This has already been a winter of major change for the Indians. A couple months removed from their first non-playoff season since 2015, the Indians traded two-time American League Cy Young-winning right-hander Corey Kluber to the Rangers last weekend for reliever Emmanuel Clase and outfielder Delino DeShields. Cleveland did pick up at least one intriguing piece in the 21-year-old, heat-throwing Clase, though it was also a cost-cutting move for the small-market club to get all of Kluber’s $17.5MM guarantee for 2020 off the books.
To the Indians’ credit, they did win 93 games in 2019 with little to no help from Kluber, who slumped through an uncharacteristically poor month before succumbing to a season-ending broken forearm May 1. So, maybe getting rid of Kluber in favor of a Shane Bieber–Mike Clevinger–Carlos Carrasco–Aaron Civale–Zach Plesac rotation won’t have a deleterious effect their fortunes. Maybe they remain well-equipped to compete next year in the AL Central, which has multiple bottom-feeding teams and has seen its reigning champion (Minnesota) make no clear improvements since the offseason got underway. Or maybe the Kluber trade was the first monumental deal the Indians will make in an effort to cut money and look toward the future.
For Cleveland, there’s no bigger decision than whether to trade four-time All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has popped up in many rumors over the past few months. Lindor’s one of the finest players in the game – no doubt the Indians’ best – but it seems inevitable they’ll trade him in the next couple years. A free agent a pair of offseasons from now, Lindor’s projected to earn $16.7MM in arbitration for 2020. That’s unquestionably a reasonable sum for what he brings to the table and an amount all teams (including the Indians) should be able to afford, but perhaps they’ll sell Lindor off now before his control continues to dwindle. It’s at least under consideration, as they’ve reportedly asked interested teams (the Dodgers, Padres and Reds are among them) for their best and last offers heading into the weekend.
Other than Lindor, the Indians have at least one other extremely valuable trade chip in Clevinger. Set to turn 29 on Saturday, the righty has been one of baseball’s most effective starters since his 2017 breakout. Clevinger still has three years of control left (and should make less than $5MM next season), so he looks like someone the Indians should keep if the goal is to push for a World Series in the near term. However, there’s said to be plenty of trade interest in Clevinger, meaning it’s possible we’ve seen the last of him in an Indians uniform if another team bowls them over with a proposal that’s too enticing to decline. The Indians, for their part, have understandably placed a “crazy high” asking price on Clevinger, per reporter Robert Murray.
While we don’t know exactly what teams have offered (or will offer) for Lindor and Clevinger, it’s fair to say both players are capable of bringing back a haul in a trade. Therefore, it’s reasonable to wonder what the Indians should do with the two of them going forward. Should they retain one or both and try to return to the playoffs next season, or is it time for the franchise to sell high?
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