The Best and Worst Trade of the Decade for the Cleveland Indians

For the Cleveland Indians, the decade of the 2010s will forever be remembered as the 10-year run where they blew a 3-1 series lead in the Fall Classic. It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. In the second half of the decade the Indians possessed a deep roster. Headlined by homegrown studs such as Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis, among others, they had a deep, well-versed offense.

Meanwhile, they sported one of the best pitching staffs in Major League Baseball headlined by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, among others. Becoming one of the best teams in the American League came with crafty maneuvering by the front office — although not every player swap was a boom.

Over the next several weeks Baseball Essential will be doing a series on the best and worst trade every team in Major League Baseball has made over the last decade. Here is the best and worst trade the Cleveland Indians have made since 2010.

The Best Trade the Cleveland Indians Have Made Since 2010: Cleveland Acquires Mike Clevinger From the Los Angeles Angels for Vinnie Pestano (August 7, 2014)

Merriam-Webster defines “theft” as “the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.” The Cleveland Indians acquiring Mike Clevinger from the Los Angeles Angels for Vinnie Pestano fits that desperation.

Clevinger got called up to the show in 2016 but pitched his first full season at the big-league level in 2017, making 27 appearances, 21 of which were starts. Across those appearances the right-hander recorded a 3.11 ERA, a 147 ERA+, and 137 strikeouts; the ensuing seasons brought more of the same.

In 2018 and 2019 he recorded ERAs of 3.02 and 2.71, WHIPs of 1.16 and 1.06, averaged slightly over a strikeout per inning in both seasons, and posted a career-best 173 ERA+ across 21 starts last season. Clevinger is a power pitcher. He gets considerable movement and overpowers hitters with his fastball, has a nasty slider, and is a force to be reckoned with.

Injuries are the only thing standing in Clevinger’s way of being a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. Last season he dealt with a back injury and recently suffered a knee injury. At full force, he has the makeup of an ace. With franchise fixtures such as Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer being traded over the past year, Clevinger’s presence is as vital as ever to the Indians rotation. One would think the production and stability he has put forth in his three and a half seasons in the big leagues would’ve commanded a handful of top prospects in a trade, right?

When the Angels traded Clevinger they were battling for first place in the AL West and looking to make a deep playoff run. Even though he struggled beforehand, the Angels identified Pestano as a player who could enhance their bullpen, and, for what it’s worth, he was exceptional after the trade, posting an 0.93 ERA across 12 appearances. Unfortunately for the Halos, they were swept in the AL Division Series by the Kansas City Royals and haven’t made it back to the playoffs since. In 2015 Pestano recorded a 5.40 ERA across 19 appearances in what would be his last season in the bigs.

The 2020 Angels will have a fearsome offense headlined by Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani, but they’ve sported an inconsistent and unreliable starting rotation for the better part of the last decade, subsequently keeping them out of playoff contention. Imagine if they had Clevinger at the top of their rotation. The Indians took advantage of the Angels being impulsive and wanting to improve loose ends.

The Indians acquired their future ace for a reliever who would last appear in the majors in 2015. This is one of the most lopsided trades of the decade.

The Worst Trade the Cleveland Indians Have Made Since 2010: Cleveland Acquires Andrew Miller From the New York Yankees for Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller, and J.P. Feyereisen (July 31, 2016)

There are few, if any trades that the Indians likely rue from last decade. Even this trade doesn’t reek of regret. That said, trading for Andrew Miller likely didn’t pan out the way the Indians envisioned.

The Indians were widely viewed as the best team in the AL in 2016, sparked by their 14-game win streak in the early stages of the regular season. In the summer they wanted to beef up their bullpen; they pulled out all the stops to acquire one of the game’s preeminent relievers in Andrew Miller.

Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield were highly regarded prospects at the time and quickly rose to the top portion of the Yankees prospect ranks, which shows how serious the Indians were about capitalizing on their championship window. Miller proved to be worth the price of admission, posting a 1.55 ERA, an 0.55 WHIP, and 46 strikeouts across 26 appearances. In the postseason he surrendered just three runs across 19.1 innings — albeit those runs came in the World Series.

Miller’s first full season in Cleveland was just as stellar as his brief time in the city in 2016. Recording a 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 95 strikeouts across 57 appearances he continued to perform at an elite level. The southpaw’s towering delivery at 6-foot-7 was difficult to pick up, and he got wicked movement on his slider. He followed that up by surrendering a mere run across four appearances in the Indians’ AL Division Series matchup with the Yankees. However, there’s more to that figure than meets the eye.

The Indians took a commanding 2-0 series lead to Yankee Stadium. No score in the seventh inning of Game 3. Andrew Miller is on the hill to face the left-handed hitting Greg Bird. Bird goes boom. The Yankees take a 1-0 lead they wouldn’t let go of. New York would go on to win Games 4 and 5 and therefore the series, stunning the Cleveland faithful. Was Miller the reason for Cleveland’s demise? It’s difficult to say, but that’s the moment his Cleveland tenure went south.

Miller would encounter multiple injuries and exhibit inconsistency in 2018, recording a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP across 37 appearances; he was unrecognizable. He wasn’t jamming left-handers, and few were fooled by his offerings. Miller would leave Cleveland for the St. Louis Cardinals in free agency. The Indians haven’t won a playoff game since Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS.

Regarding what the Indians surrendered for Miller, there’s reason to be optimistic about Frazier and Sheffield. Yes, he has struggled defensively, but Frazier has held a dangerous bat in the playing time he has garnered with the Yankees and could be a 30-home run hitter with considerable playing time. Sheffield struggled in his brief time with the Seattle Mariners in 2019, but he’s still just 23: there’s room for growth. Frazier could’ve been manager Terry Francona‘s designated hitter, and Sheffield could’ve been a backend starter, as he comes into his own as a rotation fixture.

This trade hasn’t held back the Indians, rather it’s one that has left something to be desired.

Stay tuned to Baseball Essential over the next few weeks for more on the best and worst trades made by all 30 MLB clubs over the past 10 years.

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