penciled into the rotation and a potential Spring Training competition for the fifth spot which will certainly include Triston McKenzie in it.
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