Let’s take a jaunt back to 2012. A projectable 21-year-old Cuban phenom inked a seven-year deal worth $42 million. Sure, Bryce Harper was in the midst of a Rookie-of-the-Year campaign as a 19-year-old kid, but… Seven years? 42 million? For a rookie? OK, it was Los Angeles, so money is trivial, but the point holds.
What is even more impressive for the Cuban outfielder? He immediately began proving he was worth it. He slashed an easy .319/.391/.534 with a .925 OPS — a number that would have slotted him ninth among OPS leaders in 2013 had he received 120 more at-bats — hit 19 HRs and stole 11 bases. He followed it up in 10 postseason games by hitting .333. Not to mention his rifle-like arm in right field.
He has regressed in each of the past two seasons, on-field antics have bothered both the Dodgers and the opposition, and he struggles to harness his rare blend of athleticism and size into comparable production.
So here we are, as Yasiel Puig (if the hints weren’t enough) sits in a crowded Dodger outfield with three years and $19.5 million left on his contract. LA has expressed its willingness to listen on offers, which is nothing more than longhand for ‘we don’t want him,’ in this scenario. Carl Crawford mans left, Joc Pederson — although a trade could change this — patrols center and Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero are all worthy options in right.
Simply put, Puig is neither needed, nor wanted in a Dodger uniform.
But his tools and early production have plenty of teams at least keeping tabs on Puig conversations, which leads us to Cleveland.
Cleveland has enough MLB talent to think Puig would be of benefit to its playoff chances in 2016, but has enough pitching and prospect-depth to open the ears of LA.
The Indians have two plausible trade options:
1. Deal a small bundle of prospects in exchange for Puig
2. Deal one current MLB starting pitcher straight up for Puig
Either has benefits for both sides, so here are the possibilities:
Trevor Bauer for Yasiel Puig
Bauer, much like Puig, is a little hard-headed and has struggled to put his raw talent together into equitable production. Cleveland maintains its trio of Corey Kluber–Carlos Carrasco–Danny Salazar and can immediately slot Puig into RF moving Lonnie Chisenhall to a reserve role (of which he is best suited for), while the Dodgers pick up a high-upside arm for the middle of their rotation and loosen up an otherwise clogged outfield. The 24-year-old duo are separated in age by less than two months.
Bauer could benefit from a winning culture (generally speaking) and veteran leadership, while Puig could fare better in Cleveland where the expectations are minuscule and a down season just means ‘there’s always next year.’
With Los Angeles losing leverage, the Indians would certainly be able to keep their upper echelon of prospects, thus, Clevinger and Kaminsky could be a headlining-duo the Dodgers would listen on.
Clevinger turns 25 this month, has endured Tommy John surgery and walked 40 batters a year ago. Now to the negatives. OK, I’m exaggerating, but maybe not as much as you’d think.
At 25, after finishing an impressive AA season in 2015, Clevinger should be ready, by midseason, to contribute to an LA rotation that has a gaping hole left by Greinke’s departure. The TJ surgery certainly isn’t desirable, but in a positive light, the surgery can cause some players to return better and stronger than they were pre-injury. It’s a stretch, but it’s not the end of the world. And the 40 walks across 158 innings (2.3 BB/9) is actually a significant improvement on his 43 walks across 99 2/3 innings (3.9) in 2014.
Rob Kaminsky is a near 180-degree opposite from Clevinger. Five inches shorter, 30 pounds lighter and three years younger, Kaminsky is different pitcher, too. Kaminsky does not have the raw ‘stuff’ of Clevinger as he won’t blow you away, but he gets outs. The former prep first round pick, Kaminsky mixes his pitches, keeps hitters off-balance and just knows how to pitch. He won’t be an ace, but he has a good chance to be a stable middle-of-the-rotation piece on a contender in the future.
Nellie Rodriguez played 133 games last season. He struck out 159 times. Swing-and-missing will always be a part of Rodriguez’ game, but his power makes up for it. He has had at least 21 HRs and 88 RBIs in each of the last two seasons and could be a decent flier for the Dodgers to take a gamble on. The concerning note is that he looked extremely overmatched in his taste of AA last season hitting just .118 and striking out in more than 1/3 of his at-bats.
The Indians could afford the losses because it’s pitching, both in MLB and MiLB feature depth, and it surprisingly has a handful of guys comparable to Rodriguez’ skillset.
Ultimately, these are talks that may never happen, but both teams could benefit if they do. One team needs a bat, the other an arm, so a swap of players at positions of strength for positions of need only makes sense. LA could holdout for its biggest possible return, or maybe it elects to gamble on a strong 2016 first half from Puig before pawning him off at peak-value.
Either way, it’s a deal that the Indians should be pestering the Dodgers for. Then again, Cleveland always seems to shy away from things that make sense.