Neither you, I, nor any outside source with access to the Indians clubhouse really knows if the team is going to trade Mike Clevinger before the Aug. 31 trade deadline. If nothing else, the current Cleveland administration is good at keeping their plans under wraps until they pull the trigger. So we’re left guessing until the time comes.
Before he decided to hop the hypothetical fence and spend a night out in Chicago in the middle of the pandemic (then lied about it), Clevinger was off to a decent start, but still had room for improvement. Over his three starts with the Indians this season, he had 16.2 total innings pitched, 15 strikeouts, 10 walks, and allowed six earned runs and four home runs.
Obviously it is too small of a sample size for any conclusions, but Clevinger looked like he was in the midst of making some changes. He was still dealing with the after effects of last year’s back injury — namely his plant leg giving him fits instead of being the foundation upon which he connects all his energy with mother earth. He was also relying on his fastball less than in year’s past (like most of baseball), and and he was developing a new pitch to use against lefties that Sandy León had no problem calling out as a cutter.
There is little reason to doubt that Clevinger would have ratcheted up his strikeout rate into the double-digits per nine once again and would have started to induce some weaker contact than the did through his first handful of outings if kept starting every five days. Unfortunately, we never got to see it happen on its natural timeline. Clevinger and Plesac screwed up, made things worse with their actions afterwards, and were eventually optioned after the clubhouse appeared to reject the idea of them rejoining the team.
Both are now eligible to be called back up to the major-league squad, but with the trade deadline days away, it makes for an interesting discussion about if, and how, the Indians could possibly trade Clevinger*.
*Technically they could trade Zach Plesac, too, but the idea of doing that is too ridiculous to even mention.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: His little Chicago trip and subsequent pissing off of his teammates will not lower his trade value, and should not make the Indians more eager to trade him. He’s still a supremely talented pitcher with two years of arbitration left before he presumably leaves as a free agent. If traded now, that’s at least three playoffs series he can start for just about any team. That’s an ungodly amount of value in today’s game, and breaking safety protocols is not enough to negate it.
The conversation between the Indians and any team trying to hard ball them over it should be pretty short:
ANTONETTI: Sure, we’ll trade Mike Clevinger. We want [prospect we value as a 65/80].
OPPOSING GM: Good talk, but what about [prospect we value as a 40/80] and some garbage?
OPPOSING GM: Wow, very brave of you. If you don’t trade with us, you’ll either have to turn to a different team in a pitcher-starved market or hold onto your Cy Young candidate pitcher through two-plus years of his prime.
Unless the time off has somehow hampered Clevinger’s ability to develop new pitches on the fly and throw a wipeout slider, teams will find a way to smooth over his transgressions. The Indians are in no way obligated to trade Clevinger because of what he did. For better or worse, time heals all wounds when you pump 95 and drop a hammer curve.
The only reason the Indians should even consider trading Clevinger is to fix their putrid offense, which is a legitimate bargaining point from the other side. The Indians offense ranks 28th in baseball with a .293 team wOBA, and they have the fifth fewest home runs at 26. Their outfield is by far the worst in the league with a combined .248 wOBA, five home runs, and a 4.8% barrel rate. If they are going to continue to refuse prospects like Nolan Jones and Daniel Johnson the opportunity to play and outhit the likes of Mike Freeman (.200/.273/.250, 0 HR, .241 wOBA), Jordan Luplow (.139/.262/.250, 1 HR, .240 wOBA), and Greg Allen (.167/.211/.333, 1 HR, .235 wOBA), then sure — maybe they do have to trade someone to get a bat back.
But how much should the Indians be willing to gamble on trading two and a half years of Clevinger for a bat over the last 30 games? What about if those games do not even happen? That’s the question the Tribe — and everyone else — will face as the deadline approaches. One-year rentals already looked like they were on their out in recent years, but now with even fewer games, a more whacky playoff setup, and the possibility that it call end on a whim, the likelihood of a rental working out get pretty slim.
The Indian could opt for something like they did with Trevor Bauer last season, when they sent him to Cincinnati at the deadline for Yasiel Puig, Franmil Reyes, Scott Moss, and Logan Allen. Puig was the headline by namesake alone, but getting Reyes, and a pair of pitchers as an add-on was a brilliant move. The Indians maybe could have held out for a bigger pile of prospects, or they could have went for a bigger rental, but instead they got a little of both. It didn’t work out, granted, but process over results. And it’s a good process.
The Yankees are a team floated out for Clevinger, and it makes sense. They have too many outfielders and can’t seem to get Clint Frazier to stick anywhere. Bring him home, put him in right every day and let that be that. Squeeze a few other players in there, too. Mike Tauchman? Hell yeah. Miguel Andujar on a flyer? Sure, why not.
The Indians have a rare opportunity with a pitcher who is both expendable and a perfect candidate to stick around. He’s under control for multiple seasons, and will contribute now and for the next few years. To spit at the opportunity to capitalize on that value would be foolish, but keeping him if you cannot find the right offer isn’t bad either.
There’s almost no way the Indians can mess this up, which I’m sure I won’t regret typing any time soon.