I have no idea why Josh Tomlin is still with the Cleveland Indians.
Scratch that, I know exactly why he’s still on the roster. The reason is both obvious and a genuine concern. It’s concerning not only because it helps explain why Tomlin is still here now, but also why he’ll likely be on the roster come postseason.
Despite Tomlin enduring the worst season of his career, he’s yet to be jettisoned from Cleveland, and it’s likely due to the trademark loyalty of manager Terry Francona.
I’m not here to sully the name of Francona, who’s helped transform Cleveland into a consistent contender. If he has one fatal flaw, though, it’s his remaining loyal to his veterans regardless of the circumstances.
We saw a perfect example of this last postseason. Michael Brantley was given a spot on the Indians’ playoff roster, which surprised many considering he was activated from the disabled list just days before the announcement. However, Francona felt one of the team’s longest-tenured players deserved to be included in the postseason regardless.
The move backfired. Brantley looked woefully rusty, tallying just one hit. The concerns about his health were confirmed when he underwent surgery on his ankle just days after Cleveland was bounced from the ALDS.
As bad as this example was, what we’re seeing from Tomlin is much worse.
The veteran pitcher’s ERA has yet to dip below 6.00 this season. As of today, opposing hitters are batting .300 against him. However, you’ll find no stat of his more alarming than his home run rate.
In 2017, Tomlin gave up 23 homers in 141 innings pitched. Three months into this season, he’s allowed 21 home runs in just 49 innings.
Yes, you read this correctly. Tomlin is just two short of his home run count for the entire 2017 season, and it’s taken him almost 100 less innings pitched to reach it.
And yet, he’s still here, all despite the fact there’s been zero indication this is just a funk he can work himself out of. While the team sent him to the 10-day DL, it’s difficult to believe this is just a matter of resting an ailing hamstring.
Instead, I see it as more evidence of Francona’s inability to quit on one of his veterans.
Statistically speaking, there’s no reason to keep Tomlin on the team. The same can be said from a financial standpoint, especially considering he’s on the final year of his contract.
There’s no other reason to believe Tomlin and his career-high 1.49 WHIP are still in Cleveland than the allegiance he’s getting from his manager. In Tomlin, Francona sees a guy who’s been with the Indians for his entire career, who stepped up big two postseasons ago. As a result, there’s no sense in parting with him despite being an on-mound liability.
Tomlin being relegated from starter to reliever this season is just more proof of this loyalty. Sure, the Indians’ bullpen was an unending trash fire when he was sent there back in May. However, his on-mound struggles hardly implied all he needed was a lighter workload.
I’ll never discredit Tomlin for the work he did in Cleveland’s 2016 World Series run. Who knows how far that team gets without him turning in surprisingly strong performances.
However, to reserve him a roster spot two years later solely because of this, despite how awful he’s pitching now, is undeniably foolish.
It’s easy for the Indians to look at their sizable lead in the AL Central and see no reason to panic about Tomlin’s struggles. It’s just as easy to point out how unimpressive Cleveland’s lead really is, due to how laughably weak the AL Central is.
The Indians should be using their status within the division as an opportunity to find a better relief option than Tomlin, as I struggle to believe there’s nobody in their farm system unable to perform better than him right now. Instead, they’re seeing their sizable standings lead as a chance to let the veteran work his issues out, most likely due to his place in the clubhouse.
Cleveland, a team trying to bring home an elusive World Series win, is keeping Tomlin around despite him showing zero hints of effective pitching. This is happening because of Francona’s respect for what he’s done in the past.
While I appreciate and acknowledge what Tomlin has given this team over the last eight years, what he’s offering now outweighs this. As a result, it’s time for Cleveland to move on.