The Cleveland Indians aren’t better without Mike Clevinger, but they can still prosper in the short and long-term without him.
Clevinger keeps getting mentioned in trade rumors due to him breaking MLB’s COVID-19 protocols on the road earlier this month and the Indians optioning him.
The Indians are 19-12, a half-game behind the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central. What are they left with if Clevinger is moved?
Shane Bieber has rapidly become one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball. He throws an overpowering fastball and gets slick movement on his off-speed pitches. Bieber is following up a remarkable 2019 campaign by sporting a 1.35 ERA and an 0.81 WHIP while totaling 75 strikeouts through his first seven starts.
Aaron Civale is building off his brief time in the majors last season, posting a 3.15 ERA across his first six starts. He has done a plausible job of keeping runners off the basepaths and has been an efficient force. Prior to being optioned, Zach Plesac, a steady force in 2019, surrendered just three runs across 21.0 innings.
Triston McKenzie dazzled in his MLB debut last week. The hard-throwing right-hander painted the strike zone all night, surrendered just three baserunners, and totaled 10 strikeouts across six innings.
That’s four starters 25 or younger for the Indians to be optimistic about. Meanwhile, veteran Carlos Carrasco still strikes out hitters at a high rate and pitches deep into games.
Last year the Indians traded Trevor Bauer at the MLB trade deadline and finished the regular season with 93 wins. This past offseason they traded Corey Kluber and are in the thick of the playoff race. Each starter was within two years of hitting the open market when they were traded.
Reminder: Bauer and Kluber were two of the best starters in the sport with the Indians.
Clevinger, who has been his high-octane self this season, is a free agent after 2022, so the Indians should still be able to get a pricy return in a trade. Maybe they add another young arm and some more positional depth?
Removing Clevinger from the rotation for the next month doesn’t decimate the Indians’ playoff hopes; they still have one of the best rotations in baseball.
Manufacturing offense has been the issue; Cleveland is in the bottom third of MLB in runs, hits, batting average, and slugging. It’s feasible to think a unit headlined by the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Carlos Santana could perform better over the next month.
They have the starting pitching to go deep into October games. A boost from the bats would result in more tight victories, potentially powering the Indians to an AL Central title.
For better or worse, the Indians must grow at parallel rates to their divisional foes.
The Twins have a positional core that has come into its own and is poised to be a perennial contender; the Chicago White Sox have taken the next step, becoming a threat in the AL; the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals have been respectable and exceeded expectations this season.
The common denominator with the aforementioned teams is youth. Their lineups are young and a handful of their starters haven’t entered their primes. The Indians have the best pitching from top to bottom in the division even without Clevinger. They’d be saving money and allocating resources to more pressing needs by trading him.
In other words, they get deeper around the diamond and add more young arms to the big-league team who are under team control for the better part of the next decade.
Should the Indians be looking to trade Clevinger? In all likelihood, his trade market will be marginally worse in the winter, as a team is acquiring him for, at most, six regular season starts and a few more starts in October if they even reach such play. Playing out the season with the homegrown right-hander to maximize their chances of going on a deep playoff run doesn’t impede the future.
Will the Indians trade Clevinger? In all likelihood, they’ll sell high on his services, as he’s their most proven arm and one of the few remaining players from their core that played in the 2016 World Series. At the same time, Clevinger has dealt with a considerable amount of injuries in recent memory (back, ankle, and knee), and pouncing on a fair trade has merit. Teams aren’t reaching out to Cleveland to merely add depth: they’re calling to acquire an ace.
Across his last 84 appearances, 78 of which have been starts, Clevinger owns a 2.97 ERA, a 3.43 FIP, and has totaled 534 strikeouts. He finds success with four offerings (four seamer, slider, curveball, and changeup) and can deceive hitters with his violent delivery.
Whatever direction the Indians go with Clevinger, they’ve shown the ability to withstand trading a prized hurler; they’ve done it before and can do it again.