Most of the Cleveland Indians news over the last several weeks centered around a potential trade of either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Whenever a Cy Young-caliber pitcher is available during the off-season it deserves to be in the news, though most reports suggest that the Indians will trade only one of the two stars.
If the Indians’ goal is to improve the team as much as possible for the remainder of its current championship window, though, would it make sense to trade both of the players? While this post started as an exercise to “jump the shark” on Indians all the trade rumors, it turns out it’s not as ludicrous as it might sound.
Why the Indians might want to do it
Let’s start by assuming that Kluber and Bauer are traded this off-season. What will the roster look like moving forward?
With the extension of Carlos Carrasco both he and Jose Ramirez are under team control through 2023. Other noteworthy players that will still be in their arbitration years at that time include Shane Bieber, Greg Allen, and Yandy Diaz.
2023 represents the far end of the Indians’ possible championship window. If we shorten the window to the end of 2020 we can add Francisco Lindor, Brad Hand, Roberto Perez, and Mike Clevinger. I think it is safe to assume that the Indians will buy out the contracts of Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis, and Yonder Alonso.
Danny Salazar, Adam Plutko, and Cody Anderson will still be around, though to what effect it is difficult to guess.
These are the most noteworthy players. If we look to prospects that may impact the roster by 2020, we find Triston McKenzie, Nolan Jones, Yu Chang, Bobby Bradley, Daniel Johnson, Aaron Civale, Nick Sandlin, and Oscar Mercado.
That gives us the following prospective roster of potentially useful players:
SP: Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie.
SP/RP: Cody Anderson, Danny Salazar, Aaron Civale, Sam Hentges, Adam Plutko.
RP: Brad Hand, Neil Ramirez, Nick Goody, Nick Sandlin.
C: Eric Haase, Roberto Perez. (If Noah Naylor is up by 2020 it means he’s an absolute monster, but that’s improbable)
IF: Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Yandy Diaz, Bobby Bradley, Yu Chang, Nolan Jones.
OF: Greg Allen, Oscar Mercado, Daniel Johnson, Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer, possibly Nolan Jones depending on his glove work.
Not all of those players (the prospects in particular) will be on the roster either due to trades or flaming out. There is one thing that I think we can agree upon, though — the Indians are probably going to be fine at starting pitcher. Carrasco may decline some; Bieber’s ceiling may be lower than we think; McKenzie may peak as a mid-to-back-rotation arm. Still, just by eyeballing this roster after two 5-WAR pitchers are traded away, you probably have no trouble at all finding five good starting pitchers. That’s also assuming only one of the SP/RP group is able to stick as a back-end starter. My bet is on it being Hentges, with Salazar and Civale emerging as reliable relievers.
Speaking of which, the bullpen remains a little bit of a mystery that needs help. That being said, relievers are also the most volatile in value from year-to-year except for the most valuable, and in my opinion it’s foolish to invest long-term in most relievers. Three years is about the extent of a contract I’d be comfortable with, especially given the way Tito rides “his guys.”
Two MVP candidates bolster the infield at SS and 2B/3B. Between Bobby Bradley, Yandy Diaz, Nolan Jones, and Yu Chang, I think it’s safe to bet that the Indians will find at least one reliable starter for one of the two remaining spots.
We finally arrive at the outfield. I remain high on Greg Allen but as a stable-if-unspectacular option. The floors on both Naquin and Zimmer are limitless with ceilings plummeting to catch up. Daniel Johnson is toolsier than an explosion at a Lowe’s distribution center but so raw that projecting his potential value is a fools errand, and Oscar Mercado might manage to become an every day CF. Again, let’s be conservative and say only one of these guys develops well enough to be an average everyday outfielder.
The Indians — even after trading Bauer and Kluber — are likely to have a starting rotation that is at least league average in the year 2020. With McKenzie and Bieber’s current trends, it may be much better than average. The bullpen will need some work; the infield is missing only a piece or two; and the outfield needs a miracle. Did you know that Michael Bourne is the second most valuable Indians outfielder since 2013 after Michael Brantley? That may still be true after 2020 unless the Indians do something about it.
We’ve spoken before about how the Indians have a surplus of starting pitching, but not the extent to which this is the case. After taking a deeper look at it it makes sense that the Indians will almost certainly move Kluber. Right now that trade looks like it will net Alex Verdugo and a few other pieces from the Dodgers. I’m not optimistic enough to think that Cody Bellinger is going to be one of them.
Unless, just maybe, you convince the Dodgers to take Bauer as well.
What does that trade look like?
Indians trade: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, George Valera (or another similar prospect with high upside)
Dodgers trade: Alex Verdugo, Cody Bellinger, Alex Wood, Rich Hill
Why it works: The Dodgers have a ridiculous number of capable outfielders. Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernandez, and Matt Kemp are all at worst perfectly acceptable starters. While Taylor played a significant amount of SS last season, that won’t be happening with Corey Seager back from injury. They are giving up a top prospect and a current stud in the outfield, so Valera is tacked on to give the Dodgers something down the road.
Meanwhile, Wood was already bumped out of the starting rotation toward the end of the 2018 season. With Bauer and Kluber arriving on the roster there is definitely no room for him along with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu all sticking around. I think Rich Hill comes over purely out of salary concerns; he’s set to make $18.76M in 2019 and it sure wouldn’t hurt the Indians to have a stable left-handed starter for one season while McKenzie finishes his time in the minors.
Even if Bauer and Kluber take a step back next season in terms of fWAR — 6.1 and 5.6 dropping to 5.1 and 4.6 — the Dodgers would immediately have the best starting rotation in baseball. Kershaw, Kluber, Bauer, Buehler, and Ryu, with Maeda gouing to the bullpen with the ability to spot start. And they still have Ross Stripling, who in this scenario they use to bulk up the bullpen. They improve their starting pitching and Bellinger is the only piece they lose from a lineup that posted the highest offensive value by fWAR and wRC+ in all of baseball last season while leading the National League with 804 runs scored. They’re a threat to win 100 games without blinking after this trade.
Meanwhile, the Indians immediately put Verdugo and Bellinger into RF and CF, respectively. The starting rotation stars Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Alex Wood, and Rich Hill, guest starring Adam Plutko and Danny Salazar when necessary. The lineup might look something like this:
SS - Lindor
2B - Ramirez/Kipnis
CF - Bellinger
1B - Encarnacion
3B - Diaz/Chang
RF - Verdugo
DH - Diaz vs L/Alonso vs R
LF - Kipnis/4OF
C - Haase/Perez
4OF - Allen/Zimmer/Leonys Martin. You can do some juggling with Bellinger to 1B, Kipnis to 2B, etc. to give people a day off.
This is also a lineup that looks plenty strong in 2020 as well; remember, the Indians have team options on Encarnacion, Alonso, and Kipnis.
It doesn’t turn the Indians into a behemoth, but Verdugo and Bellinger immediately solve the glaring issue with the Indians — what on Earth to do with the outfield?
I think fixing the bullpen requires much less courage and creativity; again, relievers tend to be the most volatile performs from year to year. There will likely be relatively cheap options late in free agency or reliable relievers available via trade that will cost much, much less than the worth of a starting pitcher or outfielder.
Okay, but it’s not going to happen
Probably not. This would be the biggest blockbusters in a decade. Still, the Dodgers and Indians make too much sense as trade partners to not deal at least one OF and SP, respectively.
It is probably more realistic for the Indians to seek out two different teams to which they would deal each pitcher if they decide to go that route.
I’m also not really sure that I want it to happen. Losing two starting pitchers, regardless of whom the Indians receive in return, is not an easy shock to overcome. It would signal that the Indians have tremendous faith in Shane Bieber, and possibly that the payroll concerns of the front office are even deeper than we imagined. If they did make this move I would very much hope that an extension for Francisco Lindor might follow.
It’s difficult to gauge how each team values the players involved. Maybe the Dodgers think Alex Wood will manage to stay in their starting rotation and overcome his consistency issues. Maybe Alex Verdugo will be more like a healthy Lonnie Chisenhall than a healthy Roberto Clemente. Maybe the Dodgers also want to focus more on their bullpen than their starting rotation. It’s also possible that the Dodgers wouldn’t be willing to move Hill and Wood.
This entire proposal fails to take into account injuries. It also assumes that the Indians need the most help in the outfield, and that the bullpen will somewhat take care of itself through the return of Danny Salazar and the usual suspects from free agency. That’s not a given, and losing some depth in the rotation does mean something would need to be done elsewhere to get additional relief help.
Plus, if they did go through with it, imagine how much bizarre that potential World Series would be. I’d have a very confused cry if Kluber threw a perfect game to win Game 7 for the Dodgers.
At this time I wholeheartedly accept your most creative insults.