Was there a more cursed trade in all of MLB than the Corey Kluber trade?
On Dec. 15, 2019, the Cleveland Indians traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, in addition to cash considerations, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for outfielder Delino DeShields and relief pitcher Emmanuel Clase.
Most saw it for the shameless salary dump that it was, but there was at least a handful of fans who talked themselves into believing that Clase was a steal. Then on Feb. 27, the Tribe announced Clase was expected to miss 8-12 weeks due to a back strain. About two months later, Clase was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Then came the start of the season, which had been delayed until late July. In his debut with the Rangers, Kluber lasted only one inning before being pulled with tightness in his right shoulder. He wouldn’t make another start the rest of the season, and Texas has already declined his $18 million club option for 2021, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
That brings us to Delino DeShields, who would seem to be the sole survivor of the trade. But he was not unscathed. DeShields tested positive for COVID-19 in early July and missed the start of the abbreviated season while recovering and working his way back into game shape.
In spite of his inauspicious start, DeShields ended up starting in 32 games in center field for the Indians. One rationale for trading for DeShields was that he would be solid defensively in center field, but he finished the season ranked 14th (out of 19) in FanGraphs defense among American League center fielders with at least 100 plate appearances.
Another rationale was that he would provide the Tribe with speed on the basepaths. He finished tied for third on the team in stolen bases with three, behind José Ramírez (10) and Francisco Lindor (6). He was caught stealing twice, so he only attempted five swipes. But among AL center fielders with at least 100 plate appearances, DeShields did rank 7th in base running (1.5). That mark was also good enough to rank 2nd on the team in BsR.
At the plate, DeShields left much to be desired. But as maligned as he was for his offensive production (or lack thereof), when all was said and done, he was perhaps the Indians’ most consistent bat in the outfield. His .252 batting average bested every other Tribe outfielder with a plate appearance. Only Bradley Zimmer had a better on-base percentage, but he played in about half the games that DeShields did. He trailed only Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow in slugging percentage. And finally, DeShields’ 71 wRC+ finished behind only Zimmer (83) and Luplow (80).
Most importantly though, he led the Indians with four sacrifice bunts.
So I guess the takeaway here is that DeShields was ... okay? By the organization’s standards, sure. When the Tribe traded for DeShields, who had spent five seasons at the big league level with Texas, fans wondered if maybe the front office saw a ceiling that other clubs didn’t. But instead I think Cleveland saw his floor and and wanted his average production. Seriously. I don’t know if they foresaw Oscar Mercado cratering after a breakout rookie season, but I believe DeShields was their failsafe. Was he supposed to start 32 games for them? Probably not. But there is some comfort in certainty, and DeShields offered them exactly that.
Is this the behavior of a franchise trying to win a World Series? Of course not. But as I said, I believe the Indians were more concerned with sustaining their floor than raising their ceiling.