CLEVELAND -- Without identifying a specific area of Cleveland's roster, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti admitted recently that there are players in the fold who could use some more development down on the farm. "There are guys that we feel could benefit from more time in the Minor Leagues," Antonetti said. Considering the makeup of the Tribe's rotation, combined with the club's hope to add an experienced arm to the mix later this winter, Antonetti might have been referring to the starting staff. It is a young group, one that went through some growing pains last season, but it is a cast that the Indians are excited about.
With youth can often come unpredictability, but promise is another attribute that can't be ignored. Maybe having the current rotation lead a run to the American League pennant seems like a pipe dream at the moment, but that does not mean the Tribe's decision-makers are not optimistic about the staff's potential. A main reason for hope is the strong finish fashioned by Cleveland's pitching staff down the stretch last season. The end result of the 2010 season was a 93-loss ledger. Within that, however, was an impressive push to the end by the team's arms, allowing the pitchers to head into the offseason with their heads high. "The confidence that they gained," Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher said, "they're not going to be kids next year. They're going to be a little older, a little wise and a little better." That is why Cleveland is not hung up on definitely bringing in a veteran pitcher to solidify the starting staff. The club is exploring some cost-effective options, but will not sign a veteran pitcher simply to sign a veteran starter. The Indians are interested in quality innings and are trying to balance that with developing their young arms. "I made it known for years during rebuilding," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "I don't go for veterans just because they're 40 years old and they've been around 15, 17 years. I need a guy that is going to contribute." As things currently stand, the first three rotation spots project to be occupied by Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot. Carlos Carrasco has a leg up for a fourth spot. If the Tribe does bring in a veteran arm or two, they will likely hold the edge for the fifth and final vacancy on the staff. If Cleveland opts to stand pat, the competition for the fifth spot this coming spring will likely include Josh Tomlin, Jeanmar Gomez, Anthony Reyes and David Huff. Tomlin and Gomez performed admirably for the Tribe in their respective rookie showings in 2010. Reyes spent the year rehabbing from right elbow surgery. Huff had his share of struggles last year, but he has a big fan in Belcher. "I love David Huff," Belcher said. "I think he has a chance to be a big league starter, and a big league starter for a long time. I just hope it's with us -- soon. I've been wrong before. We've all been wrong before. But, man, you just can't look at David Huff, look at the total package and total picture, and think anything but that." The Indians would love if Huff -- 2-11 in 2010 after going 11-8 the previous year -- came out of the gates strong in Spring Training. After all, the starting five could consist of all right-handers. Having a lefty like Huff make a strong bid for a rotation job would help give the staff a different look. It is far too early to start handicapping the race for the back-end jobs, though. Right now, all the Tribe is focusing on is the potential that exists within the rotation. In the second half of 2010, Cleveland's pitching staff posted a 3.89 ERA, which was the fourth-best mark in the AL over that span. Cleveland's 22 wins on the year from rookies led the league and the staff's 10 complete games ranked second. Carmona went 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA in six September starts; Masterson posted a 2.86 ERA after Aug. 4; Talbot went 2-2 with a 2.89 ERA in four outings in September; Carrasco posted a 2-2 record and 3.83 ERA in seven starts after joining the club as a September callup; and Tomlin and Gomez held their own in their first taste of the bigs. "There's no way to really quantify how much that does for those guys," said Belcher, when asked about the strong finish by his pitchers. There is a chance that the Indians will begin the 2011 season with virtually the same rotation it used to close out the 2010 campaign. Then again, teams often need more than eight starters throughout the course of a full 162-game slate, especially when the staff in place is still young and developing. "There's still going to be bumps in the road," Belcher said. "So it'd be nice to have some depth. We'll see how that works out." Added depth could provide some of Cleveland's young arms with more development time on the farm to open the coming season. That is something Antonetti is undoubtedly keeping in mind as he continues his hunt for help this winter. "In an ideal scenario," Antonetti said, "we'd be able to augment our rotation with a veteran starter who has a more established track record. Now, whether or not that's possible? We'll take time to explore that as we go through the offseason."