For the longest time, no one seemed to tire of pointing out how reliever Vinnie Pestano was all the Cleveland organization needed to set starting pitcher Mike Clevinger from the Los Angeles Angels.
Pestano was effective in relief for a Los Angeles team that won the AL West and finished with the best record in the American League in 2014. He appeared in 12 regular seasons for the Angels, recording a 0.93 ERA in 9.2 innings of relief. The Angels were swept in three games by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS, but Pestano did his part, making three scoreless appearances.
But that’s all the value Los Angeles would get from Pestano. He seemed to run out of gas the following season, recording a 5.40 ERA in 19 relief appearances before being designated for assignment in July 2015. He never pitched in the big leagues again.
Mike Clevinger was a different story. After making his major-league debut with the Guardians on May 18, 2016, he went on to become a key cog in their starting rotation and was worth a cumulative 11 WAR over his first four seasons on the big league roster. With two years of team control left on his contract, Clevinger was traded to the San Diego Padres in August 2020.
As Clevinger returns to Cleveland on Tuesday night to face his old ball club for the first time, it’s not difficult to see how that trade has transformed this team.
If you need a refresher, Cleveland sent Clevinger, outfielder Greg Allen, and a Player To Be Named Later to the Padres in exchange for pitcher Cal Quantrill, catcher Austin Hedges, shortstop Gabriel Arias, utility infielder Owen Miller, outfielder Josh Naylor, and left-handed pitcher Joey Cantillo. Knuckleball pitcher Matt Waldron would become the PTBNL, completing the trade.
Waldron is currently with the San Antonio Missions, the Padres’ Double-A affiliate, where he boasts a 5.03 ERA through his first four starts of the season. San Diego released Allen at the conclusion of the 2020 season and he now calls Pittsburgh home, though he has yet to make a plate appearance for the Pirates after ending up on the 60-day injured list with a hamstring strain.
Finally, Clevinger made three starts for the Padres in 2020 before getting pulled after the first inning of his fourth start with bicep tightness. He was able to return to the club for the postseason but suffered an elbow injury after one inning of work against the Dodgers. Clevinger then missed the entire 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
For Cleveland, the trade provided critical components of their current roster. Of the six players received in exchange for Clevinger, Allen, and Waldron, four of them are starters on the big league club, and one is only awaiting his turn to join the Guardians’ full-time.
Cal Quantrill has settled into a rotation spot. He was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in the back half of the 2021 season, finishing the year with a 2.89 ERA and 1.9 WAR. This season, his ERA sits at 3.27 through four starts, though his K/9 is a career-low 4.09.
Owen Miller, after making his big league debut last year, is one of the team’s hottest hitters this season, slashing .377/.444/.660 in 63 plate appearances. Not even a brief stint on the COVID injured list could put the brakes on his breakout performance at the plate.
Josh Naylor, having recovered from a horrific lower leg injury that sidelined him for most of last season, has never looked better. Since returning from the injured list, he has slashed .313/.340/.479 in 50 plate appearances, earning him an everyday lineup spot.
We won’t talk about Austin Hedges’ offensive output, but I don’t need to remind you that his value to this ball club revolves entirely around his stellar work behind home plate.
Gabriel Arias made his major league debut earlier this season as part of a brief call-up for a doubleheader against the White Sox, but it’s only a matter of time before he returns to Cleveland on a more permanent basis. He is one of the organization’s top prospects, though he is battling through a slow start to the season at Triple-A Columbus with a .197/.269/.380 slash line.
Joey Cantillo has not turned a lot of heads at Double-A Akron, where a high walk rate led to a 4.50 ERA in five appearances last season and a 4.20 ERA through 15 innings of work this season.
Hedges will be a free agent after this season, but Quantrill, Miller, and Naylor are all under team control through at least 2025. So it’s likely that those three and even perhaps Arias will serve as part of the team’s foundation for the foreseeable future, which is remarkable when you consider that all four of them were acquired in a single trade. We’ve all bemoaned the front office’s hemming and hawing when it comes to adding to the roster, but there is no denying that they are rarely on the losing end when they manage to finalize a trade.
To think, it all started with Vinnie Pestano. Just like that trade, the Guardians are once again looking like they’ve fleeced their trade partner, though we’ll see what the future holds.