Mid-October is a bit early to be throwing out crazy trade predictions, but it is certainly not too early to assess what the Cleveland Indians will have available when things really start getting under way during the winter meetings.
If the Tribe's 2015 season told us anything (besides the fact that Francisco Lindor is literally the greatest thing ever), it is that the team is stacked with pitching. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer made up the team’s "big four," while Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin surged late to give them a slew of options for 2016.
With that much depth, what is the best move? One option that may be difficult to swallow is to trade one of them.
The Dzar is coming off his best season as a pro, putting up a 3.45 ERA and striking out a whopping 195 batters. He had a couple of rough patches--particularly late-May and early-June--but the majority of this 2015 season should be drool-worthy to a Major league team needing pitching.
One of the most tradable aspects of Salazar is his contract. Currently, Salazar is under team control through 2016, and up for arbitration until 2020 at the latest. Meaning whoever would acquire him in a deal has the option of signing him long term in the next couple years, or playing it out in arbitration and letting him walk in 2020, when he will be 29 years old.
In Carrasco’s case, the Indians have already done the legwork on a long-term contract. Cleveland inked Carrasco to a 4 year, $22 million contract to avoid arbitration prior to 2015, complete with a $9 million team option in 2019, and a $9.5 million option in 2020. Carrasco is not a free agent until he is 33 years old in 2020.
This was not Carrasco’s break out year (that was definitely his 2.55 ERA 2014 season), but it still his best in terms of fWAR (4.8) and strikeouts (216). Not that it should have much of an impact on his value, but he was also one pitch away from a no-hitter this year, which is always a nice little tidbit to throw in.
Of the three tradeable pitchers, Carrasco is the most likely to be dealt. Not only does he have the best contract (he will never be owed more than $9.5 million in any given season), but the Indians were reportedly close to dealing him at the trade deadline. How close is a mystery, but they were at least talking to other teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays--who eventually went after David Price instead.
Trevor Bauer (almost)
I list Bauer as the third "almost" tradeable pitcher because trading him now would be selling extremely low. He showed signs of being great in 2015, but he had far too many strings of bad games and implosions that culminated in a 4.55 ERA and Terry Francona taking him out of the starting rotation when the Indians were in a playoff chase.
He is eligible for arbitration in 2017, which will probably come cheap unless he rebounds in 2016. If the Indians can convince a desperate team to take him on the potential of a #2 or #3 starter based on his stuff alone, go for it. But more realistically, Mike Chernoff is going to get low-balled based on Bauer’s poor season, which means it makes more sense to hold onto him and hope he does turn into that top of the rotation guy the Indians need him to be.
Why not Corey Kluber?
I just cannot imagine the astronomical package it would take to pry Kluber away from the Indians at this point. He is one season away from a Cy Young-winning, 7.3 fWAR season, and he was worth 5.5 wins this year with a 2.97 FIP.
Oh yeah, and he is under team control under 2022.