Each passing day brings into starker relief the look of the 2019 Cleveland Indians.
With each move made and not made we realize more and more what to expect from the season. Nowhere is this more obvious than the bullpen. After busting the block by acquiring Brad Hand last year to build what was supposed to be a three-headed dragon of doom, the ‘pen has taken a step back as familiar names depart without being replaced. A lot is resting on some relatively untested arms. Of note, second year submariner Adam Cimber has a lot of expectation unexpectedly foisted on him.
This is the result of simply not developing big time arms in the minors, and not having the money to go find one in the offseason. Suddenly Cimber has an inside track to be a high leverage/setup guy behind Brad Hand. There’s been a lot of head-scratching at the the front office not addressing blatant needs considering the combination of talent and flaws on the team, but this case of inaction is just dangerous.
I wrote in October that we should get used to Cimber, and we should. He’s under control for a long time, and even if he’s mediocre at best he’ll be a mainstay in the ‘pen. Just look at how long Zach McAllister stuck around the team. Innings do need eating in the long slog of the season, and even middling bullpen arms can serve a vital role. But the way he’s being presented now is something more than just mediocre. If everything holds as it is, he’s supposed to be a key to the bullpen. Right now, that’s a problem.
Usually there’s something in a young pitcher that draws you to him, makes you think he’ll be something special. In Cimber there’s that weird delivery and the fact that righties hit .201/.221/.261 before he joined the Indians. There’s a lot of great right-handed hitting in the American League, and if he could learn a solid changeup to work on lefites there was hope that he could do similar work to lefties.
But it went sour in Cleveland, and from July 20 on righties hit .288/.361/.477, or basically Michael Brantley. Lefties were more Ruthian in just 19 plate appearances bopping .467/.579/.867. In short, everything went to hell. All the promise, the hope that he’d become some sort of ROOGY for the Indians was thrown down the tubes. And now with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller departed, chances are high he’ll find himself in quite a few high leverage situations.
It’s not like it’s him, Hand and a heap of garbage of course. Oliver Perez is back, and he was great last year. Neil Ramirez might be solid again. But by virtue of their inaction, the Indians are plainly stating that Cimber needs to perform in big situations. I don’t know how much hope they’re heaping on John Edwards or Nick Goody or Tyler Olson, but regardless of the name it’s not encouraging what we’ll see setting up the close for Hand. If Cimber doesn’t work out this saeson and starts riding his options back and forth from Columbus, that will have a ripple effect across the bullpen, and the pitching staff as a whole.
Cimber can probably be an effective pitcher for the Indians. It would be nice if he could add some velocity, and a third pitch to use against lefties is paramount. With all their right-handed starting pitching, opponents are bound to stack lineups with platoon-strong lefties to try to succeed against the Indians, which Cimber needs to be able to combat. But right now it seems like he’s being cast in a role that’s more than he should have to face, at least right now in his development.
Some pitchers come into the Majors ready to shut down lineups. Those guys usually throw somewhere approaching 100 these days. That’s not Cimber, obviously, but it doesn’t have to be. He just needs a chance to grow, and not be cast so far into the fire that he disintegrates before he can find his best self. Maybe the Majors isn’t a place to focus on development over production, but that’s simply where the Indians stand. They have no other real options at the moment, and need him to be some kind of weapon in 2019. Otherwise, it’s another year of MVP’s and dazzling starters, down the drain.