I want to start with a comment on the front office: wow. The Indians traded Trevor Bauer and somehow received five players in return, players who can help now and help later. Overall, I did not think this was possible and Antonetti worked some Houdini magic on the Padres to land one big bat, one rental, and three young prospects who may, or may not, help in the short term. All for one and a half seasons on Trevor Bauer. The return, in short, is overwhelming both in terms of added player value in the short term, and long term potential value. I was wrong, I never anticipated a team surrendering valuable, cost controlled, players for a rental like Bauer.
Which brings me to the trade itself. The details of the trade are better covered elsewhere, but for ease here are the players for each team:
San Diego Receives:
OF Taylor Trammel
RHP Trevor Bauer
Overall both the Cincinnati & San Diego returns appear puzzling. Cincinnati sits 6.5 games out of the 2nd Wild Card & the Division, as well as boasting a record below .500. Their run differential indicates better fortune should greet them ahead, but with nearly a dozen teams all vying for Wild Card spots, and the division, their playoff odds appear slim. Fangraphs projects them winning a playoff spot in less than 5% of their simulations. Trevor Bauer, by himself, will not radically change their fortunes (barring a C.C. Sabathia-esque performance from him down the stretch, which he certainly could pull off). On the flip side: Cincy clearly feels they can change their fortunes in 2020, and Bauer can head up the Reds' rotation, and is incentivized to pitch incredibly well due to it being his last season of control prior to free agency. In short, Cincinnati performed a typical prospects-for-veterans trade at the deadline, and gave up about what I'd have hoped to receive for Bauer.
San Diego astounds me more: they sacrificed a cost controlled, mashing, outfielder and a moderately significant pitching prospect, and another young infielder all for Taylor Trammel. Taylor Trammel, by all accounts, is a huge (can't miss!) prospect occasionally listed near the top of baseball's prospect rankings (Keith Law ranked him 14th). On the flip side, Trammel struggled in his age 21 season in Double-A. What stuns me is San Diego swapping out two prospects, and one moderately established Major League outfielder, hoping Trammel becomes a super star. If I were a Padres fan: I'd be furious. Not only did the Padres get worse this season, they are likely worse next year as well (barring other trades); and despite spending $300M on Manny Machado basically decided they will attempt to compete in several years instead of the near future.
Furthermore, while Taylor Trammel boasts enormous pedigree: pedigree is not a guarantee of success. Even highly rated prospects frequently fail, and fail at rates exceeding 50% probability. Baseball America ran an analysis of players traded at the deadline and, on average, a vast majority of players rarely become significant MLB regulars (and not all regulars become stars). Which brings me back to San Diego: they surrendered a MLB regular in Franmil Reyes, arbitration eligible in 2022, and under team control until after the 2024 season. Franmil already hits with significant power, and is projected to finish the 2019 season around 2.5-3.0 fWAR. He's already incredibly valuable, moving him AND other assets for the hope that Trammel becomes a star, in my view, is idiotic.
Which brings me back to Cleveland's haul. Overall, the trade massively favors Cleveland (in my view), especially in the long run. There are three ways to look at it: immediate outlook, long run outlook, and overall strategy. Considering each view individually:
Immediately the trade feels like a wash for Cleveland. Bauer was worth 1.9 bWAR (2.7 fWAR), while the two regulars (Franmil Reyes & Yasiel Puig) were worth a combined 1.3 bWAR combined. When considering Puig likely replaces Jake Bauers:
.235/.309/.382 OPS+ 80, bWAR -0.4
.252/.302/.475 OPS+ 96, bWAR 0.8
Overall Puig provides about a win difference over Jake Bauers in the outfield. Puig also started to really heat up in the last month, and has a track record of success in over 2,700 plate appearances, with an OPS+ of 127 entering the 2019 season. In short, if Puig plays to his potential, he should provide a huge offensive boost over Bauers. Puig is also a solid defensive player in the outfield.
Franmil Reyes slots in as a designated hitter. Although Reyes only boasts a bWAR of 0.4, much of his value falls from his awful defense. He cost the team 10 runs this year, according to DRS. However, Franmil likely receives a vast majority of his plate appearances as a DH, where Cleveland ranks 11th in the AL (with a bWAR of -0.8) ahead of only Seattle, Toronto, Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit. The confusion here is Bauers actually leads Cleveland in plate appearances at both Left Field & DH. Either way, Reyes or Puig should greatly enhance either position.
The trouble comes when we consider the starting rotation. In the immediate term Danny Salazar will replace Trevor Bauer in the rotation, with incredibly uncertain results. Dzar has not touched a Major League mound in two years, and while his performance in rehab appears promising, there is no guarantee Danny will return anywhere near peak performance. Other replacements include: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Jefry Rodriguez, and Aaron Civale. Let's take them individually:
Corey Kluber. I am on record arguing that Corey Kluber is a better pitcher than Trevor Bauer, and I stand by that opinion. If Kluber returns healthy: he's an upgrade over Bauer. The question is when Kluber will return; he has yet to pitch in a rehab outing.
Carlos Carrasco. The Indians just placed Cookie on the 60 Day Injured List, with Leukemia. While some mentioned Carlos may return in 2019, I am 100% skeptical. In my opinion, counting on Carrasco returning in 2019 at all is dubious, and expecting him to perform at his career norm even moreso.
Aaron Civale. Civale pitched one big league game, a 6 inning scoreless performance, in the big leagues. In the minors, Civale has pitched to a 3.12 ERA (2.13 this year in Columbus & 2.67 in Akron). He may be a really good candidate to join the rotation, but remains young and minimally tested.
In short, to replace their third best starter Cleveland is relying on a combination of three injured starters (one with Leukemia), another guy who has not pitched in two seasons, and a rookie. Unless Puig & Franmil blow it out of the park (literally: more home runs please!) there is a decent chance the Indians wind up with a moderately worse starting rotation. It does not help that two of our current starters, Zach Plesac & Adam Plutko, are dancing on a deck of cards. Plesac's 3.10 ERA looks shiny, but his 5.10 FIP (xFIP of 5.11) does not; Plutko is even worse with an ERA of 4.83 and an FIP over 6. Bauer's departure assures us both of them will remain in Cleveland initially, and possibly both of them over the long haul (depending on how Kluber & Carlos return).
Overall, there is a good chance this move helps us more than it hurts us in the short run. However, due to the unique factors of the 2019 season: there is also a moderately high chance our rotation becomes much weaker in 2019 due to losing Bauer. Regardless of Bauer's personal antics: he's a hell of a pitcher.
In the long run, even for 2020, this move realistically vastly improves our roster. With Bauer's salary removed from our payroll we potentially open up the possibility of adding to the roster in 2020 via free agency, as well as allowing us greater flexibility with extensions. The Indians currently only guarantee $52.5M in contracts in 2020, including:
The Tribe holds options on Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, Oliver Perez & Dan Otero. Otero & Kipnis will assuredly see their options declined (for a total of $2.6M added to the 2019 payroll if my understanding is accurate). However, assuming Kluber & Ollie's options are picked up, which I suspect they will be, we add $20.25M to the payroll, for a total of $72.75M. The following players are arbitration eligible:
Lindor should get a nice raise (let's say $20M), Clevinger probably gets a decent raise (let's say $8M around what Bauer got), and Goody & Naquin should cost less. There is no guarantee Plawecki or Danny Salazar will even be tendered contracts. Overall the payroll should drop to around $110M. Had Bauer remained on the roster his projected $20M+ salary would have broken the bank. Franmil Reyes slots in as the regular DH, and automatically improves the outlook regardless of who was previously penciled in as our DH.
Additionally the Tribe immediately slides Logan Allen into our depth chart in the rotation, and adds two solid prospects in the lower minors. In short, the long run payroll and offensive outlooks vastly improve.
Here is where I will offer both praise, and a critique. The Indians improved their offense immediately, and likely in 2020 as well. However, Trevor Bauer remained a cog in our rotation for this and next season and we really lack anyone of Bauer's caliber to realistically replace him. The likely replacements: Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and Aaron Civale, are all likely worse than Trevor over the next season and a half. With Corey Kluber out with a broken arm, and Carlos Carrasco out with Leukemia: it's a gamble whether the rotation will remain as strong over the remainder of 2019 & in 2020 as it was from 2016-2018.
While many argue trading Trevor Bauer was the only way to improve the offense, I do not buy this at all. The Indians could have acquired Yasiel Puig without trading Trevor Bauer, in my opinion. I reference Puig because he was clearly available, and would represent a clear upgrade over our current left fielder: Jake Bauers. Acquiring Puig solves the biggest hole in our outfield right now. This also would not have stopped us from acquiring another player, like Justin Smoak. Neither player would have necessitated us to surrender one of our top starters during a stretch run, and addressed our biggest needs immediately.
Overall, I am ecstatic the Tribe acquired two sluggers who can immediately slot into the middle of the lineup for Bauer. I fully admit: I was wrong, a deal did exist and it was way more than I anticipated (I would argue more than most people anticipated); I underestimated how much the league values Bauer in the short term. On the flip side, I am disappointed the Indians chose to improve the club without sacrificing a critical asset to the 2019 and 2020 teams. I remain steadfast in my belief that this could cause damage with swaths of the fanbase. Friends and family of mine are already asking my opinion, and confused about the return for Bauer. Most, reasonably, focus on Yasiel Puig for Trevor Bauer, and find it underwhelming.
This is a strange day for me as a fan. I am glad Antonetti addressed two glaring weaknesses on this team (the outfield and DH), but I will miss Trevor Bauer. Bauer was a gamer, and he managed to pitch deep into ballgames, which is a seriously underrated skill in the modern game. Bauer, in some ways, reminds me of old school starters who regularly tossed over 100 pitches and lasted past the 6th inning.
On the bright side: we're watching a pennant race, and hopefully Kluber can return quickly to fill the void. I am hopeful Antonetti's gamble will pay off.