Precise permutations aren’t known, but the concept at play appears to be one that would send Cleveland ace Corey Kluber to Cincinnati via San Diego. Neither is it clear how serious talks are; Lin does emphasize, though, that no deal is close at present.
It seems the driving force here is the Friars’ search for a third baseman — and their ongoing attempt to structure a significant deal that improves the MLB roster now without denting the future outlook. Having failed to line up in direct talks to this point, Lin suggests, GM A.J. Preller is attempting to piece together more complicated, three-team arrangements.
While the Padres have long been said to be seeking quality MLB starting pitching, in addition to a hot corner upgrade, the report makes clear that they aren’t interested in acquiring Kluber for their own purposes. Though the outstanding righty certainly would be the ace the club would like to pick up, his relatively advanced age (33 in April) is a turnoff. And though his contract rights — $52.5MM over the next three years, the latter two via club option — remain quite appealing, it’s still a hefty payroll commitment for a traditionally low-budget org.
Of course, that same essential description holds also for the Reds, another team that’s hoping to boost its immediate performance while maintaining its long-term vision for a young, sustainable core. The Cincy ballclub has long been said to have interest in Kluber, and may have a slightly different tolerance for the age risk that comes with him.
Still, it’s no surprise to hear Lin reiterate that the club still isn’t terribly inclined to deal top prospect Nick Senzel to facilitate a deal. Senzel will not be parted with lightly, but indications are that he may ultimately be the object of the Padres’ fascination here. He’d more or less step right in at third base in San Diego and deliver a prized combination of youthful upside and affordable team control.
That leads to the element of this concept that’s most curious of all. The budget-conscious Indians only embarked upon talks involving Kluber as part of an effort to trim some payroll and better situate their roster for the future — all without sacrificing a still-clear path to another AL Central crown. That entire undertaking makes the most sense if the club adds a player of Senzel’s ilk.
Senzel would fit perfectly in Cleveland, where he could line up in the infield or outfield. (The Reds, of course, have considered utilizing him on the grass due to their own bumper crop of quality infielders.) Presumably, the Reds and Indians have already explored a Senzel-for-Kluber deal directly and failed to find common ground. Otherwise, it’s hard to see why the intermediary would be needed at all.
If not Senzel, then what would the Indians want out of all this? There’d surely be some level of interest in some of the Padres’ young MLB assets, with outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher Austin Hedges looking to be hypothetical fits from an outside perspective. (Interestingly, those teams lined up last summer on a deal that sent Francisco Mejia — another theoretical match — to San Diego.) But it stands to reason that the Indians would no doubt also demand some top-end young talent to drive the deal. The San Diego farm is loaded, but its very best pieces (Fernando Tatis Jr., especially) may not be on offer.
All said, it’s possible to imagine some permutations that might make sense for all involved, depending upon how the teams value the various potential pieces. But it’s an awfully tricky match. All three clubs are quite payroll sensitive. Of them, the Indians are clearly in the best position to win now, yet they’d be giving up the win-now piece. If there’s real substance to these discussions, or better still an eventual transaction, it’ll certainly represent a fascinating potential case study for understanding contemporary baseball decisionmaking.