With the Major League Baseball trade deadline approaching, most teams have identified themselves as buyers or sellers. The Cleveland Indians, who have played some of their best baseball of late and trail the Minnesota Twins by only three games in the American League Central, are in a unique situation. While the easy answer would be to buy, the Indians’ lack of payroll flexibility and vision for the long-term have forced them to explore all options. Tuesday night, the Indians struck early, trading Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal which included the San Diego Padres, netting them outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes, infielder Victor Nova, and pitchers Logan Allen and Scott Moss.
Last offseason many key contributors such as Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, and Michael Brantley were either traded or departed in free agency, as the Indians had limited resources to bring them back. Even Indians owner Paul Dolan said to “enjoy him,” in regards to Francisco Lindor because he knows the reality that is ahead.
The Indians had a couple of intriguing pieces they were able to shop, but Bauer became the obvious player to move. In 24 starts this year, Bauer has posted a 3.79 ERA with 185 strikeouts in 156.2 innings pitched, which provides even more value in the postseason. Reyes and Puig are having explosive power seasons with over 20 home runs apiece and provide immediate help to both corner outfield positions.
Meanwhile, with the Indians deciding to trade Bauer, he might be the only top pitcher that gets moved before the trade deadline; Madison Bumgarner and Matt Boyd are most likely going to stay with their current teams (San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers). Starting pitching has also been a need for teams such as the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, and Atlanta Braves. With Marcus Stroman off the board and Noah Syndergaard underachieving, those teams are now forced to settle for other options, whereas the bidding war for Bauer never really materialized.
As Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic previously mentioned, the Indians were tempted to move Bauer as the deadline neared, however the fact that they’re the hottest team in the AL this month, a 17-5 record in July, should’ve given them enough of a reason to hold onto their chips and be strictly buyers.
Strength of schedule has been in the Indians’ favor in July, which is probably a factor in how well they’ve played, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Pitching behind Bauer remains their strong suit, yet Shane Bieber making an All-Star Game appearance and Zach Plesac producing immediately weren’t supposed to be the reasons why their pitching has excelled, at least this season.
Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco, have all spent time on the injured list this season, leading to the club’s depth being tested. The Houston Astros, led by two aces with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, would have a substantial advantage to Cleveland’s top of the rotation, and the Astros are still looking to upgrade their pitching even more. They desire exactly what the Indians had in Bauer, on top of the performance Verlander put on display Tuesday night in Cleveland, as he threw seven shutout innings and totaled 13 strikeouts.
For those who support the Indians trading Bauer, we often heard how it would only make sense if it would not impact their chances of winning in 2019. Despite how effective the other pitchers have been, they would lack that difference maker at the top, which is why Bauer is so coveted right now. It would be risky to have Kluber be a game one starter after making only seven starts this year, and his postseason play has been inconsistent.
The main reason for trading Bauer is to expand the window of opportunity, but wouldn’t younger prospects with club control be a smarter path to take? Allen is an intriguing top 100 prospect, but Taylor Trammell was the top prospect, and he went to the Padres instead. It’s not worth trading a player like Bauer where your return is narrowed by trying to buy and sell in the same deal.
Instead, the team should’ve focused on reinforcements at the deadline without sacrificing top prospects. They already acquired Hunter Wood and Christian Arroyo from the Tampa Bay Rays. Wood can provide pitching depth, and Arroyo, a once top prospect in the Giants organization, could benefit from consistent playing time.
Outfield was a need in the offseason, and despite the emergence of AL Rookie of the Year candidate Oscar Mercado, they knew it had to be addressed. Puig, who they acquired Tuesday night, was a sensible target without moving Bauer at a fair price, being a rental.
While maximizing Bauer’s value was the number one reason to trade him, the Indians are in this position because of their payroll. He’s arbitration eligible this year, and his 2020 salary might be as high as $20 million. Kluber is owed $17.5 million next year, and Carlos Carrasco recently signed an extension paying him $10.2 million.
Although the Reds would’ve had Bauer for one less postseason push, this was a trade that could’ve waited until the winter, as they could’ve retooled their roster the way they did last offseason. Puig’s spot could’ve been addressed in free agency, and the Padres would still have wanted to make Reyes expendable, since he fits better in the AL. If this was a few months ago, when the team was closer to .500 and unsure of getting a Wild Card spot, perhaps Bauer becomes more available for a different kind of return. Now, the focus turns to Bumgarner, who could stay on a team in worse position than the Indians.
While it appears the Indians tried to do the best to extract present and future value for Bauer, they should’ve held onto him and kept him a focus of their desire to win in 2019.