The Indians have yet to make any substantial trades outside of sending Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals, but the mere idea of trading Corey Kluber to fill other holes on their roster has drawn out some bizarre tweets from normally level-headed people.
Maybe, understandably, it’s the fear of another team being the Seattle Mariners or Arizona Diamondbacks that’s driving these out of character hot takes. The fear of a team on the cusp of something great tearing it all down because they don’t feel they can get there with their current core. The fear of teams setting themselves back several years and further limiting the landing spots for big-name free agents at another shot five or six years down the road.
Hell, SB Nation’s entire MLB preview for the 2018 season — you know, the thing that’s supposed to get you excited and ready to click on its baseball blogs throughout the season — was about greedy ownership and teams tanking to save a few bucks. The fear and paranoia is very out there, and to a degree it’s warranted. Teams like the Mariners and Diamondbacks probably would have kept pushing forward in years’ past, instead of selling off a year or two before everything really clicked, and the free agent market would be more lucrative for it.
I get it. But the Indians ain’t it.
I’ve even been frustrated with the Indians’ refusal to just go out and fix the outfield with a big signing just because their self-imposed budget didn’t allow it. But I’ve been on the bandwagon of trading away pitchers for outfield depth since the Winter Meetings two years ago when Danny Salazar looked like something to dangle in front of teams. Granted, that’s a little different than Corey Kluber, but the idea of trading Kluber is far from crazy. Merritt ran down the numbers before the rumors even really began — and I’m never going to stop patting him on the back for it, so don’t ask.
How in the world the Indians trading away a pitcher who is on the wrong side of 30, showed early signs of a decline, and is the team’s deepest position while the outfield is completely void leads to takes like this
CLEVELAND EXEC #1: attendance is down, how do we fix that?— Mike Gianella (@MikeGianella) December 10, 2018
EXEC #2: I know, let’s sell off most of our good players and stop trying to win.
EXEC #1: we’ll definitely sell a lot of tickets that way! https://t.co/7pZIj3IyHw
from very smart people is beyond me.
Michael Brantley joined free agency in the offseason, leaving the Indians with not a single star in the outfield. Meanwhile, the starting rotation is packed with pitchers like Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber — with Triston McKenzie waiting in the wings. Is it really that hard to see why the Indians might be willing to trade away their oldest, most expensive, likely declining pitcher to help the weakest part of the team?
While it’d be cool for the Indians to throw around unlimited money to unlimited players, even that strategy doesn’t always work. Even teams like the Dodgers eventually have to say enough is enough and stop spending wildly. But the Indians are smart enough to know that the goal isn’t to blow yourself out for one year, hope for the best, then be forced into a rebuild several times over trying to recover. It occasionally works, sure, but the mere act of getting into the playoffs and taking off at the right time is all you really need to hope for.
You can claim the Indians are being cheap, but there’s obviously more to it than that. The Indians can fix their worst position — their position that has been the worst for years — by trading away a position of massive depth. They can do so with something better than a series of crack-filling veterans, and instead get back someone like Yasiel Puig for the short-term, and a top-flight prospect for the long term. There are better ways to build a team than spending massive amounts of money on short-term solutions, which is exactly what the Indians are doing.
In fact, I’d argue that the “cheapness” of trading Kluber is the least important aspect of it. It all comes back to pitcher depth and lack of it in the outfield. Take this tweet from Matt Winkleman — again, someone who is very smart and who I respect a lot — as an example.
Corey Kluber has $13M guaranteed on his contract (2020 and 2021 are team options). Let's say he wins the Cy Young this year kicking in the boosters on the options, that would be 2 years and $35.5 million for a guy who is in this scenario, coming off his 3rd Cy Young https://t.co/aRRxYaHsIW— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) December 10, 2018
He’s exactly right, the only guaranteed money on Kluber’s contract is in 2019. From this point forward, every year the Indians hold onto Kluber is wasting his trade value, his value to the franchise going forward with almost no risk to their bottom line. Sure, you could bet on it all working one year with him over the next two or three seasons, or you could get a player or two that helps that situation and gives you several more years of contention.
It’s so bizarre that we’ve gone from realizing that future performance — not past performance — should drive decisions, that you should be maximizing your players as much as possible, to closing our eyes and screaming “SPEND MONEY” into the void in hopes of being one of 30 teams to win a World Series in the next 12 months. The cat is already out of the bag and it has been for a while now — you can get great, a lot of times even better, production out of younger players. And it’s becoming increasingly easy to find spot and foster them. Maybe the fix to get players the money they deserve is to get these young players paid, instead of veterans in the MLBA always focusing on getting veterans more money. Maybe even, dare I say, pretend like minor leaguers deserve fair compensation, too. Either way, I’m not going to yell at the Indians for playing within the collectively bargained playground that the two sides have set up.
I get the fears, but this isn’t the Diamondbacks and Mariners all over again. The Indians aren’t tanking or rebuilding, and they’re hardly retooling. They’re reloading from a position of depth.
If the Indians trade Corey Kluber, the White Sox should be all over trying to sign Bryce Harper. The AL Central could be wide open in 2019.— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) December 10, 2018